Today is my birthday! And more than that, it’s my 47th birthday. What does that mean? Well, it means I’m getting on a bit, I guess. And it means it’s only three years to 50. It means I’m closer to 80 than I am to when I was born. Goodness.
But as regular readers know, 47 is my favorite number. Even if I don’t think it’s really all that important, I’ve decided to celebrate it a bit, and one of the small ways is to write this post. Looking at the last year–June 7, 2016 until today–what have been some of the great things? Some of the things I’ve really enjoyed or appreciated or been grateful for?
Here is a list…of 47 of them!
1. Annsville Creek
A big highlight of the year was traveling to the USA for our bi-annual holiday there. One of the fun times there was going canoeing in Annsville Creek with my wife and daughters. Annsville Creek is local to our area and easy to get to, and canoeing is just a bit of a different fun activity to do, and something that I really enjoy. Good times.
2. Arrow & Ember
Another highlight of the USA is seeing lots of old friends. One family that we caught up with are Ben & Marla and their children, whom we saw awkwardly in the rain on the Ocean City boardwalk. In addition to being a couple, they are also a band called Arrow & Ember. They’ve been doing the rounds in their area doing house concerts, and gifted us with their EP on this visit. It’s really nice stuff, and now Ben has got an interesting blog going. You can visit their site here.
3. The Arrowverse (the best parts, anyway)
There are four shows in the so-called Arrowverse, and sadly, neither of them are fully awesome, but both have had awesome stuff. Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman on Supergirl was pretty cool (at least at first), and there was intermittent cool stuff on The Flash. But in spite of all the dopiness that we see from week to week, I still think it’s fun that we have a show where we can see Barry Allen, Jay Garrick and Wally West all running together to take down the bad guy.
4. Band of Robbers
A fun film directed by Aaron & Adam Nee which reframes the whole Tom Sawyer – Huck Finn – Becky Thatcher story into the modern day, with the characters as adults. It was a bit of a highlight on one of the flights that I had this year.
5. Barnes & Noble
Another highlight of our time in New York. In a world where book stores are shutting down all over the place, I’m always worried that Barnes & Noble at the Cortlandt Town Center will suddenly be gone. But so far, so good. It’s a big book store with lots of fun stuff–comics, children’s books, some toys, etc–plus a coffee shop. Whoever had the idea of putting coffee shops into book stores was a genius.
6. Birthday Celebrations – Ice Skating & the Movies
I haven’t always been present for my youngest daughter’s birthday. It’s because my work schedule often means I’m traveling the month of her birthday. But this year we made sure we were together, by having the family travel with me. We were in Manila in the Philippines, and we got to spend the day together as a family ice skating and watching the live-action Beauty and the Beast.
One of the great achievements in comics, Bone by Jeff Smith is an adventure story which could be described as what would happen if the characters from Peanuts went on adventure of the scope of Lord of the Rings. Originally published in black & white, it’s now been published in nine color volumes. I’m reading it to my kids, and they are all loving it, even the 14 year old who is over a lot of that stuff. We are into Volume 8 now, and will hopefully finish it all soon.
8. Comics a’ Comin’!
DC Comics (and its competitors) have reprinted lots of their stuff over the years, but lots of other material has gone uncollected, including much of the awesome stuff that I used to read when I was a kid. But now DC is beginning to rectify that. During this year, we’ve had John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad volumes 4, 5 & 6, Legionnaires vol. 1 (detailing the early issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes reboot from the 1990’s), and Flash by Mark Waid volumes 1 & 2 all come out. Additionally, Flash vol. 3, Suicide Squad vol 7, some more cool Legion of Super-Heroes stuff, and a Superman book I’m really interested in have all been announced. The Superman one seems to have disappeared, though.
9. Community & Calling
I work as a Christian Missionary, and have a lot of responsibilities and things to do, including film making that I do internationally. But none of it would be possible without the community that I’m part of. The shared strength and giftings of the extended team makes what I do possible. And even though community living has it’s own challenges, it’s truly a joy to be part of this larger family.
