Monday, October 21, 2019

3D Printed Stargate: The Journey

On August 17, 2017, my Dad texted me this link of a 3D printed Stargate with lights and movement:

...thus inspiring my foray into the world of 3D printing. My Dad started 3D printing several years ago, and my friend Peter even longer ago than that, so while I'd seen printers in action before, for whatever reason it never held much pull on me. I'm sure partly that was because I already had enough other hobbies that I really didn't need "one more thing" on which to spend my time (and money). At least, until I saw that moving / light-up Stargate model.

I knew very little about 3D printing, except that prints could take an incredibly long time. Years ago I remember when a friend and I asked Peter to print a Star Trek: Deep Space 9 station, and after the first couple layers were down, he told us it would take another 24 hours to finish! That was basically the extent of my knowledge. (I chuckle as I write that now, because many of my prints nowadays take 24+ hours).

Over the past couple years as Dad has gotten into printing, he's created some gorgeous gifts for my Mom and also for my wife (for instance: a vase and roses for Valentine's Day, and a Beauty and the Beast jewelry container), and has offered to print things for me, too. Knowing practically nothing of the time and effort that it takes to get quality prints, I sent him a bunch of links for stuff I'd like, like tokens for one of my favorite board games, and paint racks for my miniature painting paints (unbeknownst to me until later, getting the paint racks to print successfully was no small endeavor in experimentation, and even once Dad had the right settings, it still took a day to print each rack). It's been so much fun watching Dad get into this hobby, and to see Mom cheering him on and sharing in the successes and not-so-successes.

After realizing that held a treasure trove of Things I'd like to print, and feeling like I'd be taking advantage of my Dad if I kept asking him to print dozens and dozens of links, I decided I'd get my own printer. Besides all the other random things I wanted to print, my ultimate goal was to print that working Stargate. I asked Dad and other friends who had printers for their recommendations, and bought a Creality CR-10 in August 2018.

I came into the hobby rather naively (optimistically?), and grossly underestimated how much time 3D printing takes. I don't mean the printing itself, I mean all the behind-the-scenes overhead, like getting a level print bed (I'm convinced this is impossible), cleaning up from failed prints, replacing clogged nozzles, upgrading bits of hardware, configuring a print server (OctoPrint), or installing new firmware (which took the better part of a full day for me to figure out). When the printer is working, it's great! But there are just so many random things that come up that will suck away hours at a time. I wasn't prepared for that going into it, and definitely more than once thought "I'm never going to get this working." But Dad was always there to answer my questions and send me video tutorials and other links to help. And even over a year later I'm still asking him questions (see earlier comments about the firmware - Dad helped me a TON in navigating that experience!).

Each of these pieces took ~24 hours to print

Back to the Stargate project itself. According to the webpage, it has 117 parts, and some I could see were very finely detailed, so I spent a few months getting the hang of printing in general (and tweaking my settings to get better quality prints) before starting in on a project that complex. I started experimenting with my first Stargate pieces in December 2018, opting to start with the most intricate first: the backside of the gate. Each piece took roughly 24 hours to print, then I'd write a number on it, change another setting or two and try again, keeping notes along the way so I could track what gave the best results. It took me roughly three weeks to fine-tune my settings for the high level of detail, with lots of "that's not quite good enough" results along the way.

After going through an entire spool of filament just on my experiments, I started printing parts "for real" sometime right before Christmas. Since I'd honed my high-precision settings already, printing the real pieces was fairly straight-forward, albeit time-consuming. The creator had written "total estimated print time: 112 hours," but I don't know what settings he used that could possibly print that quickly, since (for instance) each of my nine back-side-of-gate pieces took 12+ hours a piece. All told it took me three or four weeks to print everything.

Before trimming/cleaning
After trimming/cleaning

In reading and re-reading the original Stargate model page, I started looking at the builds other people had posted of their Stargate construction projects. One person's in particular stood out to me because he'd expanded upon the original design to add a web page interface for dialing the gate, a speaker to play sound effects, as well as designed a custom circuit board for the electronics. He also had a more thorough set of instructions. Based on his revised design, I started ordering electronics, which was it's own very stressful journey owing to the fact I haven't done anything electronics-y since 9th grade electronics class. I remember reading the lists of required parts and thinking, "I have no clue…" - what on earth is a PCB, LDR, or a Buck Converter? (The answers, I learned, are: "printed circuit board", "light dependent resistor", and something that changes voltage so you don't fry your electronics).

The PCB/printed circuit board came from a manufacturing facility in China, as did all the surface mount resistors, transistors, LEDs, and the like. Dad warned me in advance "are you sure you want to do that…" because as it turns out (I should say, as he already knew, and I was about to find out), the surface mount electronics are TINY!

Electronics in hand, in early January I started visiting Dad for electronics workshops. He got out his soldering equipment, including fine-point tips and tools for holding those miniature transistors in place. Dad asked me again if I was sure I wanted to use the PCB and tiny tiny tiny electronics vs a breadboard with larger, easier-to-handle pieces; I persisted because 1) the PCBs came in a minimum order of 10, so even if I messed a few up in learning, it didn't matter, and 2) I really wanted all the electronics to fit internal to the Stargate vs having to house them externally somehow. We went to work. My first solders were ugly, but functional; by the end though I could definitely see a difference in my soldering quality.

By March 2nd, we'd connected together the Raspberry Pi, motor control circuit board, and Stargate PCB + buck converter, and connected the thing to the motors that would spin the gate and lock/unlock the top chevron; My Mom captured a video of me running a test program on the Pi that would just spin the motor, and me looking very excited and saying, "I drew a star!"

What on earth does THAT mean? It's an old family story - when my Dad was first getting into computer programming (in the early days of personal computers), he excitedly called my Mom into the room so he could show her that he'd drawn a star on the computer screen. My Mom lovingly said (or maybe just thought to herself), "so? If you give me a paper and pencil I can draw a star for you," until Dad explained more about how complicated the programming was, etc. Since then, it's been a comical story my parents tell whenever something looks easy but in fact took an incredible amount of time/effort. As was the case with drawing my "star"[gate].

The next day, I hit what I'll affectionally call one of my most frustrating "roadblocks" :

You might notice in the photo that the hole from the backside of one piece doesn't line up with the hole on the left side of the front piece. It's hard to explain in words, but if you look at this next picture, you can see the Stargate pieces glue together in an overlap pattern:

...and I'd superglued the overlap going the wrong direction. Had I used the original designs for these pieces, it wouldn't have happened, but because I wanted fewer visible seams on the gate I opted to use double-sized pieces that someone had posted; I never pieced together (pun intended) that these might need to be glued in a particular way. So, this was a major bummer, because it meant needing to re-print everything you see in that photo, and I was almost out of filament, and the company was out of stock of that color for the next month. Re-printing took over a week (and luckily I had just enough filament left!), and it gave me an opportunity to tweak my settings yet again to get a slightly better quality. Long after the fact, I thought of a way I easily could have worked around my gluing goof (aka, just using one or two normal-sized pieces to fix the off-set), but, I'm still happier with the end result of re-printing.

