LEGO: For Every Size of Imagination

e3fb2082011863.5d10fe8a88203This artwork from Asawin Tejasakulsin is absolutely brilliant, perfectly capturing the spirit and reality of working with LEGO. Check out the gallery. This too. And this. I first came across this design layout here.

I’ve had a longtime love affair with LEGO. I’m in the process of handing that same affection to my kids. I love the sets; I’m particularly fond of the Star Wars line. I build LEGO with my son, or I watch him build.

Occasionally we break away from the sets and come up with our own creations. My parents hung on a ton of LEGO pieces and eventually passed those on to me. We have plenty to work with. I’m always excited to see what my kids come up with.

Our creations are usually something like the dragon above, the seed of a grander vision. The small dragon is just as much of a wonder to behold as is the large dragon. Both spring from the imagination. Whatever we create, the important thing is that we can see it, we can share the wonder. We can celebrate what we do make. Then, the next time, we make something bigger, more detailed, grander. We learn and grow.

James W. Arnold, Honored

austin-texas-state-capitolLast Thursday I had the privilege of visiting the Texas State Capitol to hear the Texas House formally accept House Resolution 626 as I stood next to my grandmother, Bess Arnold, on the dais. H. R. 626 formally honored my grandfather, James W. Arnold, who died January 19, 2019 at the age of 87.

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On my right is my cousin, Jimmy Landes. My brother, Walter Simpson, stands on Mrs. Arnold’s left, with John Landes on the far right. At the bottom of the frame is Representative Travis Clardy, who served as our host, and who introduced the resolution before the House. Mr. Clardy represents Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk counties. Mr. Clardy’s wife, Judy, grew up knowing my grandparents alongside their children (my mom, aunts and uncle) in the city of Tyler. The Clardy family and their staff were gracious and warmly welcomed us to the Capitol.

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My uncle Drew Landes recorded the proceedings as they were streamed live on the web.

Here is the video, which I wish I could center in the frame, but cannot:

 

Following the acceptance of the resolution several members of the House came and offered condolences to our family, including Charles “Doc” Anderson, who represents Waco. That was nice, considering I knew who he was.

Our visit to the Capitol was special. I won’t forget it. I am glad that Mr. Clardy, Matt Schaefer, and Cole Hefner introduced this resolution, and I am very thankful that my grandmother, Bess Arnold, had the privilege of hearing it read while on the dais. James W. Arnold was a valued member of the community of Tyler, a true friend, and a respectable man.

Equally if not more important, at least to me, he was my Daddy Jim.

Don’t Miss It.

Seb Agresti

This is artwork by Seb Agresti, who has had work published in The New Yorker and elsewhere. I think I saw this image in the Dense Discovery newsletter.

The icon for this image has been sitting on my computer desktop for weeks. My six year old son, sitting in my lap and observing it asked, “What’s that?” I opened it and said, “What do you see?”

He said, “Those people are sitting on a phone!” I then asked him what he thought the artist was trying to convey, which led to a discussion of interactions with technology. Our exchange boiled down to this: “People spend so much time looking at their phone that they miss a lot of what is beautiful in life.”

So, as you likely are reading this from your phone, turn it off. Put it away. Look at the ocean, the mountains, the sunrise (all three appear in the image above). Hopefully in the company of a friend. Have a conversation. Climb. Go on an adventure. Or sit still.

Don’t miss it.

The Prodigal Drone

Here is a fun story. Several weeks ago we took our family drone for a flight in the front yard. I messed the whole thing up, and thought J’s Christmas gift was gone forever. I shared this on Nextdoor.

Drone Story

I’m happy to report that our drone found its way home. A neighbor found it in his backyard, posted about it on Nextdoor, and another neighbor who had seen my post connected the two of us. It took about three weeks. But we were reunited.

And it felt so good.

Drawing

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Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

The past several years I’ve had the itch to draw and this year I took a step forward and enrolled in two art classes at McLennan Community College. I’m taking an art appreciation course online, and attending an entry level drawing class. I’m loving it.