10. Escape Rooms
Like real life interactive fiction. You go into a room, you explore and look around and start navigating a story. My Friend Rod found out about these and we did one for his birthday, and that’s where it started. Turns out they are all over the place and I’m late to the party, but I’m glad I showed up eventually. Obviously, the quality is dependent on how well the individual room is put together, but I’ve always had some sort of fun with them, even the poor ones. All together, I’ve done five – two in Perth (two different places) and three in Bali (all at the same place). The worst by far was an annoying one in Bali where we had to dig through little tags of a 100 scarves to put together some sort of number puzzle that was completely indecipherable. But there was a good one in Bali as well as which involved reflecting a laser with a mirror, jumping down into the darkness onto a cushion, figuring out which four little tiles to stand on to open a door, and so on. I’ve also died in a viral outbreak and stopped a terrorist plot in 19th century London. Probably the closest I’ll ever get to visiting the holodeck in my lifetime.
11. Filmmaking & Storytelling
I have not been nearly as prolific this year as I’d like. I’ve got a bunch of projects that I’m still (ever so slowly) pushing through on. One of them is Call Me – a short little sci-fi drama that we filmed nearly a year ago. I’m also trying to get completed the first of a new series of episodes of The Hanna Jo Stories. I have been able to do a bunch of work related projects, including this one which I shared before. I still enjoy this whole side of my life, and am glad to continue it even in limited quantity.
12. Gold from the Sky
A big treat this year was catching up with my friend Jason for a couple of weeks. He used to live in Perth and now is in Asia, working in a similar field as me. And like me, in his spare time, he does his own film projects. Unlike me, he’s been working on a high quality science fiction web series that looks amazing. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for the whole thing to come together, but the trailer looks amazing.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2
The most anticipated Marvel movie for the year was not an unqualified success, but was still fun. I was able to go with the whole family as well during a week where I was home in between two trips. So that was nice.
Blogging! I enjoy this site, yes I do. I guess it could be a colossal waste of time, but I do enjoy it. And in the last year I’ve written a ridiculous 149 posts, counting this one! (up to Movie Post #43)
15. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
My favorite movie of my birthday year, a delightful plunge into the wilds of New Zealand that bring many smiles and much laughter. “No child left behind. He’ll know what it means.”
16. Korean BBQ Chicken
On one of our first days in New York, one of our friends took us out to a place where we could have Korean BBQ chicken. There were several different varieties, all of which were extraordinary. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was an absolute winner for the family. Everyone loved it, and it’ll definitely be on our radar next time we pass that way.
17. La La Land
It may not have won Best Picture, but it gets the award for the Best Movie I’ve Seen on a Plane in Years. Even better than Suicide Squad or Independence Day: Resurgence.
Lancelin is a small town a few hours away from Perth. Friends of ours have a beach house there that they have generously allowed us to use from time to time. We had a chance to get out there for a weekend a few months ago, during a very busy time at work. It was a great break from the intensity of the day to day, and something I was really grateful for.
19. The Lion King
Never been a big fan of the movie, although I do appreciate it. But this year, while in New York, the family and I had a chance to go see the Broadway play, and it was outstanding. Quite an amazing experience of staging and music, and a big highlight of the year.
20. The Maze
For my middle daughter’s 12th birthday, we headed out to a local attraction called The Maze, which is a medium sized park featuring…you guessed it…a maze. Actually several mazes. My kids have a good time, and so did my wife and I. It’s not the sort of thing you want to go back to over and over again, but it was a fun outing.
21. Media Training
I run a media training school each year. Last year’s school (which ended shortly after my birthday) was great but pretty challenging. This year’s (which is still ongoing) has got it’s own challenges, but for the most part is going well. I’ve got a great set of students that it’s been a pleasure to work with. Definitely something to be grateful for.
22. Meow Meow Meow
It was a sad year and a happy year for cats. We said goodbye to Kamala, an annoying cat that we had for about ten years, but that we still loved. But then we later gained two somewhat less annoying cats – Basil and Pesto…er, no, I mean Basil and Soxie, as a bit of a last minute Christmas present, ostensibly from me and my wife to my kids, but really from my wife to all of us. They are a little more standoffish than I’d like, but it’s still great to have them in the house.