Between March and September I procrastinated, and I can cite a very specific reason why: I procrastinated because of my fear of failure. In this time period, I was having difficulty getting the gate symbols to spin smoothly - I could spin the ring by hand, but it would "stick" whenever I tried putting it on top of the motors (not enough torque, I guess). I was terrified of gluing everything together and then not being able to spin the symbols, and having to start over. My own perfectionism was my enemy.

Finally I spent an afternoon "just doing it": I bought and sprayed a plastics lubricant in the track, shaved off some plastic from the symbol ring clips that were catching on the edge of the track (the symbol ring is five pieces glued together in a ring, with small "clips" between pieces that help hold them together), filed down the backs of those joins, and got the whole thing to spin smoothly with the motors. Whew!!

Next challenge: the LEDs. There are nine chevrons around the gate, and each has three surface mount LEDs. I had an evening of despair after struggling for over an hour to solder together three LEDs and their wires onto the tiny LED holder I'd printed. I had no idea at the time how to test if my soldering was even good, and I learned the *wrong* way to test is to plug directly into 12V power. "Pop!" went the first LED. I nearly cried. I couldn't imagine taking over an hour to solder each of the chevrons. I texted my Dad and he said he had tools that would help (like self-closing tweezers and the fine point soldering iron he'd had me use before). Got together with him a couple days later and boy did having the right tools make all the difference. In only a couple hours at most, I'd soldered nine sets of LEDs, and also the two strings of LEDs for the ramp.

I'd printed LED holders someone designed for the Stargate that would position them exactly under each chevron, and twisted the wires so the LEDs lined up, then glued in place. Prior to gluing, I soldered each of the LED sets to longer wires that would run out the bottom of the gate and connect to power+ground (thanks to my Dad who supplied the super thin wire!), and test connected everything into the wires coming from the PCB. I also modified the webpage and server code so I could easily turn on/off each of the LEDs using a touchscreen I'd bought for the Raspberry Pi. This made it SUPER easy to figure out which light was plugged in where later on.

With all LEDs working, I began the exciting task of putting the wires and LEDs into their final position and gluing down the top pieces of the gate. I tested each as I went and surprisingly / thankfully ran into no issues.

That is, until I glued the last piece down and was faced with a bundle of wires sticking out the bottom of the gate. Around this time, I realized I'd never marked which two of the eleven wires were supposed to plug into 12V power. Oops. Paranoid about frying my LEDs now that everything was superglued, I managed to use a multimeter to figure out which wires I wanted (fortunately I hadn't glued the chevron covers on, so I could still stick a probe in to touch the LED wires inside each chevron). I then marked said wires with electrical tape so I wouldn't lose them again :)

After testing all the LEDs "one last time," I started final assembly of the ramp base, taking time to run all the wires nicely through the little wire holders, and of course finagling/weaving all the gate wires through the base.

Fully assembled, I booted the Pi and told it to "home" the gate - if you'll recall my construction goof earlier concerning the small hole, this allows an LED to shine through the gate to the light sensor / LDR on the other side, but only when a particular symbol is lined up; that way the software knows the gate is at "home."

As the gate spun and spun, I discovered two issues. The first is that, despite all my efforts for a smoothly spinning track, the gate was catching in two specific spots. My worst fear. My best guess is I didn't file/smooth out the bottom side of the track enough, and/or that I hadn't trimmed off the printing brim from the gear teeth. I took the gate off, sprayed a ton of plastic lubricant in through the bottom opening and manually spun the ring to get it all around; I also propped the gate up slightly off its base, just a few millimeters, so it didn't sit as tightly on the gear. Between those two remedies, the gate began to spin fully around without catching.

But it kept spinning. And spinning. And never found "home". This was my second issue: I'd assembled the LED and LDR pieces on the wrong side of the gate, and because the see-through-hole was offset from center, the light was in the wrong place and couldn't shine through. It wasn't a huge deal, but still tedious to remove the gate again, unscrew/move/re-attach/re-wire the LED and LDR pieces. Even after lining everything up correctly, though, the LED I had wasn't powerful enough to trigger the sensor, so I went back to my local Radio Shack (whom I lovingly call "Dad") and he had a brighter LED he gave me, which worked more gooder.

Had a couple more issues come up, like the motors spinning in reverse direction (easily fixed by swapping two wires around), and the top chevron not moving up and down smoothly (eventually "fixed" by spraying in a TON of that plastic lubricant), but otherwise, at long last, the gate was finished! I took a video and sent it to my parents, and also of course grabbed Alissa and said "come see! Come see!!"

I'm really proud of how this turned out. I enjoy projects (like this one) that are at the edge of my current abilities; I had a lot of confidence on the software side, but not a lot / any experience on the electronics side of things, but with my Dad there to guide me, it became much more manageable. I've learned a LOT from where I started, and am feeling more confident to tackle other 3D printing + electronics type projects (next up: a Star Trek Next Generation warp core). Things I worried about early on (like the seams showing between pieces of the ring) aren't nearly as visible as I thought they'd be. And I was able to make modifications to the code that I'll publish back to Thingiverse, that might help a future builder when they build their Stargate. If I do say so myself, this thing's pretty darn cool.

Lastly, if you're wondering how much it cost... I'll admit the number surprised me. Here's a rough breakdown:

  • Filament: three rolls at $18 each, plus a couple other colors that I only used a bit of, so let's say $60
  • Raspberry Pi 3 B+: $56
  • Motors, motor circuit board, other electronics from $80
  • Touchscreen for Raspberry Pi: $80
  • HDMI cable: $8
  • Power adapter: 2 for $14, so $7
  • Printed circuit board from China: $20 ($2 for 10 boards, and $18 shipping…)
  • LEDs, transistors, resistors, and other various electronics from LCSC: $21
  • Superglue: $5
  • Wires, tools, solder, buck converter, other electronics and tools: free from the RadioShack of Dad

Grand total: $337. (Shhh don't tell Alissa! :)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Winnie the Pup

Anyone who's known me for any length of time probably knows that I'm not a fan of dogs. Over the years I think I've come down from a "phobia" to merely, "I'd rather not be near you," though admittedly I've met a handful of dogs that I could honestly say I liked (my friend Bernadett's Emma, and my Aunt Judi's Guinness and Keighley, to name a couple). So it is with utter amazement that the man who has for many years declared, "I will never own a dog!," announces that... Alissa and I got a dog:

Meet Winnie the Pup (or just "Winnie" for short).

If you'd like the short version of how on earth this happened, I suppose I can summarize with: "he chose me with his puppy eyes."

For the longer version, well, settle in. I tend toward extreme verbosity in my writing, and this life-transformational-story deserves nothing less.


