Twenty Eighteen in Review

I originally started this blog to share updates while traveling.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, but the last few years have been more intense and rewarding than any trip I’ve been on. So as the year wraps up it seemed appropriate to send out a dispatch.

2018 was a year of big changes for our family.

Martine May

The biggest change in our life was this little one. She was born at home May 29th. Her wavy mohawk and sweet demeanor are her two defining features.

Having a second child is totally different than the first. The first time everything was new. With Martine, we didn’t have any stress about finding the right crib or learning how to change diapers. But taking care of an infant and a toddler is exponentially more challenging that just caring for one- especially when the toddler is a wild little one.

Ada Laine

Speaking of Ada, she’s now three. Here’s a photo of her at the beginning of the year and one at the end.

It’s cliché, but it’s incredible how much she grew and changed in one year. Ada went from speaking individual words to full conversations. She’s a fun challenging happy little person to be around, and it’s exciting to see her grow up.

New House

We had been looking for a new house in for over two years. We loved our place on Guadalupe, but with the addition of two tiny people and their associated belongings it was starting to feel cramped. Prices have soared since we bought our first house 6 years and there weren’t a lot of quality houses on the market in Central Austin, but eventually we found one we loved.

We moved into the new place 11 days ago, and we’re still getting settled and adjusted. The house is a 1930 Craftsman in the Deep Eddy neighborhood. We’re two blocks from Deep Eddy pool, which is where we pilgrimed every Sunday morning this Summer with take-out breakfast tacos and swim noodles. It’s also walking distance to the hike and bike trail, a 10 mile trail around Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.

I usually bicycle to work at least 4 days a week, and the new commute is great. It’s more scenic and slightly shorter (3.4 miles vs 4.0). I ride alongside the river and up to Seaholm on a dedicated bike path, then it’s a straight shot up Nueces in a wide bike lane.

I think where you live in a city really impacts your perspective on it. I’m looking forward to experiencing Austin in a different way now that we’re closer to the heart of it.

Friends and Family

I knew there wouldn’t be many opportunities to do solo trips after we had our second child, so I booked a trip to Los Angeles a few months before Martine was born to spend time with two of my best friends.

We went camping in Joshua Tree, relaxed in Palm Springs, and got some culture in LA. We played about 20 games of Hanabi. It was great to get a break from the routine (especially the 6am wake ups). The best aspect of these two guys is their good humor. Even when the campsite fell through on the second night and we accidentally checked into a cheap wreck of a hotel in Palm Desert, no one was ever annoyed or stressed. We all just enjoyed hanging out with each other.

Our friend Jody visited town from Seattle and we had one magical SXSW afternoon with the band Champagne Super Chillin’ and free beer.

Laine and I are both extremely lucky to have family who help us out and support us so much. The above photos are of Laine’s mother, who flew down from Detroit to spend six weeks with us after Martine was born to help us manage everything. She also flies down regularly to visit and help us out, so much so she now has airline status. People sometimes ask what it’s like to have your mother-in-law visit so much? It’s amazing.

My parents flew out a couple times to visit us this year too. Whenever my dad’s in town we have him build something for us. Ada likes to supervise the projects.

We also took a 10 day vacation out in Del Mar, California in September for Laine’s brother’s wedding. We rented a condo that was walking distance to the beach, and my family (parents, sister-in-laws, brother and nephews) came down to spend time with us the first half of the vacation.

Initially, I was a bit concerned about the trip with the two small kids (we’ve had some pretty rough flights before with Ada), but it ended up being one of the most relaxing times of our year. Martine was sleeping like a champ then (except for the day naps when she required someone’s arms to nap in). The Airbnb condo was perfect for us.

We also had good friends leave Austin. Amy and Johan moved to New York. Jessi moved to Houston. We’ve had a lot really close friends leave since we moved here and it’s always hard. In 2019 we hope to double down with the great friends we still have in town and try to add a few more.

Professionally

2018 was a great year in terms of learning. Most of my professional experience over the last 10 years has been with WordPress or static frontend development, but this year I was able to work on a number of projects for my job that were outside of my usual scope.

