This is a post about the past year in our lives, with particular attention to Owen's changes. It is a post about progress, that which slips just under our awareness because it is so gradual. It is also about rapid transformations, the way snow can fall silently right until an avalanche. And even if it seems like a contradiction, there is a theme of the timeless aspects of the human family.
As a little introduction to our neighborhood, there is a friendly if standoffish cat that wanders, front yards and back. It looks healthy and has a collar with phone number, address, and the name, "Butthole".
Like so many little people, he likes to try on bigger shoes.
Through the year, Owen grew as an explorer. He was tentatively hunting easter eggs in April and roaming with a smile in July.
As he grows and explores autonomously, there are basic things we need to teach him. Here he is learning about crossing the street.
By November he was leading us on expeditions.
Owen has become a major contributor to the household chores. Here he is vacuuming in January.
In February he was giving lessons on how to best shovel the sidewalk.
He made major contributions to spring cleaning.
Owen is turning out to be very naturally athletic. He's getting faster all the time.
Look for him in the 2038 Winter Olympics. He could be a world class bobsledder. Or maybe he’ll popularize winter cyclocross.
Or it might be that he continues with baseball-golf trucking.
Or surfing might be more his style.
His skills keep improving.
Because he is clearly profoundly gifted as an athlete, we got him a basketball hoop for Christmas.
He has also explored and developed his skills as a musician. In March, he started with a wind instrument.
In the summer, Pop Mike gave Owen a guitar lesson.
One of those eternal pasttimes for parents is to speculate on how their child's early interests reveal future career paths.
Here Katie and Owen observe an ant colony in spring.
In this clip Owen is on a phone call with Pop Carl (aka Bap), and Owen describes a painting he made for Bap.
Owen tried his hand at farming as a possible vocation.
He worked hard through the summer months. In August, Great-Grandpa Gary taught Owen how to shuck corn. In September, Nel helped Owen harvest apples.
By October, he was ready to run the farm.
Because of his interest in agriculture as a possible career path, Katie fabricated this nearly functional tractor for him to ride on Halloween.
He became deeply fascinated by lawn maintenance. At present, one would have to wager this is his most likely career path.
Men are resourceful. Jeff made great progress helping Owen understand the proper ways to use sticks.
Little boys outgrow little boxes.
Like his parents, Owen loves the outdoors.
And also like his parents, Owen loves to read.
There was a mass shooting at our local grocery store, the same store where Katie's grandparents have shopped for decades, where her uncle made his career as a manager. Katie and Owen had been there the day before.
We attended a memorial ceremony at the nearby high school.
If you look closely you can see the moon and the military choppers both circling the Earth.
There was no single change that turned the muskets of our founders into the assault rifles that now plague our public spaces. Just incremental technological and cultural innovation. But geez, those bullets ripped right through our community almost as fast as the machine gun kick back. Ten of us never got to breathe again.
So that's how our neighborhood store was taken down by a disaster. We've been doing more shopping at Costco a couple miles down the highway. Buying bulk has financial and environmental benefits.
In July we took a trip to the Brown-Stonbraker cabin outside Breckenridge.
In September we took a trip to San Diego to celebrate Grandma Ellen's retirement and 70th birthday. We rented a big house with her and with Jeff's sister's family.
Katie's cousin Ryan lives a few hours north of San Diego, and they were kind enough to make a trip down for an afternoon at the beach and an evening of child's play. One thing that will never change is the value of family—broad and deep.
Owen and Mom sure love each other.
Owen is extremely fortunate to have meaningful connections with all his grandparents and several great grandparents.
We spend a lot of time at our neighborhood playgrounds.
In last year's annual post we had a video of him toppling towers his mother built. This year he's become somewhat more constructive.
This was the last time he ever rode in his first car seat. (Compare to the first time he ever rode in that car seat.)
He has made good use of the phrase, "Can you talk about it?" to learn about subjects that are new to him.
It is often a delight to hear his solo chatter in bed after we turn his lights out. We try not to be creeps and spy on him, but I couldn't help myself from recording a few adorable clips.
Every day he seemed like the same little guy as the day before, but when you see clips in close succession the development is evident.
We were in the news again just before the new year. There has been a great deal of wind lately, but on the 30th it was particularly severe. It brought down power lines, and one of them sparked a fire in the open space a few miles down the highway. Acres of grass burned and spread fast, consuming over 600 homes in neighboring towns of Superior, Louisville, and Broomfield, places where Katie and Jeff have lived and have friends and family.
One of the areas that burned contained the Costco where we had been shopping since the massacre at King Soopers. So, that's how our other grocery store was taken down by disaster. Welp, back to farming. Good thing Owen's been honing his skills.