As my kids have matured they have both expressed an interest in art, as we all tend to do, and from an early age my daughter impressed me with her ability to conceptualize ideas and put them on paper. She was very fortunate to meet a few of our young adult friends who were skilled in drawing and painting and making, and, when we invited them to babysit, they’d create alongside our kids, inspiring them to do their own work. When my son entered the picture he jumped right in and started expressing himself with pencils and markers. The past two years we’ve enjoyed doing stuff together at Art for Kids Hub.

It has been a blast to watch them make. I know everyone’s kids are virtuosos and geniuses, math whizzes and little artistic masters from the moment they crawl out of the womb. But mine are exceptionally exceptional. Mine are the best one’s I’ve ever had. So I’ve tried to encourage them. The biggest way I think I can do that is to do the work alongside them. As Austin Kleon writes, “If you spend more time in your life doing the things that you love and that you feel are worthwhile, the kids in your life will get hip to what that looks like.” That’s translatable to sports, faith…anything really.

In order to be the best teacher, I decided that I would become a student. The best teachers are usually those who never ceased to learn. I was asked by my friend Matthew yesterday why I’m taking a drawing class. Here are my reasons.

1. Pleasure. And I Have the Time.

When I think back to my growing up years, I can remember making stuff with my hands and being interested in drawing, even though I didn’t think I was very good. I would take comic book images, like Spider-Man and the Hulk, and I’d break out an old notebook and take a pencil and some colored pencils, and I’d do my very best to replicate what I saw. Then I’d step back, think it was horrible, and then quit, all because it wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t “right.” It wasn’t true to what I saw. And though my parents had enrolled me in a couple of art classes, and my great grandmother was a painter, and my mom and aunts and grandmother made stuff , I got to the point where I stopped drawing, stopped coloring, stopped painting.

Except I didn’t. I’d doodle in class, and when I had my own computer, I’d draw cartoons using the rectangles and circles. My friend Jason can probably remember me spending more time in seminary classes creating panels than I did taking notes. Most of my cartoons had something to do with the class.

So I have always enjoyed drawing, even when my work hasn’t been “good.” But the more I’ve practiced the better I’ve become. When stepping into the classroom, it helps to take pleasure in the work, it aids the learning process, and helps me to keep going even when it is tough.

In addition to enjoying it, I have the time to take the class, to learn. Both kids are now in school, and my writing schedule allows enough flexibility where I can complete my coursework, keep my volunteer commitments, and complete my writing projects. So far, I’ve found that drawing engages another part of my brain and helps me see things a little differently. I don’t know. It’s a nice complement to other things I’m doing.

2. For My Kids

As I mentioned before, I’m taking a drawing class for my kids. Now, I have work to show. This has led to my kids wanting to show their work, so in the future you may be seeing what they’ve created on this website. Art has basic concepts and principles that guide the work. By learning those ideas and principles, I can teach them to my kids and help them grow. Simple, really.

I also think I got kind of inspired when I made this tank for David last Halloween:

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3. Because of My Influences

Members of my family were creators, makers. There are several paintings by my Nanny, rural landscapes and farming scenes, that are still with us, hanging on the walls. So when I take photographs and share them, or when I make something, maybe I hope it’ll be around after I’m gone. Maybe I hope that the work of my hands will be established, at least for a little while.

But I also had a seminary professor named Howard Hendricks who encouraged us to be creative, to draw, to make, to find ways to express ourselves and to tell stories that pointed others toward the glory of God. He understood that God was a creative being, and that people, created in God’s image, were made to create, to reflect the glory of the Creator in the things that were made.

Hendricks did not limit this idea to crafting words, preaching sermons, or making presentations. He saw that the arts could powerfully convey truth and encouraged his students to use their gifts. Most of the things I made for his courses involved photography or poetry. But I drew stuff, mainly on my computer. I own Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (and the Workbook) because of Hendricks, and worked my way through some of the exercises. He inspired me to draw.

Lastly, I’ll loop back to comics. I used to enjoy trying to recreate the heroes I encountered in the Marvel and DC stories. I collected comics in middle school. I’m so thankful my parents hung on to my collection. As comic book stories have come alive as movies, I’ve gone back to them, checking out the bound collections from my public library, reading backstories, checking out the evolution of the artwork. And I’ve become a patron of Bankston’s, a local comic books store. Right now I’m reading Detective Comics (Batman), Miles Morales: Spider-Man, The Batman Who Laughs, and Wolverine. The art is incredible.