23. Mom & Dad & Aunty Pat
Out of all the cool things we got to do in New York recently, seeing these three special people was by far the most important and most meaningful.
24. The Mysterious Benedict Society
My good friend Jane gifted this book and its sequels (by Trenton Lee Stewart) to my children on our trip to New York this year, and we opted to read it together as a family. What a delight! I wrote about it here, but man did we have a good time with this story about four children working together to solve a series of bizarre puzzles and to stop a villain from committing an unspeakable crime. The breakout character is Constance Contraire, a surly young girl whose ultimate contribution to the team’s victory is so funny and so satisfying that it’s fully worth navigating the several hundred pages of book that leads up to for just that moment alone.
25. Mystery Games!
One of my hobbies is writing interactive murder mystery party games. This year, I created three. Two were for my children (fulfilling 2/3 of a promise I made for them a while ago, the rest will have to wait until later this year at least), while the other was for a larger group than normal, 24 people (as opposed to around 8, normally). I wasn’t there when they played that one, but apparently it went well. I also made up an Escape Room for the family, which was a lot of fun as well.
Currently, I’m enjoying a free month on the service, making my way through Designated Survivor, and benefiting from easy access to some fun content.
27. Old Friends
Over the years, many people have had made a huge impact on my life, and that of my family. One of the sad realities of grown-up life is that you don’t end up in the same place as all those people for the rest of your life. But one of the blessings of the year is the opportunities that I’ve had to see some of those people. A lot of them were in the United States, but some were right here in Perth, including my old roommate Jeff who suddenly turned up after basically being MIA from my life for about ten years or more.
28. Our Awesome Skit
I went to Thailand to attend a retreat with my film & media production colleagues last year, and during a “fun night”, I was tasked with the job of putting together a skit about what it’s like to make movies in frontier situations and unfamiliar cultures. Without going into detail, it was kind of awesome, and a huge hit.
29. Pandemic Legacy
Pandemic is a co-operative board game where players work together to try to save the earth from the outbreak of disease. Pandemic Legacy takes the game to another level, where players work there way through a story that involves diseases mutating, military conspiracies and a lot more. I teamed up with three friends to buy the game and together over this year we played our way through the entire narrative. Lots of fun, lots of surprises. It’s not a perfect story experience, but a really worthy effort at creating one.
30. Perfect Moment
We took a holiday in the USA this year, and on our first day we made our way to Bear Mountain State Park, one of the local attractions. We were all tired out with jet lag, but sat down at the inn’s restaurant to have lunch. Awesome burgers, beautiful scenery, and 80’s pop music playing on the speaker that led my younger daughters to bop around with excessively cheesy jetlag-induced dance moves. And I could only think to myself…this is a perfect moment.
31. The Pinnacles
I’ve been there before but I’ve never really just gone for it from a photography perspective before. It’s quite the visual treat. Thousands of limestone formations creating a bizarre landscape I’ve never seen anywhere else before, all making a great day out for the school I was leading at the time.
My job is being a full-time missionary. I don’t earn a salary, and neither does my wife. Rather we are dependent on relationship-based support: friends, family and churches who think what we do is pretty good and have opted to give us a gift of money in order to make it possible. People give for all sorts of reasons, but basically we are hoping that our supporters are giving as they feel God is leading them. Ultimately, it’s God that we are trusting to provide for us the finance that we need to do things–live, eat, travel, brush our teeth, and so on. And as I look at this past year, I can see that God has provided for us lots of money to do lots of things. Just looking at all the places that we’ve gone this year (see the entry on “Travel” later on) makes it really obvious to see.
33. Return of the Martian Kings
I’ve written about this before but one of my favorite things about Christmas is the Martian Kings – cheap little toys that were sent to us from the Netherlands that our family has turned into a bit of a holiday tradition. I like them because they are cute and fun, but especially because they are ours – my wife and children and me. A small detail that makes our family fun.