Laravel

My favorite project this year was a sensor dashboard built on Laravel, a modern PHP framework. I designed everything myself, from the database structure to the API standards. I built the frontend with Vue.js and later converted it to React. It was nice to step outside the WordPress ecosystem and get a better understanding of fullstack application development while still being in the familiar land of PHP.

I was able to learn the basics of Laravel incredibly quickly thanks to Jeffery Way’s video series at Laracasts. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

React

I’ve been wanting to learn React for a while, but never had the time or right opportunity before. This year at Nano I had my first chance to finally build a full application from scratch in React. Our backend team (based in Buenos Aires) built the APIs and I designed and built out the frontend.

Again, a video series was really helpful. This time, the ES6 course by Wes Bos. I had learned a smattering of javascript over the years and was able to piece together what I needed for the most part, but learning javascript in more complete and structured way really helped me become a better developer.

Side Projects

I launched a WooCommerce Extension in the official WooCommerce marketplace. I wrote about that in detail over here. Although it was a fun project to work on, I’m not sure the $2k it’s made in sales this year justified the time invested.

With two kids, there isn’t time for any more side projects at the moment. Although there’s a few new ideas I’d love to built out at some point, they’ll all have to remain on the shelf for a bit.

Favorites

My best purchase this year was a Sonos One. I love having music in the house, and the Alexa/Spotify integration makes it really easy to play anything and at anytime. The sound quality is great and it just works really well.

My favorite music this year was from Leon Bridges, Sylvan Esso, Wolf Parade, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Jason Isbell. I had a chance to see the last three of those live this year.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Five Thirty Eight for politics. Without Fail, How I Built This, and ETL for entrepreneurial stories. Tim Ferris for general interviews. Talk Shop Show, Fullstack Radio, and Syntax FM for web development. Marketplace for news. Swindled to learn about big swindles. + a few others.

I didn’t have a chance to read a lot of books this year. However, I did enjoy 11/22/63 by Stephen King and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

Goals

Two years ago I decided I wanted to journal more often. I’ve been keeping a journal on and off for over 15 years and I love the ability hop back in time and remember a moment that might have faded from my memory otherwise. With two small kids, there’s tiny moments every day that I can’t possibly remember without help.

In 2017 I managed in 59 entries. In 2018, 49. So, I need to keep that up. Generally, it just takes a few minutes during an afternoon coffee break to write down all the hilarious or fun things we did that week.

Looking Back

I’ve probably slept less in 2018 than any other year in my life. I’ve been yelled at or assaulted by a toddler on a near daily basis. At the end of the day, I usually have at least one snot smear across an article of clothing. But it’s also been more joyful and fulfilling than one has a right to expect.

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful and adventurous 2019! To you and yours, Happy New Year! ? ? ?

Country of Contrasts

I’m on the rooftop of the Seng Hout hotel watching the sunset over Battambang. The Muslim call to prayer is echoing across the river and the ornate roofs of Buddhist temples are glinting in the orange light.

I decided to stay another day here and am glad I did. There’s a restaurant I really like: Jaan Bai, a resturant non-profit with bespoke pottery, delicious food, and a design style that fits right in with the Kinfolk magazines they have stacked in the bookshelf.

Pad Thai at Jaan Bai

Pad Thai at Jaan Bai

There’s a terrific coffee shop: Kinyei, home of the Cambodia National Barista Champions. The Seng Hout, my hotel, is a solid deal ($10 a night, friendly staff, clean rooms, a small pool, a rooftop full of wicker chairs and palm plants). At night the riverfront comes alive at night with vendors selling noodles, bbqing chicken, and grilling corn.

Every afternoon it rains. The sky blackens and a strong rain pounds the metal roofs. If I time it right, I’m sitting at Kinyei with a book, looking out through the metal rollup door and avoiding the downpour.

From the Kinyei Facebook page.

From the Kinyei Facebook page.