Alissa has always wanted a dog. I have always not wanted a dog, something about which I made no secret during our dating and engagement, so that it wouldn't come as a surprise later. Knowing that we wouldn't actually get a dog, Alissa has frequently teased me with statements like, "if you get another lightsaber, I get a puppy," or adding "puppy" to our grocery shopping list. Chuckles ensued, but no puppies.

When we got our adorable bunnies, we did so in the hopes they might be cuddle-bunnies for Alissa. Sadly, our bunnies don't like to snuggle, they prefer to hop away. So, Alissa's desire for something cute and cuddly has remained (and while plush stuffed animals cut it for me, they don't for her).

A month or so ago, Alissa sent me a link to a puppy store that holds weekend open visiting hours for guests to pet all the puppies. Since the store is an hour-and-a-half drive, we picked a Saturday with nothing else on our calendar and marked the date. Leading up to the day, after telling some friends about our weekend plans, one of our friends helpfully declared (in spite of my protestations), "you're getting a puppy." I, of course, knew this wasn't ever going to happen, but took the joke in stride.

The Road Trip

When Saturday came, Alissa had donned her "I'm here to pet all the dogs" shirt, and also optimistically brought out the bunny carrier, because "it sure would be a shame not to have a doggie carrier 'just in case' we end up needing one..." Ha ha, you're right, Honey, but, you do know we're not actually getting a dog, right? "Right, but 'just in case,' we want to be prepared!"

While I programmed my GPS, Alissa double checked the store's hours. And good thing, because we discovered they would be closing early that day! Even leaving immediately, we'd only just arrive at closing time. Seeing Alissa's crestfallen expression, I didn't know how to "fix" the situation, but knowing that the store also took people by appointment, I gave a call asking if there was any chance they'd be willing to stay open a few extra minutes to meet us. To my relief, they said that'd be no problem! They were hosting a wedding (which is why they planned to close early), but they could stay open a little extra since they knew we were coming. Whew! We sped off toward the puppies.

One might wonder why I'd be willing to drive three hours just to see dogs I didn't want to buy. The answer's so simple: it meant I'd get to spend quality time with my wife, without the myriad interruptions of our busy lives. I thought of the excursion as a quasi-date, and perhaps even more importantly, I knew how happy it'd make her to play with all the "poopays" as we called them.

Arriving at the store, we noticed we were... under-dressed... compared to the wedding guests streaming in ahead of us. When they said on the phone they were hosting a wedding, I hadn't realized it was starting 45 minutes after we got there. After trying and failing to find an alternate door, I called back to ask, "we're here, is there another door we should use?" No, there wasn't, so we found ourselves in hoodies and t-shirts walking in behind folks in elegant dresses and suits. The lady from the phone greeted us immediately (she said we were easy to spot, since I'd said "we'll be walking in the door in 30 seconds"), and directed us through the actual wedding party into the back room of the store where the puppies are. Mildly awkward.

The First Meeting, aka, Puppy Eyes

Emerging into the puppy room we were greeting with the yipping of about two dozen puppies in a fenced play area in the middle of the room. Alissa dove [figuratively not literally] into the cuteness overload and started petting them; meantime I stayed aloof, because, you know: dogs.

Alissa kept asking me, "isn't this one so cute? Do you want a puppy yet?" And we talked a bit with the puppy minder, asking him about the store and the different kinds of dogs, as well as thanking him profusely for staying open late for us.

As Alissa enjoyed her time with the 101 poopayes in the playpen, I started to meander the room's perimeter, where there were puppies in large glass cages built into the walls. I noticed some that I said were "not well behaved," owing to their jumping up against the glass and yipping. Then, I saw one who was being very well-behaved, sitting there calmly, looking at me with puppy eyes (because of course, he's a puppy, so he has puppy eyes), and I said, "this one's really well-behaved." Alissa glommed onto that and said, "oh! you think that one's cute?!" To which the salesman said, "I'll go get him for you so you can hold him!"

"I– uh– um– I didn't ask to–."

The salesman returned and placed the doggie in my arms. He didn't bite or bark (and to my relief, neither did the dog), and so I just stood there - and eventually sat there - for about 10-15 minutes, holding this puppy and petting him. He sat so peacefully, calmly. As we sat, I learned that doggie was a Cavachon, a cross between a King Charles Cavalier and a Bichon; the Bichon breed is hypoallergenic, and the Cavalier breed was bred to be a calm lapdog for the king, which tones down some of the Bichon's hyperness. Alissa was rightfully-amazed at how long I willingly sat with puppy. Frankly I was, too.

Eventually, learning that the salesman was actually attending the wedding in the room next door, I returned the puppy and we took our leave (necessitating winding our way back through the wedding party). Alissa then proceeded to text our friends that I'd willingly held a dog, and if we'd have stayed longer she thinks she could have talked me into buying it. Meantime, I proceeded to have an hour and a half of severe allergy attacks (due to there being a thousand and one puppies in the room, and it being legit rural Minnesota farmland, and it being allergy season in general).

The following week

I'll be honest, I did like that dog. As we drove home, Alissa told me that while I was holding the dog and asking so many questions about it, she took it as a sign of 'Jeremy might actually get this dog!' before realizing that it was more like, 'Jeremy is a naturally curious person and likes to ask lots of questions, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything.

The following days, Alissa kept checking the website and letting me know "Perfect Puppy" was still available. Unbeknownst to her, I also was secretly checking the website, quietly breathing sighs of relief when I saw his photo pop up day after day. I can't explain it.

Alissa also sent me a bunch of links to read about Cavachons and general puppy care/training. Most of our conversations that week began with me saying, "we're not getting a dog, but hypothetically, if we did...". We covered such ground as who would let the dog out, who would clean up the doggie poos, how would this work when we go on vacation, what are our ideas about training, if we got this particular puppy would you say it's "Jeremy's dog" instead of "ours," and so on. Alissa also helpfully kept offering, "would you like me to go pick up Perfect Puppy for you? I can go tonight!"

As I pondered how having a dog would make Alissa so happy (as one of her lifelong dreams), and how having a cute little doggie-that-looks-like-a-live-stuffed-animal-teddy-bear sitting on my lap while we watched TV would also make me so happy, somewhere around Thursday I think I crossed the 50% threshold between "no puppy" to "yes, we can eventually get a puppy". Considering my journey had started at a solid "0% / no way!", I think that was pretty incredible progress, and all thanks to a cute little puppy with his emotive puppy dog eyes.

My biggest concern, then and now, is how much time a puppy might take. I already feel at-capacity on my time-budget, so adding "one more thing" is, frankly, an extremely intimidating proposition. I read a lot of articles, and finally phoned my Aunt Lisa - who trains service dogs - to ask more about training and time commitment, and was comfortable enough with the answers she gave me.