That’s why I draw.

Save More.

The government is open and operating, for now, but during the shutdown we heard federal employees couldn’t miss a paycheck and that the gridlock in Washington was keeping workers from paying bills, buying groceries, and taking care of basic necessities.

Tyler Cowen wrote a column at Bloomberg that caught my eye (it was featured on the opinion page of my local paper, the Waco Tribune-Herald). Cowen claimed that one of the big lessons of the shutdown was “Americans should be saving more.” It can be done. He writes:

Indeed a higher savings rate is possible, and not just for the wealthy. Most Mormons in the U.S., for example, manage to tithe at least 10 percent of their incomes. This suggests it is possible to curtail one’s consumption without losing the best things in life. Mormons also tend to have especially large families, making tithing all the more difficult. If Mormons can tithe so much, is it so impossible for the rest of us, including government employees, to save more?

There is also a new “gospel of savings” in the U.S., being led by such renowned (but non-mainstream) figures as Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache. They reach millions of Americans, imploring them to strip down their consumption to essentials and to save a much higher percentage of their incomes, sometimes 20 percent or more. Ramsey wrote a column giving advice to unpaid federal workers, including “sell stuff” and to cancel Netflix.

Americans should be saving more, and spending less. Cowen’s column has several interesting numbers about the current savings rate of Americans as compared to past generations, as well as how Americans compare with other countries. The decision to save isn’t only determined by income level, but also by cultural values. Simplicity, thrift, frugality, industriousness, wisdom, and self-discipline all factor in our ability to save. We talk about these values in the Christian community. We do not always teach them diligently and carefully enough, thus helping congregants to actually form the kind of character that will assist them in being generous and wise with their money.

Do you save? Do you have an emergency fund, set aside for a rainy day?

It’s a wise idea.

What’s Your Favorite Board Game?

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Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Shortly after 2019 rolled in, our family did a refresh around the house. We tackled a few long-neglected organizational projects, threw away a bunch of old papers, and redecorated areas that had grown stale. It was nice. Home suddenly felt a little more homey.

One of the decisions we made was to pull several of our board games out of a cabinet and move them into our children’s area in the living room. We put Guess Who?, Battleship, and Catch Phrase in a visible and accessible place, and placed Scrabble, Boggle, and others in another storage area nearby.

According to Rave Reviews, Scrabble, Monopoly, and Catan rank one, two, and three as the best board games of all time. Popular Mechanics released a list of fifty “best” new board games in December of 2018. The first three on the list: Root, Dinosaur Island, and Hardback. I had not heard of a single game on their entire list. Also, how many games released last year? How difficult was it to narrow this list to fifty?

We moved our board games into a prominent place in the house to increase the chances  we’d play them when our kids begged for screen time or if we needed an alternative to a movie.  I put a couple of classic pegboard games–the tricky triangle and tic-tac-toe–on our dining room table. I did so because I think these games are better ways to connect, to learn communication skills, to engage the mind, and to have fun. They also give us opportunities to teach moral lessons about such matters as fairness, being a good sport, healthy competition, emotional control and emotional intelligence.

I also thought it would provide something for us to do when we have guests.

So what’s your favorite board game? Or games?

2019: The Year Ahead

One week ago today I visited Barnes & Noble and bought a Moleskine 2018-2019 daily planner. It was fifty percent off retail and my first major victory of the year, so I added it to my goals ex post facto: “Buy planner at discount.” That’s one way to keep your New Year’s Resolutions. Do, then record. Shoot, then aim.

I didn’t stop there, and I changed my methodology. I made forty goals. Some are very specific with measurable outcomes. Others are a trajectory. A few goals are continuations of a previous beginning; others are repeats of previous failures. As Bruce Lee said, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  Bruce Lee also said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

After aiming, action.

Family Goals

I divide my goals up into categories. The first is family. Most are simple. I plan to go on a date with Molly once per month. We have set financial goals for savings this year (and strategies to reduce expenses), as well as ways to spend time together as a family, including trips to the local zoo, using gift cards for our meals out when we have them, and going camping. I have a big organizational goal to catalogue my library, systematize my paper and digital files, and make accessible the thousands of photographs dispersed across multiple hard drives. I am fairly organized, but there is more I can do.