The first night in Battambang I went to the circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak). It’s a couple minutes from town by Tuk Tuk. The bleachers in the tent were packed. Lots of foreigners, but also locals, especially children, sitting on the floor at the edges.

circus

It was one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. The music was great, drums and Cambodian instruments I’ve never heard before. The first act was a sort of play, with a Cambodian princess and a cripple and a group of toughs from the town. I have no idea what they were saying, but the fights, flips, fire and acrobatics were fantastic. Then second part was juggling, rope tricks, rubber ball bouncing, balancing acts, dancing, and huge flips off a giant seesaw.

Another highlight of this place was the bicycle tour with Suksobike. It was great to get out of town and see what the countryside looked like. The near constant greetings of tuk tuk drivers in town was replaced by little kids yelling “hello” in English and waving like crazy as we passed weathered wooden houses set on stilts.

The tour winded through muddy red dirt roads along a small river and then out across the rice fields. Along the way we stopped at number of small business- families that make edible rice paper, dried bananas, fish paste and rice wine. Our guide explained what they make, let us try it, and if we wanted, taste it.

tour-guide

We took a break and walked around a little daytime market where we were the spectacle and entertainment of the morning. A black woman from France got the most attention. Someone wanted to know if her hair was real. Another complimented her full curvy figure and patted her butt.

We also stopped at a killing field, one of three outside Battambang. The bones of over 10,000 people were found and some of their bleached skulls are positioned against the glass walls of a monument on that site. It’s striking and grim, and I wonder if that’s the best way to remember the lives of the people who died there? Or does putting their bones on display signal something else?

monument-battambang

The Khmer Rouge operated in this area until as late as 1998. Our guide said the schools are not teaching this history very well and most young people don’t have a good idea of what happened. But it’s below the surface of everything. The woman we met who made the rice wine had moved from Phnom Penh with her brother to start the business in the early 70s. Their entire extended family in the capitol was killed.

The contrasts here are striking. In one moment I’m observing a pile of bones, in the next I’m are drinking a cappuccino (that costs as much as the average person makes in a day), and in the next I’m are watching one of the most cathartic and exciting performances you have ever seen surrounded by laughing children.

It’s a strange and amazing country to travel in.

List of Expenses for 7/23

Hotel Room (private bath, fan, cable, wifi, pool): $10.
Breakfast (banana pancakes, mango shake): $4.
Lunch (pork bahn mi sandwich): $3.50.
Cappuccino: $2.
Angkor Beer: $0.75.
Dinner (dragon fruit caipirinha, glazed chicken and greens, coconut ice cream): $11.

Total: $31.25.

I admit. Dinner was a splurge. It was amazing.

The Killing Fields

This was an overwhelming place to visit.

More than 300 mass graves dot Cambodia where 1.3 million people were killed by shovels, hatchets and machetes by a genocidal regime in the late 1970s.

My Tuk Tuk driver, who is also a friend of my friend’s here, had never been inside Choeung Ek and walked the grounds with me. He didn’t say much, but summed it up as we were leaving, “This place makes me sad.”

It’s hard to believe a country this friendly and full of life had such a dark and terrifying period.

The photos are by my friend Sascha Faun Winter. More photos here.

Backpacking Big Sur

Big Sur is one of my favorite places in the world. It has spectacular views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, gnarled windswept Cypress tress clinging to the cliffs, and deep valleys of Redwood forests. I got to backpacking there for a few days earlier this month.

This Point Lobos, a hiking spot right on the coast, where seals were sunning in weirdly emerald bays.

We hiked in Padres National Forest, right above Kirk Creek. It was a terrific time of year to go as the entire hillside was covered with wildflowers.

Our camp site was nestled in a redwood grove. Perfect spot to spend two nights.

A Billion Bats

billionbatss-small

My friend Jane was on the Congress Bridge at dusk and overheard two sorority girls talking about the bats.

“I read somewhere that there’s a BILLION bats here,” said one. “Wow, that’s a lot,” said the other. (Editors note: There aren’t really a billion bats. That would be insane.)

I’m trying to convince my buddy Mike to name his new band “One Billion Bats”- so I made a poster. Modified from this flickr photo.