Ship's Log

This is a running log for the Bilson family, written mostly by the ship’s captain (me). It’s in Facebook-style order to share with those who care what we’re up to these days.

Below are logs from the past six months. See the archive at the bottom of the page to view any log.

Thanks to the tireless labor of Amie’s parents and my grandparents, we completely renovated Graham and Royal’s bedroom! Every surface was coated with Kilz primer, then at least one coat of paint. Even the downstairs bedroom got a primer coat. We began to replace all the outlets, switches, and box light fixtures, added track lighting in the kitchen, and moved the refrigerator. Thank you Tom, Debbie, Jaynne, Skip, and Carol!!!

The finished product is stunning - my favorite room in the house. It's like taking a vacation at a beach resort, walking into the boy's room.
I don't have too many contrast photos, but look at that window frame. Yuck!
Moving the refrigerator from the middle, where it took up all the counter space, to the end, where it leaves both counters open, was a 1000% kitchen improvement.

I asked for help on a work project and I am grateful to have received it. Even more grateful for Amie since she instigated the idea. But the help turned into more of the helper doing it all and me watching sometimes. Not the most fun approach to getting help. It is the fastest though, so good for the business I guess?

How is it that asking for help is still such a barrier? I will struggle alone for hours, days even, before asking for the fifteen minutes of help that carries me over my current hurdle.

Not long after we arrived in Rapid City (so I’m a little behind), Graham and Royal participated in Strider Fest. It’s a race hosted by the company that makes their Strider bikes. Rapid City is their home base as it turns out.

Royal was at the top of his race and got to ride in the finals of his age bracket. His secret? Slow and steady.
The race itself went over all kinds of terrain. Rocky bumps, tunnels, ramps and sprinklers. It was awesome.

Amie’s mom received a load of unspilt logs from a friend named Wes. We were over there last Saturday and split some of it for her. She even let us take some of it home for our campfires!

This electric splitter is awesome. It makes me so happy to split wood again!
Our own woodpile, sigh. It's beautiful!
Enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Graham, Royal and I went on our longest hike ever - a big chunk of the Flume Trail! I didn’t think it would be too much longer after the tunnel, but it turned out to be about a 2.5 mile hike. I only had to carry them a little bit of the way towards the end to give their legs a break. So proud of them for sticking it out!

The trail crosses the stream running from Sheridan Lake and climbs up the southern hillside. Then it cuts west, through a long tunnel built back when panhandlers were searching for gold. It runs along the hillside (sometimes perilously close to the edge; those parts gave my papa heart a fit), then down into a ravine. After that, back up a ridge to Sheridan Lake, then down into another ravine headed east, across four bridges, back to the trailhead.

Graham was an excellent big brother, pointing out every place that Royal might stumble.
Did those little legs really make it over this trail?!
Tired but happy. Next time we'll turn back at the tunnel :)

Have you ever skim coated a wall to replace the texture? Except for applying a layer of Kilz primer (do we have to do this before the skim coat?), we’re ready to give it a shot on the walls of our basement bedroom. What’s the worst that could happen?

Oh wait, found the most provocative. What if this was American history?

Let’s Talk About Race Series - Slavery

Amie showed me a few of Chris Buck’s photographs on Facebook today. I couldn’t find links to the most provocative, but this is an example.

That this photo looks unusual is the whole point. Why?

Let’s Talk About Race Part 2

After hearing my story, you decide if you’d like to work with Xpert Mortgage of Illinois.

Our condo was under contract with a buyer with a $150k pre-approval through Xpert for three months. First, they wanted “just one more paycheck” from our buyer, so we delayed closing for three weeks. Then they were unresponsive and our lawyer nearly exploded with frustration. After weeks of back-and-forth, our lawyer called the president of the company because she’d never seen such abysmal service. Instead of rectifying the situation, our buyer instead received a loan denial letter claiming that they weren’t able to supply $1500. Who even knows where this magic number came from, but both sides, seller and buyer, offered to make up the difference.

This business is not trustworthy. They wasted three months of our time and cost us several thousands of dollars while our condo was under contract with a buyer they’d never loan to. They were not forthcoming about what they needed as a lender and behaved childishly when they made mistakes, all the way up to the president of the company. Their pre-approval cannot be trusted.

After a rocky landing, worse than I could have imagined, our lives are getting a little better. There are now homes for a few essentials-I can find a cup for tea or a screwdriver for a project-and we’re starting to find life rhythms again.

After bouts of sickness Amie has been able to visit more family which has helped tremendously to manage full days with the two hooligans. We’re still cleaning and launching projects every other day, but the regular progress has staved off most of the sense that we live in a hopeless shithole. When we’re really tired or overwhelmed it can still be deeply discouraging, but usually one of us has a slightly better outlook.

The next pivot is Graham’s first week of school. Technically it’s next week, but he won’t start in earnest until Labor Day week. I anticipate Amie will enjoy spending most of the week only managing Royal and will be able to imagine new rhythms that don’t require her every waking moment devoted to our boys. Maybe I’ll find space to start some new rhythms of my own, who knows?