Here are some images from a walk through our neighboorhood that night. The downed power line was a block away, but luckily didn't start a fire.
Katie's Aunt and Uncle lost their home. They were able to grab three photo albums and almost nothing else. Here is a link to their Go Fund Me page. This is their house on New Year's Eve.
Surely this is just some bad weather, like the other floods, hail, and tornadoes that have torn similar towns to tatters. Shall we smile and keep hoping the silent snowfall is benign?
The concept of change is all too familiar for teachers (again) this year. Katie is still teaching 8th grade language arts at Centennial Middle School. In January, students returned to school in a "hybrid" model, meaning half the class learned remotely from home while the other half attended class in person.
Katie will be the first to tell you that this scenario provides the worst possible conditions for learning. Still, she gave it her all. You can read more about her experience in this Boulder Weekly article that explores how teachers were supporting students through the pandemic.
Despite the impossible circumstances, Katie managed to contribute to a district-wide "Perspectives" project, which you can read more about in this Daily Camera article.
This school year is a bit more "normal" as students are all back in person, but it's still a far cry from ideal. One thing that remains constant in the life of educators is the belief that things can change. So, we march on in service to the young adults in front of us and the future we share.
Jeff would like to call attention to two stand-out advances in science and technology from the year. First, of course, is the suite of covid vaccines. The incredible speed of realization and effectiveness for reducing disease severity are a proud reminder of the legacy of vaccine development going back to the work of Jenner around 1796 as well as the fundamental research in the wake of the sars outbreaks in the early 2000s. Countless millions of lives we're saved, infections subdued, and while 2021 was not unfettered butterflies and sunshine, the vaccine enabled us to be much safer while having a lot more fun than the year before.
The second advance is the Webb Space Telescope that launched on Christmas day. Twenty-five years in design and construction building on the initial work of legends like Isaac Newton, this space telescope will orbit a million miles away, in the dark of Earth's shadow and the cold of space. It's sensors are infrared (as opposed to the primarily visible-wavelength sensors of Hubble), so Webb will see light from further back in time, potentially observing the elusive formation of the first generation of stars, and Webb will also look for the infrared signatures of life on recently discovered exoplanets. When Pop Russ was born, we didn't know if anything existed beyond our galaxy. We didn't know if the universe had been here eternally or had a starting point. Now we have answers to these questions, and deeper mysteries remain. We learn, then refine our instruments, then learn, then refine, and we move forward. None of it is fast, but it is steady.
The work from DeepMind on protein folding is also incredibly exciting. We'll leave it at that.
As a personal anecdote, Jeff gave a contributed talk at a conference a few years ago, and afterward an editor from an academic journal invited him to write a perspective article about his research field. The paper was published this year with the title, "Optoelectronic Intelligence". It caught the attention of a science podcaster who invited Jeff for an interview (video, podcast). Now over a quarter million people are aware of Jeff's work. Just before Christmas he submitted a proposal to NASA requesting support to develop a superconducting single-photon sensor concept for use in future telescopes based on the same optoelectronic technology he's developing for cognitive computing. If it stands a chance of working, it won't be for several decades, hopefully prior to retirement. But maybe Owen will see through that telescope's eyes. The human mission spans generations.
Jeff's work is based on the idea that if we had a deeper understanding of what nature is, what we're doing here, and where technology is going, we might find unifying purpose across humanity. At present it feels as if we are gaining that understanding more slowly than we are unraveling. But there are no shortcuts, so 2022 will be a year of putting one foot right in front of the other, just like all the years before.
And, Jeff loves his wife and deeply appreicates all the support from his family that makes his work possible.
You have seen Owen's growth through this post as he grew to two-and-two-thirds years old. He spends two days a week with his grandparents and attends school on the NIST campus where Jeff works the other three days. He was in the toddlers class this year, and starting in January he will move up to preschool! Due to covid, parents are no longer allowed into the classrooms, but his teachers send us pictures every day. As far as we can tell, he spends his days just fuckin' groovin'.
At the close of 2021, here are Owen's reflections on the year:
That's our family in 2021. Though times have been a bit tough, we have been unreasonably fortunate. We thank our families and communities for great blessings. If we, collectively, can focus on our common threads, perhaps we can mend our fraying tapestry. Let's remember that our greatest mission is to nurture our world for our children. We love all of you and wish you the best in 2022.
Owen and his mother play a game where they look at each other with faces down but eyes up, exchange funny stares, then laugh like old bitties.
He is all too observant.
Potty training is a big goal for 2022.