We know we are getting things right when we have peace at home. Our relationships to one another, to money, to our possessions, to our community, and to the natural world all require attention, each in their own way. Each relationship has bearing on the others. Peace is not only the absence of conflict, but the presence of harmony, wholeness. That’s what we want at home.

Faith Goals

I am a Christian. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to grow, and growth involves change. There is a sense in which I will never fully arrive. The maturation process will be ongoing. But it is possible to mature. There is a process, and there is progress. It may not always be a straight line, but God brings about growth. Spiritual growth often involves three elements that I try to remember: Vision, Intention, and Means. See, decide, and do.

Philippians 2:12-13 is a helpful guide. Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God works in us, and we work our salvation out.

The inward changes God manifests in us take shape in our lives, and thus in the world, through obedience. Obedience isn’t such a nasty word when the one who commands is good, and the one who obeys freely wills to act, trust, and follow.

When we have a vision of who has God called us to be in Christ, we respond with an intention to follow (meaning, it is our sincere desire to become and do the things Jesus himself did and taught), and then we take up the means, or ways, God has made available to us, the same means Jesus himself utilized during his life, such as prayer, service, Bible study, solitude, silence, worship, fellowship, and others.

This year, our family has a specific target for financial stewardship as part of First Methodist Waco. Molly and I will make it a habit to read the Psalms together and pray daily. I’m reading through the Bible this year, learning to fast, teaching Sunday school, empowering others for leadership, and revisiting New Testament Greek (eek!).

I’ve shared with friends that I want to become wise, and I want to become a saint, and while I know I am a saint by virtue of my status in Christ, I want to reflect that reality more than I presently do, especially since I am cognizant there are times, moments, and maybe even prolonged interactions where I do not fulfill the calling I have as a disciple of Jesus. I want to be all God intends for me to be.

Fitness Goals

In our family we value strong, healthy bodies. In recent years we have learned about proper nutrition, wise food choices, and appropriate supplements, such as a daily multi-vitamin and Omega-3s. We’ve used Advocare products for a few years (and if you’d like to learn which ones and what we think, contact me). Have we always gotten it right? No! But have we learned? Yes.

I have set a target weight, an exercise routine, a specific number of race events I’d like to compete in this year, state parks I’d like to hike, and a way to approach playing basketball each week. My big goal in this area is fairly simple: have a healthy heart, working limbs, and the ability to enjoy time with my kids. I don’t have to be a bodybuilder, just sound and capable of fun.

Creative Goals

Every person is creative. Some of us are just more aware of it than others. I write, take photographs, and draw. Those activities require creativity. In order to be creative in those endeavors, I need to read, learn, and grow. I plan to read sixty five books this year, take courses at the local community college in art, blog routinely, participate in a photo challenge, and be more disciplined in how I structure my work hours.

I also plan to spend more time in the kitchen and learn how to cook a few (more) things, which means Molly will be my teacher. I’m looking ahead to 2020, when I’ll attend a writers conference. That’s a sentence I never imagined myself writing.

Community Goals

Lastly, I have community goals. I want to be a good neighbor and grow my friendships, so I’ll put together a few poker games, work with others around me to organize a few block parties, and continue coaching youth sports. I also plan to give blood (I do not enjoy needles), but it is something I want to do, partly to honor one of my grandparents, and partly because I can and because it is right. Molly and I also plan to routinely invite friends over for dinner, to open our home and practice hospitality.

What’s Success?

I review my goals daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually in various ways and to different degrees. If I accomplish all of my goals it will be borderline miraculous.

My greater hope is to become a better person. If I move marginally in that direction, that will be a win, and all praise, glory, and honor will be to God.

I’ve taken aim. It’s time for action.

Cutting Cable

Television is changing, as are the ways people consume media.

We’ve heard for years younger generations are foregoing a cable subscription and opting instead to consume media in other ways. Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have changed how people watch shows, and with the advent of apps like Fox Sports Go, NBC Sports, and WatchESPN, there are more ways to stream live events on a phone, tablet, or other device. Our family has watched the last two Baylor women’s soccer matches on Facebook Live. My kids enjoy clicking the emojis.

