2017 Year In Review

Since you’re reading this on my website, let’s start with the biggest change I’ve made on this site: I quit blogging every day. Around Memorial Day this year, I stopped forcing myself to get a post up every weekday. That ended a streak of nearly 4000 weekdays in a row with a blog post. It has felt a lot more freeing to only write when I have an idea for content instead of scrambling the night before to try and fill an empty spot in the calendar. And while this is a terrible model for driving traffic to a site, my main goal has always been a kind of “life journal” that might store some interesting nuggets in the decades. To that end, I tried to write some longer articles about memories from my childhood. Those felt like some of my better posts from the year: Childhood Christmas Gifts, Baseball Stories,  Parental Albums and Sleepwalking Stories.

The biggest change for all of us this year was the loss of Tyla’s mom to breast cancer. Nancy had been battling the cancer for years but it was pretty clear early in the year that we were crossing the point of no return and in the end, it went downhill very quickly. Those weeks and months were full of a wide range of emotions complicated still further by having a four year old in the mix. I found it really difficult to be supportive both to Tyla and Elijah at the same time. For example, many times I felt like the way I could help the most was to get Elijah out of the room/house and give him a normal day, but that meant I wasn’t there to help Tyla. But we all made it through, and because all of us believe that Jesus died for our sins, I know we’ll be reunited in heaven.

I said things declined rapidly. Just the weekend before she died, we were all camping at Cape Disappointment. It’s a beautiful park right along the ocean. I thought it was healthy for Tyla’s family to spend that time together, have time for long talks, and have one last outing with Nancy. Elijah had a lot of fun riding his bike around the campground and sleeping in the tent. Whenever we ask him what he wants to do for vacation next summer, he asks to do that trip again.

Our other summer vacations included Memorial Day weekend at Discovery Bay, a week in Indiana, and our long road trip to Fort Peck, MT. Spending 4 out of 6 days on the road with a four year old turned out about as perfectly as it could (aside from the crazy car trouble at 4am as we were trying to leave.) He did fantastic and now it has us thinking about some other road trips that we might take.Between the funeral and the Brandt family reunion, we got to spend a lot of time with Tyla’s extended family. I finally feel like I know most of the kind people who send us Christmas cards every year! It was nice for them all to meet Elijah too.

At the 2016 Christmas party, Logan mentioned that it was his “man mission” to climb to Camp Muir. The guy he was talking to said, “I’ll go with you!” In the blink of an eye, we had a crew of people ready to hike up there with him. I had been there back in 2010, but it was such a great hike that I knew I wanted to do it again. Half the fun of hiking Camp Muir is all the training hikes you need to do ahead of time! We hit a lot of great trails including: Little Mt. Si, Lime Kiln Trail, Mt. Pilchuck, Lake Melakwa, Mason Lake and Little Bandera Mountain. I had Elijah in my backpack for a lot of those hikes. Next year he’ll be too big and it will be time for him to hoof it himself.

Hiking Camp Muir with a group that big and vary different schedules means that you randomly pick a date on the calendar and pray for good weather. Thankfully, the weather was PERFECT. The smoke from the wildfires cleared out and we had blue skies and perfect temperatures. I beat my previous time by 40 minute (16%) so I was very happy about that. I didn’t feel nearly as tired the next day either so I’d say our hikes leading up to this one were chosen well. The only downside to the day was that Tim was planning to come with us but he got injured shortly before the hike. So that just means we’ll be doing it again. Tim, let us know when you’re ready and we’ll put it on the calendar!

I continued on with the woodworking hobby, and in the beginning of the year, I made my biggest tool investment yet: a beefy new Grizzly table saw. That continues to be solid purchase in my book and it gets a lot of use. Projects this year included a set of wooden blocks, a plant bench, a Washington bottle cap map, an anniversary photo printed on wood for my parents, piano book shelves, a couple Mother’s Day signs, the Instagram photo frame (my favorite project of the year!), magnetic coasters, laser cut decorations for Elijah’s birthday, a cutting board, a jewelry holder tree, two wood signs carved with a router, a storage closet makeover, a wood semi with two trailers, a marquetry butterfly, and a drum. I feel productive when I read that! Even with all those things checked off the list, my project idea list has grown so I better keep going.