One of my favorite has been doing odd projects over lunch. Since I’m sedentary all morning, physical work is surprisingly effective as a mid-day break. My other favorite is taking one or both of the boys out for a bike ride after work. We’ve met so many neighbors on our rides and it’s given me a great excuse to explore the neighborhood.

Some inspiration for writing online, The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online. It’s a long one I’ll visit again next week.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting more neighbors here in Rapid City than anywhere else. Just tonight a couple, Scott & Andra, came by to introduce themselves tonight. When the boys and I go for rides around the neighborhood we often at least say hi to someone, and sometimes even chat for a bit like Dock & Jane down the street. Now that we have a fire pit (maybe need some chairs…) I’m excited to start having neighbors over to hear their stories.

Only two weeks in Rapid City and I’m already back to Chicago. Flying into O’Hare still feels like coming home.

David Ello graciously picked me up from the airport and we spent all afternoon chatting on their back porch. Such a joy to hang with David, Sharon and Charlotte.

No travel to Downtown Chicago is complete without going out to eat, and I did enjoy returning to the land of food excellence. But it’s not nearly as much fun eating incredible food by myself as when I’m enjoying it together with others. I’d rather eat Papa Murphy’s with friends than eat a multi-course meal at a 5-star restaurant.

ALL these glass-faced buildings were built in the past five years. The effect of their reflective glass faces is to make them disappear. They're the most human-friendly skyscrapers I've seen, hiding their immensity while gearing the lowest levels to be modernly magnificent.
It's an unsettling experience to travel at once from the natural beauty of the Black Hills to the man-made beauty of the Chicago Loop. I feel that I ought to value natural beauty over human-made, but I find them both so captivating in such dramatically different ways that it's impossible to compare.

We can get Palisade peaches here 🥲. What’s a Palisade peach, you ask? Only the most heavenly peach on earth, grown only in Palisade, Colorado.

We can come out of COVID quarantine today. I should wear a mask in public but, since I’ll be in my office most of the day anyway, this hardly matters. Under these circumstances it’s just as painful here as in Evanston, even worse after I factor in the unpacked boxes and dozens of incomplete projects. Hoping things will improve soon now that we’re out of quarantine.

I’ve written a longer update about our Arrival to Rapid City. It’s funny; when I write it down, it doesn’t sound that bad. But living through it: the bone-tiredness, the sneezing and aching, the numbing disappointment; our arrival was terrible. But I’ll forget most of that. That’s how memory works.

There are so many we’ll miss. Here’s a few we’ve gotten pictures with recently, though by no means everyone.

Douglas and his wife Cara are Graham's godparents.
Anne was Graham's teacher and now Royal's at Devonshire Montessori.
Kati Ray (and Tommy Smith, not featured) are Royal's godparents.
Carter is Graham's best friend.
Ammar (right) and Andrea (left) are neighborhood boys that have been older brothers to Graham and Royal.
Jotham (and dad Dorren and mom Rebecca) are regulars at our home, at Little Beans, and at the Evanston Vineyard.
Charlotte, Sharon (her mom), and David (her dad, not featured) have been good friends to our whole household through a global pandemic.

My grandparents were in town for my cousin Colby’s boot camp graduation at Great Lakes Naval Center. It was great to see them, and especially to introduce Royal to his great-grandfather (Papaw).

A visit to the Chicago Botanic Gardens with the boys is a must.
Royal takes a short time to warm up, but then he'll snuggle right in!

While they played with the boys, Amie and I toured the Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. The pictures don’t do the tour justice, but here are a couple to jog my own memory.

This was Wright's home, where he lived with his servants, wife, and six children.
This gentleman has been giving volunteer tours here for twenty-six years.
The children's playroom. Wright felt that, while bedrooms were of little importance, a room built for his children's play was crucial. Everything is to a child's scale, and just behind me sits a Steinway and upper balconies for puppet shows.
If I was ever to build a house, it would be in Wright's Prairie style.

Apologies for the site downtime. I’ve hosted this site on a Raspberry Pi sitting next to me on my desk for two years, but I’ll be shutting the Pi off for our move to Rapid City. That doesn’t mean the site will be gone; I am a developer after all!

I’ve migrated everything to Vultr. My Vultr server runs in Chicago, so you probably won’t notice the change. If you live on the other side of planet Earth; however, I could deploy a second instance nearer to you. Send me an email and I’ll see what I can do :)

A little late, but on June 25th Amie and I watched Un Ballo In Maschera (A Masked Ball) conducted by Riccardo Muti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Choir.

It was magical. Stunning. Breathtaking.

I’ve not been to many operas but I suspect this one was unusual among them. To watch Muti conduct, feeling each movement’s passions: love, fear, anger; is spellbinding. And the opera singers…

I did not until this event realize that a world-class opera singer is gifted, not only with a stellar voice, but also the capacity to act. And what acting! The sly look, the fit of passion; and always planted in place, singing dramatically and synchonously with an entire ochestra.