34. Rogue One
Not perfect, and forever making us wonder about all the alternate versions that could be created, but a fully enjoyable installment of Disney’s shepherding of the Star Wars franchise. Some uneven pacing in the film’s first half is more than made up by the film’s final act, which is nearly pitch-perfect.
35. Star Trek Beyond
Another divisive entry in the divisive Star Trek “reboot” series, but I thought this film was the most enjoyable of the lot, probably because it felt the most like a great episode of a non-existent Star Trek TV show, which is of course what I’d really like to be watching if I could.
36. The Pear has a Butt
Because this is the sort of thing that my kids think is really funny. And who is to say they aren’t right?
37. This has been here all along??!
So while we were in New York, we were looking for a local diversion, and I remembered that there is a small park in my own home city that has some sort of walking trail in it. With low expectations, the family decides to head over there (about a 7 minute drive) and discover that actually what I remember as a sort of mediocre park has got all these excessively beautiful forest walks in it! We ended up spending hours there, and actually got completely lost.
Back in high school, I would have voted myself least likely to go anywhere, if I had the opportunity. Turns out I would have been wrong. This year, I got to the Philippines for the first time, which I think is the 33rd country I’ve visited (ie out of the airport, overnight, etc). I also got to Indonesia three times this year, and Thailand twice. Plus the United States. I don’t deserve it, I don’t deserve to be able to afford it (see Provision, above), and I’m honored to get to visit all these parts of God’s creation. And in addition to my own travel, my oldest daughter got to travel to the Philippines as part of her own missions trip, without either of her parents. It’s a new era.
39. Tricky Tricky
I spent a week in Bali this year with two of my daughters, and one of the highlights was visiting the Dream Museum Zone, where there are dozens of paintings that are optical illusions…when you position yourself a certain way they appear to be 3D environments. There is one room with really dodgy paintings (nudity, etc) but aside from that, it was lots of fun and provided opportunity for lots of photos!
40. Vanilla Lattes
I don’t know when I first discovered these things, but they have become my coffee-of-choice. Lots of ’em this year. Love ’em.
A game that a couple of my kids and I enjoy together is called Sentinels of the Multiverse. It’s a cooperative game in which players take on the roles of various superheroes and work together to defeat a villain. This year, my parents bought for one of my daughters an expansion set to the game, called Vengeance–which we discovered through some good friends in the States (thanks, guys!) It brings in several new heroes and a new way of playing the game, and has just added to the enjoyment my kids and I have had together.
42. We’ve got movie sign!
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is back and it’s as good as it ever was! The first episode was really strong. Reptillicus…I never knew that the Danish had their own atrocious monster movie. I like the new dynamic and their rap song about every nation’s favorite monster was a hoot. I’ve watched some more beyond that and much of it has been a lot of fun.
43. What’s in the Vault?
Well, now we know, if you’ve been watching the most recent episodes of Doctor Who, but after a year of being gone the series returned in quirky form at Christmas with the comic-book themed Return of Dr. Mysterio story, and then just recently with a whole new season. Things started off a bit bumpy, but it began to pull together about four episodes in, and then really hit strong stuff with the mid-season alien invasion multi-parter. It’s good to see my favorite show back on TV this year.
44. Wildwood Crest
I’ve mentioned our trip to New York a lot in this post. Wildwood Crest is a town near Cape May in New Jersey, where the family took a “vacation in the vacation”. My parents, aunt, wife, children and I were there for about five days. The time in New York is largely filled with lots of visiting people, which I also like, but this made for a great change and pace and very relaxing time.
46. Wonder Woman
To say this is the best modern DC movie is not any sort of great achievement, but it’s still true. It is indeed perhaps the first one that is not an incomprehensible mess, so on that level alone it is a winner. Fortunately, as we all hoped, its virtues extend beyond that, and what we have is genuinely enjoyable adventure movie.
47. Family, Faith, Purpose
All the really important stuff. My wife. My three daughters. My God. The purpose that he generously bestows upon me, to know him and to enjoy him and to serve him and to represent him. So much more. It’s been an amazing year. It’s an amazing life.