This fall our family joined those who have cut the cord and chosen instead a combination of online streaming services. We followed a progression. Here’s how it unfolded.

First, We Canceled Cable

When we moved to Waco in 2016 we had choices to make with regard to our utilities. I wanted a local phone number (at the time, I wasn’t in a rush to have a cell phone), internet service, and to watch sports on television. I began shopping around, and asked a few friends for their recommendations. We ended up with a subscription bundle for a set rate and were locked in for the first year.

But the moment my subscription rate bumped one year later, I called to cancel the cable portion and bought an antenna. I could pick up ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.

We also had a Roku device, which meant that when our PBS signal wasn’t coming in strong I could stream shows for my kids via the PBS Kids Roku channel. I could save $80 a month ($960 a year), watch most of the major football, soccer, and baseball, and basketball games I wanted to catch, and I listened to internet radio for the rest. Despite the cable company’s offer to keep me at their current promotional rate on the day I called (which was the same as the first year fee), I cut the cord.

The Antenna Phase

I shopped around and finally bought a Leaf antenna. I placed it in the house in a spot that maximized reception and minimized its being an eyesore. I purchased some cable concealer from Home Depot, and kept my wires confined.

The antenna was complimented by the aforementioned Roku device. While I cancelled cable, I kept internet service at home. I’ve already mentioned the PBS Kids app. We could also stream movies or shows through Amazon Prime (which we’ve had for years due to the amount of shopping we do online).

We don’t regularly watch local or national news programs (I subscribe to the local paper). We usually have stuff going on during the weekends. And we do our best to read, play, or create stuff during our free time, with only sporadic consumption of movies or television. The antenna, plus the couple of apps we could use on our television with the Roku device, was plenty.

Subscribing to Streaming Services

Back in August when football season was approaching, I made a decision to explore the costs of the various streaming services. It was unclear how many Baylor home football games I would attend, and knew I wanted to watch them on the road. When the season began I thought they had a real shot at taking a step forward, winning six games, and becoming bowl eligible. It’s still possible.

I compared Sling, Hulu, and YouTube TV. All of these companies have strengths and weaknesses, and vary their packages in ways that are attractive to different consumers. For a little under $30 a month ($360 a year), I chose to go with one of Sling’s basic packages, one that I thought would land the highest number of Baylor football games during the season (I put my chips on the Fox family of networks).

I added an ESPN+ subscription as well. It’s advertised at $5 a month, but I paid $50 for the year (saving $10). So, in the end, my streaming television subscription package costs me a little under $35 a month.

What I’ve Learned

Do I get to watch every sporting event I want to watch? No. I chose not to buy one of the more advanced Sling packages, which would have given me access to the ESPN family of networks. I missed Chiefs/Rams on Monday Night Football (now argued to be the best regular season NFL game in history). But I watched a portion of the replay later in the week on the NFL Network (which is included in my Sling package), and had listened live to the radio broadcast.

Do I enjoy the ability to watch television on my TV and other devices? Absolutely. Sling is accessible on my tablet devices (and even my phone, if I wanted to stream there). I also love it that my Sling subscription works with select apps, including NBC Sports, Fox Sports Go, and others. They’re still working to expand the number of apps that will accept a Sling subscription (like AMC). I love that.

Do I enjoy being a better steward of our finances? Yes. By spending less on television I’m able to allocate funds to other things. And since my streaming subscriptions can be cancelled at any time, I’m contemplating what to do once football season concludes. I’m thinking about going back to antenna for a while and then reevaluating the streaming television market to decide if the enjoyment our family will receive is worth the cost.

A la carte television is a weird proposition for those of us who are used to paying for one big package where we get the channels we want and then a bunch of superfluous channels we never watch. I was hesitant at first. But what pushed me over the edge, eventually, was the cost. I spend less money to get most of what I want. Even if I would’ve bought a Sling bundle with more channels (including ESPN), I still would’ve spent less than cable.

(If you do research and are interesting in signing up for Sling, let me know and I’ll send you an invite code which may offer a price break for both of us.)

What’s Next?

The models will keep changing, as will the options, and I have a feeling that there will be some shifts ahead with how internet service providers offer their products. Time will tell.

If it gets too pricey, I still have my books and my local library, which is plenty to keep my occupied.