All day Friday I spent hemming-and-hawing, culminating in what I might describe as an anxiety/panic-attack Friday evening. At issue were my conflicting desires of wanting Perfect Puppy, knowing Perfect Puppy could possibly/probably get sold this weekend if we didn't snatch him up now, but knowing we're NOT AT ALL prepared for a dog (I mean this in a pragmatic sense: no kennel/food/toys/etc), and also fearing that all my already-limited free-time would get eaten up by having another pet, but also not wanting to have raised Alissa's hopes so far just to back out at the last minute, AND, having promised the bunnies we'd take them to Hoppy Hour, only to bail on them again at the last minute (yes, I know the bunnies didn't really understand that, but still). I was an emotional mess, trying to sort through all of that. God bless Alissa, she stayed with me for an hour while I tried to figure out my life. It wasn't pretty.

Eventually, I made my decision: let's go get Perfect Puppy. I called the pet store, set up an appointment in two hours, and we headed out. Alissa had the presence of mind to bring some extra supplies - like a towel and package of large pet potty pads for the carrier. Within a few minutes, we were on the road.

When I'd called the store, the puppy man asked me if we wanted to see any others than the Cavachon from last week (pretty sure he remembered us as "those people" who made him run late to the wedding and didn't even buy a dog!); so, along the way, Alissa looked through the website of puppies, and as we talked through each breed we narrowed in on wanting to see the other Cavachons, the pure bred Bichons, and some "Teddy Bears" of a breed mixture I don't recall. I called back the puppy man (who, when answering, consistently sounded so shocked that his phone had rung - it was amusing to me) and he said, yep, no problem, he'd have them all out for us to look at.

Our drive was largely uneventful, EXCEPT FOR driving past what is literally one of my worst recurring nightmares: a road that goes underwater. Shudder! Due to rush hour, my GPS had us taking some back roads to avoid traffic; and due to all the flooding, we passed an intersection where the road off to the right of us went straight down into a river. For years I've had nightmares about driving into a water-covered road of unknown depth, so this was a most unwelcome sight to see so close-up in real life!

The reunion

We arrived at the pet store on time, and went into the puppy room where there were now only eight puppies instead of the several thousand from last time. Perfect Puppy and two other Cavachons were sitting calmly, while the Bichons and Teddy Bears were jumping and yipping. While good to compare, the Cavachons' docile nature pretty much cemented the deal. Puppy Man placed Perfect Puppy in my arms, and we sat for a little bit. Perfect Puppy was so cute; he looked at me with those puppy eyes, and asked me if we were going to take him home. Alissa and I re-confirmed that yes, we'd like this puppy. We told Perfect Puppy we were going to name him "Winnie the Pup", and then I handed him back to Puppy Man who said he'd give him a quick bath before we took him home.

Winnie's Perspective

Pff, pff, I don't like baths! I think I swallowed some shampoo. Pft! Oh, but I feel so clean now, and I look so fluffy and pretty!

Mr Puppy Man leads me back to the door to the playroom, and when I run through I see the new humans who were holding and petting me. One of them tells me they're bringing me to my "forever home" - I'm not sure what that means, but the way he says it it sounds like it's a good thing.

The man holds me in his arms while the woman writes on papers for Mr Puppy Man. He's telling them all about me, and I recognize a picture of myself and my mommy; he says something about "up to date on shots" and that I already have something called a "chip." I'm just a puppy so I don't understand what all of that means, but I do know I'm feeling very loved by the man holding me. He's smiling such a big happy smile. And I know because I just had a bath, that I'm looking my absolute best for him.

He crouches back on the ground and says I should say goodbye to everyone. I don't quite understand, but I think that means maybe I'll be leaving the store now, like some of my other friends who have left with other humans. I will be sad to leave all of my puppy friends - they are my family! But I do want to make these new humans happy, so I will put on a strong face for their sake.

I'm carried out into a larger room I've never seen before. There are toys everywhere! Wooden rectangles with carved shapes (I think the humans call them "letters" and "words"), towels that look like they'd be fun to pull on, little glass sculptures with different colors, sitting on a shelf just waiting to be knocked onto the floor for puppy play-time!

While the man holds me, the woman hands Mr Puppy Man a small plastic rectangle and he hands her a bag of my favorite puppy food and what looks like it might be some treats! I don't really know what those are yet, but my nose says they're probably tasty.

Mr Puppy Man has started talking to some other humans who just arrived, about one of my other friends who was in the playpen with me a few minutes ago.

My carrying human puts me down on the floor and they ask me to walk into a plastic box. I don't know how I feel about this. It's kinda dark and scary in there. But I'm a brave puppy, and I want to be a good puppy, too, so I go into the box thing, and before I know it the box is being lifted off the ground and I'm being carried outside! The air is so fresh out here. Soon, though, my box is inside again; I seem to be in a small room that rumbles like a hungry puppy tummy, and it starts to move when it rumbles! I can feel the room moving backwards, now forwards, now turning to the right, and now I'm sliding back against the wall of my box because the room is moving faster and faster.

The humans are talking, and the woman is sitting next to my plastic box. She opens the plastic box fence so she can reach in and pet me. I can tell she really likes me, too, and is excited that I'm in this plastic box in the rumbling, moving room with her.

I'm starting to feel funny. My tummy is hurting... Now there's something in my throat. Oh no, I'm going to–

Oh no :( I think I just threw up that shampoo I swallowed :(

The moving box is slowing down, and stopping. The humans are talking to each other, and the woman is trying to wipe my face. I'm not feeling well at all, and now I'm feeling even worse because I was so nice and clean and looked so pretty, and now I've ruined my clean fur :( I was trying so hard to be a Good Puppy, but my tummy hurt sooo much!

She's still wiping me down, and the big moving box has started moving again. Uggghhh, I'm not feeling very good again...

I'm such a little puppy, and leaving my home and puppy friends is really stressful, and I'm not used to riding in big moving boxes on wheels. I'm trying my best to be Good, I hope they can understand. I'm really sad that I ruined my clean fur, but the humans don't seem to be mad at me.

The light outside is going away - that means it's past Puppy Bedtime, but I'm still awake, and still a little scared.

The rumbling sound is getting quieter, and I think we've finally stopped moving. The humans are saying those words "forever home" again, and picking me up to smell the fresh air again. It's dark, and I can't really see, but I seem to be on some grass. The grass is wet, so as I run around to sniff and explore, it's like I'm getting another bath, but with no shampoo this time. I think my fur is getting cleaner now! The humans are so excited to see me running around and having fun. I wonder what new adventures I'm going to have here!

Closing thoughts

Back to Jeremy's voice again.

With my Mom retiring from 44 years of teaching this past week, I hadn't wanted to detract from that with puppy stuff, so I suspect it was more than a little surprise when I texted her a photo of her son (me), a man who has for years hated dogs, suddenly holding a puppy! I think our neighbors, and my Aunt and Uncle, also could not have been more surprised. Perhaps hell really has frozen over.

What has surprised me the most, is how easily I've acclimated to a puppy licking treats out of my hand (something I would NEVER EVER have pictured myself being comfortable with), or dealing with puppy accidents on the carpet, or praising Winnie for pooping on our lawn. I don't think I've ever in my life shocked my Uncle more than when he saw me sitting on the dining room floor holding and petting Winnie. I can't explain it - I really love this puppy (I mean, Alissa really loves him, too, but it's my blog so I'm focusing on my own experience).