See you in 2018!

Previous Year In Review Posts: 2003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015, 2016

Merry Christmas


1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Reduced Writing

It’s been almost six months since I stopped holding myself to the “one post per week day” that I had been doing for 15 years. It has been working out well for me and the natural cadence has been around 3 posts per week.

I’ve been thinking about what led to the decrease in desire to write posts and a major reason finally occurred to me: Instagram. I love Instagram. It’s such a happy place and it takes very little time to catch up on what my friends are doing and what’s happening in communities that I’m interested by (woodworking, skiing, hiking, etc.) I post there quite a bit and I think those pictures have taken the place of a lot of the posts that I would have made on this site. So if I was to make each Instagram post be a post on this site, then I feel like my volume would be similar. The bonus is that if you’re interested in consuming all of it, it takes a lot less of your time to consume the Instagram posts.

In conjunction with this change, I’ve also cut way back on Facebook. I go there a couple times a week to quickly flip through the news feed that I’ve trimmed way down with the Facebook Purity plugin. In contrast to Instagram’s happy environment, a lot of Facebook content feels angry, frivolous or both. I’ve found that the best way to consume Facebook is to not follow very many people, but instead, just go visit various pages every once in a while and catch up in bulk. It reduces some of the Skinner Box response associated with checking your newsfeed every 5 minutes.

I’m sure that the Instagram model will break at some point, but for now, feel free to follow me on my personal account @benwmartens and my woodworking account @martenswoodshop.

500th Reformation Anniversary

Today is a church holiday called Reformation. It commemorates the work of the reformers, specifically Martin Luther, to try and bring the Catholic church back to a sound doctrinal position. He was a strong supporter of the church but did not support the places where they were deviating from scripture. His work to repair the problems in the Catholic church were ultimately unsuccessful, but the “protestants” did break off from the Catholic church to try and form churches that held to the teachings of the Bible.

As with all things human and sinful, some of those protestant groups also succumbed to falsehoods and inaccuracies over the years. It takes constant vigilance to keep the devil from eroding the basic truths of the Bible. That vigilance is what the church (or at least our church?) is really celebrating at Reformation. We’re not worshiping Martin Luther. We’re reminding ourselves to continue to test everything we are taught against the unerring Bible. We can sum it up in three phrases (often heard in Latin): sola scriptura, sola fide and sola gratia. Scripture alone reveals the saving work in Christ. Faith in that saving work of Christ is the only path to heaven. And grace, God’s undeserved love for us, is the only way we receive that saving work. If we hear teaching that involves non-Biblical “revelations from God”, requiring good works to get to heaven, or any part of the plan of salvation that requires our own input, those teachings are contrary to what God wrote for us in the Bible.

1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Want to learn more? Our church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, has a lot of resources available.

Indiana Trip

Our summer vacations were dedicated to family this year. At the end of July, we went to a family reunion in Fort Peck, MT and then a couple weeks ago we flew out to Indiana. We had originally planned to go earlier in the year, but we ended up moving the trip as it was the same week that Tyla’s mom passed away. Thankfully Southwest has an incredible flight change policy!

We were in Indiana for 8 nights, and, as usual, we had a great time. It was so relaxing to just hang out with very few responsibilities. Luke, Rachel and David came for the weekend so that added some extra fun. Grandpa and Lynnette came down for the day too so Grandpa and I could celebrate our birthday together. We didn’t do anything huge but we had a bunch of good day trips including a botanical center, lots of tractor rides, putt putt golf, go karts, the Studebaker Museum and a water ski show.

Thanks again to Dad and Mom for hosting us and spending so much time playing with Elijah!