As for our how our bunnies are handling this change... well, they maybe love Winnie a little less than we do. Winnie looks at them and seems to say, "these are some weird looking puppies," while the bunnies say "that's a weird looking bunny!" The bunnies sometimes thump a leg at Winnie, as if to say, this is our territory (for any fans of The 100, perhaps you'll find humor in something else the bunnies 'say' when we pretend to talk for them: "You are Bun-Kru, or you are the enemy of Bun-Kru!"). And at least once I saw Winnie startle the bunnies so that Luke and Daisy literally jumped into each other mid-air. It was simultaneously hilarious, and also frustrating, since we don't want Winnie scaring the bunnies. But as I sit here writing this, Winnie is sitting by the bunny fence, and the bunnies are casually coming up to sniff him, then hopping away. So I believe there is hope.

Thus concludes the first chapter of bringing Winnie into our lives. As Winnie said, I wonder what adventures we're going to have!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Thoughts on "Breathe"

When I transferred to Minnehaha Academy as a tenth grader and began experiencing school chapels after an up-to-then lifetime of public education, one of the songs frequently performed by the worship team was "Breathe." I didn't care for it from the get-go, because, well I can't quite explain the emotion but it's something like, I thought the lyrics far too simple and obvious ("this is the air I breathe" - "well, yeah, what other air are you gonna be breathing?" I'd ask). But worse, the song came to be sung so often (or perhaps I mean to say, "forced upon us") that it wasn't long until I developed some feeling of animus against it. Hearing the opening notes of "Breathe" could instantly drop me out of worship mode. Here was a song I thought ought be relegated to the annals of Christian music history, a case-study of early contemporary Christian musicianship, but no longer worthy of airtime in "real" worship.

In college, I more or less doubled down on this position.

A few years post-college, I started revisiting my hostility. I'd always maintained that the responsibility for providing a worshipful environment lay solely at the feet of the worship leader / team, but the question was posed to me (by someone, I don't remember who) of what responsibility the worship-goer has toward preparing their own heart in advance of showing up. I continue[d] to mull on this, particularly on the rare Sunday nights that Upper Room would foist good-ol' "Breathe" upon me. Could it be that I bore some personal responsibility for opening my heart wide enough that even "Breathe" could become worshipful again? (or put more Jeremy-bluntly: is it my job to find moments of worship even with poorly made song-selections on the worship planner's part?) It took a while, but I think I've come to the conclusion that, well, yes.

Before reaching that conclusion, though, as a stop-gap, whenever "Breathe" reared its head I would take the opportunity to pray on my own, sitting and disengaging from corporate worship and instead focusing on my own heart and spiritual journey. Ever so slowly, my heart continued/continues to soften toward "Breathe." I still think it was overplayed to the point of ad nauseam years ago, but... now when it encounters me, I'm able to find deep value in some of the words, the earnest desperation that I, too, often feel deep inside:

And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm lost without you

Last week, a coworker with whom I frequently exchange music videos, and who had no idea of my storied past with "Breathe" (until now!) sent me this link, commenting, "Oh my, this is so beautiful..." And I've reached a point where I can agree. This is the most beautiful rendition of "Breathe" I've heard, and I'll commend it to your listening (and prayerful) pleasure:

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Three years ago today, Minneapolis police murdered Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, younger than I. As has become typical in such cases in present-day America, no charges were filed against the white officers. Let me say that again so it sinks in: Jamar's murderers are known, but never faced charges or a trial.

One year ago this evening, having recently found myself connected in a Kevin Bacon way to Jamar's life, I felt drawn to attend a two-year memorial/remembrance gathering. Unbeknownst to me until parking my car, Jamar was shot just blocks away from North high school, where I attended in 9th grade (my somewhat traumatic experience that was North High is a topic better discussed in-person, rather than online).

I admit some trepidation as I walked to where Jamar was killed; there were perhaps 75-100 or more people gathered, most with different skin complexions than mine, gifting me another rare moment in my life in which I found myself the minority. Someone was handing out candles; I took one gratefully, as the temperature was cold and the candle helped [slightly] to warm my hands. Unfortunately it was also windy, so despite my efforts, my candle did not last long. (I noticed I was not alone in my candle struggles)

On the boulevard stood a cardboard sign with Jamar's name, accompanied by candles and a few teddy bears. People held signs. Someone wore a hoodie with names written on it; as I read I realized it was a list of other police murder victims from the past several years, including local victims Philando Castile and Justine Damond.

Standing alone, I waited, and pondered my place in this; "this" being, among other things and in no particular order: white privilege, living with a local government that allows its employed protectors to kill without serious repercussion, my own confused emotions from attending North High, my feeling of "should I even be here?", and just trying to take in the experiences of the moment. And I was also focused just on trying to stay warm - it was very cold outside. I struggled to imagine the dedication of those who camped in front of the police precinct for 18 days after Jamar's murder.

My notes from a year ago tell me the event started with someone singing, though I no longer remember the song. This was followed by a short and emotionally powerful speech by a white woman, challenging the white people in the crowd that "we have to do better."

Jamar's parents, both biological and adopted, gave speeches, vastly different in tone from one another. I scribbled two phrases that caught my emotions. From the former, as best I can recount it: "Jamar is still here and alive in each of you. We don't mourn the dead; we celebrate his life in each of you who showed up." And from the latter, Jamar's adopted father described how Jamar was killed: shot through the eye at point blank range, leaving black gun powder residue around his face. Understandably, Jamar's father was - to put it mildly - angry. Hearing his not-so-subtle disparaging remarks toward the police was eye-opening to me.

Throughout the speeches, any pauses were filled by a man in the crowd yelling "Listen!" It struck me as odd the first time, then as it became a refrain, I realized in an abstract sense, he might be speaking to me (as a white person who's never given much thought to my own role in "this"), though I think it was an even more generic plea simply for these stories to be heard.

When the speeches finished, the North High marching band began to play, and our vigil took over the street, marching two blocks to stop in front of the fourth precinct. What struck me most powerfully was that we had police cruiser escorts during this march, blocking the street so we could walk safely. With conflicting emotions difficult to convey in words, I was awe-inspired to live in a society in which the very organization against which we were peacefully protesting, was at the same time protecting our right to assemble / protest. The SUVs both in front and in back of the march maintained a respectful distance as we walked, and again I found myself simply trying to process the experience.

Reaching the fourth precinct, there were chants, I think along the lines of "what do we want?" Justice. "When do we want it?" Now. A young black man initiated his own rallying cry: "I say Jamar, you say Clark! Jamar!"
And so on.

A small group assembled with a portable PA to 'sing' a rap song (I suppose if one knew the song, the lyrics might have been understandable; I found it unintelligible due to the poor microphone + speaker, and lack of volume from the singers).

Finally, we returned, again with police escort, to the spot of the shooting. Emotionally full, I took the opportunity to head home.

A year later, I still reflect on this experience with uncertainty, specifically of what my social responsibility is. Meager awareness is perhaps a starting point but I doubt that can also be my ending point. Yet, I struggle to know what else, besides awareness, I can actually do. In the meantime, another year has gone by, Jamar's murderers continued to walk free, and in our country over another dozen unarmed black men have been killed by police. (Source)

It's time for all of us to listen.

P.S. Since drafting this blog post a week or two ago, I listened to the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which follows the story of a black teen who witnesses police shoot and kill her childhood friend at a traffic stop. Alissa had recommended the book to me some time ago, though I hadn't known the subject matter until I started reading, nor of course how incredibly timely it would be on this particular week. Though a work of fiction, the story tells truth in a way I think more white people need to be willing to hear. If you have an opportunity to check out the book, or the movie that just came out a month ago (on my todo list), I can't encourage you enough to do so.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Anniversary gifts to Alissa

Alissa and my two-year anniversary was Sunday, and because I'm rather proud of the gifts I made for her, I thought I'd write a short post to brag.

The first hand-made gift was a no-sew fleece blanket featuring Belle, Alissa's favorite Disney Princess:

The second gift is the one over which I'm really giddy: 3D-printed bunnies, hand-painted to look like our real ones:

My Dad got a 3D printer a year or two ago, and has been printing up a storm of 3D gifts ever since. Inspired by his 3D printing, I bought my own printer (a Creality CR-10, for anyone interested) a couple months ago and have been printing my own storm: various accessories for board games I play, as well as decorations for Alissa's classroom (specifically: a TARDIS, a couple elephants [school mascot] and an apple), and other miscellaneous stuff.

A couple weeks ago I found some cute bunny designs on and printed those; I gave Alissa the first one as an impromptu gift, which she loved and immediately placed on display near our bunnies' cage. Then I got to thinking about printing another set and painting them to look like ours.

My miniature painting hobby was inspired a year and a half ago after I discovered Sorastro's Star Wars: Imperial Assault painting tutorials on YouTube. Imperial Assault is one of my most favorite board games, and excited by the prospect of painting my miniatures (and by how easy Sorastro made it look), I started investing in paints. I'll post photos of my painted minis sometime, because I'm pretty happy with how most of them have turned out. But, point being: I had all the requisite paints for the 3D bunnies.

The trickiest part was getting a reasonable color for the ears - I never could quite match the bunnies' iridescent pink/salmon-ish color, so settled for the slightly more deep pink/reddish color you see in the photos. The other tricky bit was feathering the gray patches of fur, so there weren't stark lines of white vs gray. After painting the gray splotches (using a slightly darker gray for Daisy's fur than Luke's), some rough dry-brushing with a white dry paint did the trick. After spraying with a protective matte varnish, I also applied a gloss varnish to the eyes and noses. It was a fun little project and even more fun being able to surprise Alissa with these cute little critters :)

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Honeymoon adventures

Since many family and friends have been asking about our honeymoon, I thought I'd capture some of the stories while they're still fresh in my mind.

"Wait a minute, Jeremy, didn't you get married almost two years ago?" you ask. Yes, you are correct. We got married November 4, 2016, and were planning to go on our honeymoon the following summer (2017), but for various reasons that didn't end up working out. So, we gave it another shot for summer 2018. On a related note, special thanks to Chris at Skads Travel for all her work making our trip come to fruition. She did a great job!

"Now wait just another minute, Jeremy, what do you mean 'travel agency'? Those still exist?" Yes, they do, as a matter of fact! Knowing that I too easily fall into the trap of "analysis paralysis," I advocated early on in our planning that I wanted to work with a travel agent who could find flights and activities for us, rather than needing to do all the research myself; I knew myself well enough to know that if I dove into all that research, I would have ended up pretty grumpy about the trip, and I wanted to enjoy myself instead. Working with Chris was great: we gave her a list of cities we wanted to visit, some rough travel dates, then she found us flights and hotels and activities, gave us some simple eye-doctor-style choices ("one or two", "two or three"), and off we went.

"Now hold on just a —" Nope, enough interrogation for the moment, on to the stories!


We started our European odyssey on Saturday, July 28, heading to the airport for an evening/overnight flight from MSP to Edinburgh, via Amsterdam. While going through TSA my stuffed animal monkey (Becca) was frisked by an agent who suspected her of smuggling contraband. We had a good chuckle about this and the agent was even friendly enough to pose for a photo with Becca.

For our first flight, I'd learned our seats were to be right in front of the lavatories (due to airline changing the plane and us losing the original seat selection Chris had made for us), but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. There wasn't a smell (my biggest concern), nor was the traffic to/from the lavatories loud or distracting. Most importantly, we were actually able to recline our seats (I thought we'd be butted up right against the wall, but fortunately that wasn't the case), and even better, could do so without any guilt of inconveniencing the people seated behind us. It was like we had our own little "nook" in the plane.

Edinburgh, Scotland

After a short layover in Amsterdam, we arrived in Edinburgh and took a bus to our hotel (about a half hour ride, and it dropped us conveniently less than two blocks from the hotel, for a fraction of the price of a private transport or taxi). Our room was small, which made sense since we were in the center of town where I imagine space is at a premium, but since we basically were only in the room at night, the lack of space wasn't a big deal.

Some highlights of Edinburgh:

Down the block from our hotel were a plethora of gift shops peddling Scottish-branded touristy things, but most importantly: shortbread :) I even found some gluten-free shortbread for Alissa. We also discovered vegetarian haggis (which we did NOT purchase, but found amusing nonetheless).

During our hop-on/hop-off bus tour of the city, we passed by the Elephant House (where the Harry Potter books were "born"), briefly toured the science museum (sadly it closed shortly after we arrived), saw preparations being made for the Military Tattoo, took a short hike up one of the nearby hills, and saw countless posters advertising upcoming theatricals (the most interesting title I remember was "Famous Puppet Death Scenes").

Our third day in Scotland saw us hopping on an early morning bus ride into the highlands toward Loch Ness. All told it was a 13-hour trip, with stops every couple hours to stretch our legs and purchase food/drink. Our driver/tour guide taught us about Scottish history on the way, which was made more interesting for the fact we were actually driving through some of the areas where the battles he was describing had been fought. Sadly we did not see Nessie while we were out on the Loch; since I know 99% of people who visit do actually see her, I was a bit disappointed that she'd decided to sleep all day when we were there. However, the highlight of the trip for me was seeing the scenic hills/mountains of the Scottish highlands, which I remembered with great fondness from my high school trip to the UK.

That final evening as we walked back to our hotel, we encountered a trio of buskers called The Spinning Blowfish, and watched their bagpipe + electric guitar + drums performance for a little bit.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The following morning we packed ourselves off for Amsterdam, and took the underground from the airport to our hotel (our hotel was built OVER the train station, so from our room [10th or 11th floor] we could see the trains coming and going). It was about a one block walk from the train station exit to our hotel entrance, and in that one block we were nearly run over by the bike traffic. Oh my goodness the bikes. Take the ratio of bikes and cars in Minneapolis, flip those numbers, and that's how many bikes Amsterdam has - they're everywhere, they rule the roads, and they show no mercy. (and just like in Minneapolis, stop signs don't mean a thing to bikers).

Some highlights of Amsterdam:

The Anne Frank house. (You have to buy tickets months in advance, and our amazing travel agent did just that) This was my reason for wanting to visit Amsterdam, having not too long ago read the book and seen the movie. I think we spent just shy of two hours walking through the house. It feels wrong to say we "enjoyed" it, so the best description I can offer of seeing the rooms, experiencing the space where these families lived, is that it was "very moving." Though I generally avoid writing political commentary, walking through Anne Frank's story does challenge me to wonder about the parallels between the rise of Nazi xenophobia and our current political climate.

After leaving the Anne Frank house, we grabbed lunch and hopped onto a hop-on/hop-off boat tour; unbeknownst to ignorant-me until we arrived, Amsterdam is full of canals! While our boat took us around the city, we became stuck in the middle of - wait for it - a boat traffic jam. For half an hour. We never did know for sure what happened (since they were speaking in Dutch, and we couldn't see what was going on) but as best we can tell, a boat's engine broke down with the boat blocking traffic, and for whatever reason the emergency responders weren't allowed to board it to help (I thought I overheard someone saying if they boarded then the owners would be charged for services, but I'm not sure I understood correctly). After semi-serious jokes from other impatient passengers asking why we couldn't just disembark by climbing over the other boats parked next to us, finally the broken-down boat got a tow and traffic began flowing again. I cannot say I was wow-ed by Dutch efficiency.

We escaped the don't-hop-off-boat and at some point did a hop-on bus tour, followed by meandering the streets on a scavenger hunt for dinner. We examined menus at a fancy-looking (read: expensive-looking) restaurant as the hostess tried convincing us to eat there; I wasn't thrilled with the menu so we kept walking, but after walking away and checking out other restaurants, I came to realize I liked that first one the best, and most importantly they had some Alissa-friendly food options. Reminding myself this was our honeymoon and it would be okay to splurge on a dinner here and there, I suggested we return. This became a precedent for my behavior toward at least two other dinners/restaurants later on in our trip (Jeremy says "no", Jeremy decides he was wrong, we both go back to the first place and eat yummy food). Anyway, if you find yourself visiting Amsterdam, we can both highly recommend the Seasons Restaurant. Oh, and I also impressed Alissa with my Norwegian language skillz when I said "thanks" and "have a good day" to the Norwegians sitting next to us, as I had to ask one of them to move so I could get out from our table.

Post-dinner we wandered around trying to find a juicery I'd spotted the night before, but by the time we found it (silly me hadn't written down a name or address) it was already closed. Oh well. We got a good walk in, at least!

Hamburg, Germany

We arrived in Hamburg the next day, and our hotel was (as my Grandma would've said) "very deluxe." Our room was huge, and included a full kitchen (sink, dishwasher, microwave, fridge, pots/pans/dishes). They also heard it was our honeymoon, so they left some bubbly wine and cookies for us :) And downstairs in the breakfast nook they had 24/7 coffee/tea available. After settling in, we took a walk through a nearby park and found a tapas restaurant for dinner ("tapas", Alissa taught me, are small plates of shareables, so you get several and eat family-style).

The highlight of Hamburg:

The reason we added Hamburg to our itinerary was to visit Miniatur Wunderland, the world's largest model train exhibition. I highly encourage you to spend a couple minutes glancing at their website to get an idea, because this place is so much more than model trains - city after city after city constructed in HO-scale, with tens of thousands of painted miniature figurines, autonomously driving cars+trucks, a fully-functional miniature airport, a 30,000 liter tank of water with boats, and so on. Every 15 minutes, the lights throughout the building fade through sunset to night, and miniature LEDs turn on in the cities (especially striking in the Las Vegas display). In one town, there is a "fire" a few times per hour, for which a half dozen fire trucks peel out of their fire station with lights flashing and sirens blaring. In Pompeii, the volcano erupts every 15-20 minutes and "lava" flows down the side. The Alps in Switzerland cover two floors, floor to ceiling. And throughout, there are hundreds of push-buttons visitors can use to trigger scenes, like a road worker using a jackhammer, or an amusement park ride, or a chocolate factory that dispenses a real piece of chocolate to eat.

There are also some fun easter eggs: for instance while I watched the planes take off and land at the miniature airport, the Millennium Falcon came in for a landing and taxied to a gate, and a few minutes later, the space shuttle Enterprise also landed and was greeted by half a dozen firetrucks on the runway. In a different area, there was a button simply labeled "Banana", which lit up a small cave in which were some Minions, complete with cave-paintings of more minions.

No matter how cool I thought Wunderland was going to be from the photos and videos (seriously, check out this 5-minute promotional video), it far exceeded any and all expectations I had. I was utterly blown away. We spent six hours there, which was more than enough time for Alissa, and not nearly enough time for me (though I will admit a certain feeling of "awesomeness fatigue" set in after a while - it takes energy to keep being amazed over and over and over). I would love to go back and spend about two solid days there to admire everything.

For more photos, check out this Facebook album I created of only Miniatur Wunderland photos (which represents approximately a full third of all photos I took on our honeymoon).

Nice, France

Our hotel in Nice was two blocks from the beach and had plenty of restaurants nearby. Our first night for dinner I ate escargot (for the fourth time in my life, so I knew I'd find it tasty). And our third night (in another instance of "find a restaurant, walk away, walk back and have yummy food") I had... a pizza. In my defense, we were very close to Italy so it was very very good pizza. And I was ready for some comfort food by this point in the trip.

Some highlights of Nice:

Our first full day we took a day trip to Monaco; our driver picked us up in front of our hotel (and he was so happy with us for being outside on time for him - I guess we were a rarity), and along with another family we rode a couple hours over beautifully scenic hills. On the way we stopped at a hillside touristy-town where we walked up and down hilly steps/stairs, ate some delicious eggplant for lunch at a restaurant near the top of the hill, and got somewhat lost in the maze of ups and downs of steps on our way back to the van. Once in Monaco a short drive later, we had two one-hour blocks of free-time to walk and explore different parts of the city/country, before heading back to Nice.

I forget if it was on the way to or from Monaco, but along the way one of those directions we stopped to tour the Fragonard perfumery. To my surprise, this was one of my absolute highlights of the trip, in particular the perfume tasting sniffing, because it was remarkably similar to sniffing wine as part of a wine tasting (of which Alissa and I have been taking lessons from my aunt and uncle). I had never in my life thought I'd get excited about perfume, but, it was really fun trying to pick out the individual flavors smells in each of the samples; also, fun fact: to cleanse the nose's palette(?) between samples, we sniffed coffee. Who knew?

The following day, similar to other cities, we did a hop-on/off tour in Nice itself, which included dipping our toes into the Mediterranean sea. This didn't last long, as the beach was made of rocks and was rather uncomfortable on the feet!

Barcelona, Spain

We flew to Barcelona on what we discovered is officially (possibly actually) the worst airline in the world. When we checked in for our Vueling flight and Alissa asked why the flight was delayed (mechanical issue? weather? something else?), the ticketing agent literally said "On-time doesn't exist with Vueling." Later reading online reviews of the airline was... amusing.

In any case, we did eventually arrive safely in Barcelona, which I think ended up being my favorite city that we visited. (Miniatur Wunderland was my favorite attraction, but Barcelona as a whole was my favorite city). What I appreciated most about it was the streets - Barcelona was a planned city with square blocks and straight streets, sidewalks wide enough for 10 people abreast, and reasonable traffic signals that didn't try to get you run over by cars or bikes (like was the case in, say, Amsterdam). And, though I don't have specific evidence to back this up, Barcelona felt like there was so much more to do (whereas some of the other cities I felt like, "we've done enough now.")

I've often been asked if we saw any Gaudí architecture, to which I reply, "yes, we saw a lot of gaudy architecture" (I wasn't a Gaudí fan; sorry).

Some highlights of Barcelona:

This hotel also was "very deluxe," with sparkling wine waiting for us in the room, our own patio/porch area, and a VERY nice breakfast buffet (all the hotels had great breakfast buffets; this one just went far above and beyond).

We ate a lot of tapas in Barcelona, as there were so many great restaurants near our hotel. The hop-on/off was also quite enjoyable, and we once again got a chance to visit the beach and dip our toes in the sea, followed by a delicious sea-side lunch (immediately before the skies opened up with a thunderstorm! Thank goodness the hop-on bus came quickly).

My favorite activity was a day trip to a nearby vineyard where we learned about their wine-making process; I may not be recalling all the numbers correctly, but it went something like this: their oldest grape vines are 200 years old; early in the grape-growing season, they choose to pick and discard like 80% of the grapes from the vines, so that the remaining grapes get all the nutrients; they hand-harvest their grapes and again discard a high percentage of imperfect bundles. In the end, they produce only about 30,000 bottles per annum, and I learned that winemaking is definitely more of a passion/art than a money-making business. We got to ride through the vineyards then tour the machinery room and aging rooms, filled with huge barrels of their different wines. Finally we concluded with a wine-tasting of four of their wines.

But wait there's more! After wine tasting #1, we went basically across the street to their other facility where they make Cava (sparkling wine from this particular region of Catalonia/Spain), had a whole 'nother tour of their wine-making and aging process (underground tunnels filled to the brim with wine bottles), followed by a tasting of four sparkling wines. At both this tasting and the earlier one we had great conversations with our table mates (there were about 16 people in our tour bus, and then four per table at the tastings). Having gone past the lunch hour with only nuts and crackers to nibble, by the end of this second tasting we were both a little tipsy; fortunately that's why we had a bus driver :)

Athens, Greece

Less than a month prior to our trip, there were some major Greece fires (say it out loud, it's punny) 20 miles from our hotel in downtown Athens, so we were worried those might impact our travels; Fortunately, they were contained/put out/over/dealt with by the time we landed.

For the first time on our trip we took a taxi instead of public transit to get to our hotel (the Dorian Inn), which was a slightly hair-raising adventure owing to our driver's intimate relationship with the center lines on the road. As we were planning our trip, I'd had no strong opinions about hotels other than this one, because it was where I'd stayed on a high school trip to Athens many years ago, and it had a rooftop pool and restaurant with a view of the Acropolis. What I hadn't realized until we neared the hotel, was that the neighborhood has gone downhill since 2001 (or perhaps was never a great neighborhood to begin with, and I'd just been oblivious as a teenager). This opinion was first confirmed in our taxi: as I watched our approach on my GPS and was saying to Alissa "we're just a block or two away now", I had also noticed the streets outside were looking a little... rough; simultaneously, the driver locked the doors. Great sign. Later, Alissa checked our guidebook and learned that it actually recommended avoiding this particular neighborhood altogether, or at least after dark. Well, bummer. The hotel, though, was a very solid three-to-four stars, clean, another great breakfast buffet, and delicious food at the rooftop restaurant.

Some highlights of Athens:

Our first night we walked to a neaby Bulgarian restaurant that was well-reviewed on Yelp, and learned that just because Google Maps labels a road as "yellow" (aka a more major road), that isn't necessarily true; we walked through some sketchy alley-roads on our way there, so we took a different route back. What saddened me the most about Athens is just how run-down the city feels, graffiti everywhere, sidewalks crumbling in some places, it was just very sad. But, the food at the Bulgarian restaurant was indeed very very good and worth the walk.

The next morning we rose early to catch our all-day island-hopping cruise, which was a true delight. We visited three islands, got to walk around and see touristy things; on one of the islands Alissa started petting a cat and was quickly accosted by several more cats wanting love and attention. Apparently public cats are a thing in Greece, where entire communities own the cats instead of individual families, so I don't think any of these were ferrel.

Arriving back at our hotel, we ate dinner on the roof and enjoyed a beautiful view of the Parthenon all lit up at night.

Speaking of the Parthenon, the following day we actually got to visit it! (and Alissa tired quickly of my constant refrain "They say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is..."; I got quite a chuckle when our next day's hop-on/off tour bus mentioned the "no straight lines" bit and Alissa just glared at me :) What a tremendous view of the city from up there, too.

We ate dinner at a small place called "Vegan Nation" which had vegan+gluten-free foods that were quite tasty. And back at the hotel took turns enjoying a massaging chair near the business center. A couple times we visited the rooftop pool, too, which was surprisingly cold (given the exceptionally hot air temperatures while we were there!) and it took a while to acclimate into the water.

Our last day in Athens we purchased a hop-on/off bus ticket and set off around town, seeing all the things, and taking a stop at the Acropolis Museum. We ate some gelato in the hot afternoon sun, then later in the evening went out for dinner and a wine tasting with a local tour guide (it was just him and us, so we had a great conversation and learned so much about current Geek culture).

When we got back to the hotel, we napped for a few hours, before waking around 2 a.m. (yep, you read that right) to do our final pack and meet our airport taxi.

Homeward bound

Our first flight (Athens to Amsterdam) was delayed, significantly enough that we worried we might miss our connection. When going through immigration (out-igration?) in Amsterdam, I asked the traffic director if we could get into the "short connections" line even though our connection time was technically 10 minutes too long, and fortunately they waved us right into the fast lane, so we had no issue getting to our gate by the time they started boarding.

We slept and watched movies and held hands, sad to see our honeymoon be over.

My parents picked us up at the airport, and when we arrived home we found Luke and Daisy had printed a sign saying "welcome home from your Bunnymoon"; and on our bed, Pooh had a welcome home balloon and a sign that read, "welcome home from your hunnymoon".

The end.