I could almost shake the cellist's hand!
Every line is translated from classical Italian to English. It reads like a Shakespearean play - Verdi's own inspiration!

Amie’s birthday surprise began with a Graeter’s ice cream cake, vanilla bean with chocolate. Royal’s pick.

Maya, our upstairs neighbor and babysitter for the evening, came down at 6:00, and we were out the door before 6:10. Amie didn’t know where we were going, though she had an inkling.

We parked in a private back alley (thanks SpotHero!) and walked down Broadway looking for a dinner spot. Amie chose Cere’s Table. Delicious.

The food was so good we almost missed our event, the Blue Man Group! We jogged the two blocks to Briar Street Theatre and arrived right at 8:00.

Amie said the show was surprisingly funny and she hadn’t expected so much audience participation. The smoke bothered her throat a little, but overall she had a magnificent time. Me too!

Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures so here’s one of Amie from a few days back.

I received the message from Kati while making lunch for the boys. While we’d been playing at a playground, a shooter murdered several people at a parade thirty minutes north of us.

First came the shock, then the anger and the tears. Several children were shot by a man who evaded the police for the entire day. All public events were cancelled. Friends were at a similar parade in a nearby township. The total injured and dead is still not confirmed, but we’re looking at dozens.

In the morning, we’d felt disappointed that we wouldn’t enjoy the fireworks because we didn’t want to keep our boys up late; by noon we were trapped inside our apartment waiting for a child-murderer to be apprehended by the police.

I am not a person who readily dwells upon potential dangers. When the what-if fears do surface: “what if Amie gets in a car accident while taking the boys to school,” “what if Royal falls off that ledge and suffers permanent brain damage,” I do my best to silence the fears by reminding myself that the Lord Jesus will support us through any suffering and that I must release those I love to take measured risks.

But answer me this: how am I to measure risk in an environment where my son can be shot at a 4th of July parade? Or in his elementary school classroom?

Do you know that Highland Park was only the most fatal shooting yesterday? There were 7 mass shootings across the U.S. There’s already been one more today and it’s not even noon.

Before you assume these are happening in gang neighborhoods, go look at the data. Pull up a few of those addresses and see where they’re located. You know what, fuck that, let me show you right here.

Kansas City, 4 Injured
Richmond, 6 Injured
Chicago, 5 Injured
Boston, 4 Injured
Sacramento, 1 Dead, 4 Injured
New York, 4 Injured
Chicago, 6 Dead, 31 Injured

Tell me this, dear reader. Is it an acceptable risk to take my son to a 4th of July parade? 😭

These days are flying by!

The last two weeks I’ve been totally absorbed in securing a mortgage for our prospective home. Our relationship with the first mortgage broker began well, but when we filled out the loan application we were shocked to find a $9,200 origination fee! The discovery was for the best since it forced me to shop around-a wise practice for any major purchase-but I still wish we’d been able to negotiate with the first broker. Ultimately I went through this process three times and landed on the third broker.

In the midst of loan negotiations we received our home inspection results. While I was ready to give up in my emotionally thin state, the outcome was positive. We’re currently negotiating with the sellers about how to handle a couple concerns, and we still have the VA appraisal, but it’s a relief that we’ve made it this far towards moving to Rapid City.

Ice cream at Homer’s. Do ya think Graham and Royal had a good time?

A dear friend of ours, Ted Burham, speaks before the leadership of Dearborn, MI in this reasoned presentation. I do not know many who speak with candor and without hedging before authorities as Ted does. I too have experienced what is evident in Ted’s presentation; that the Holy Spirit gives words at the appointed time, just as Jesus promised in Mark 13:11.

You may be uncomfortable, as I am, by Ted’s boldness. I hope you will join me in a little courage, however, to consider whether Ted may in fact be acting in loving obedience.

First, let’s consider that Jesus himself promised in the paragraph before (specifically, Mark 14:9) that his apostles would stand before authorities for His sake. Let’s not think it too unusual if we observe this happen in our time.

Second, let’s double-check one of these very events in the life of Paul. The entirety of Acts 24 is devoted to an occurrence of Paul standing before an authority on the accusation of inciting riots. Paul addresses his behavior, but he does not avoid speaking openly also about the underlying reason for his arrest; the reports of his conviction in Jesus' resurrection from the dead (and by definition his allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah). It seems that Paul felt it appropriate to slip in more than was purely necessary for his defense, don’t you think?

Fear not, if you take pains a careful analysis will give you opportunity to discredit Ted. But I wonder, if we could let Ted’s actions stand for themselves and quiet the shame in our own hearts for a moment, might we be grateful for Ted’s witness that the Master of the Universe, Jesus of Nazareth, is in fact the Lord even over those who do not recognize His kingship? Might we put ourselves aside for a moment to ask that the Lord deliver Ted’s family from the hands of angry men, thank Him for giving to Ted both courage and humility at the appointed hour, and request with faith the same impartation for our appointed times of testimony?

I’m stunned. We’re under contract for a mansion!

3909 Brookside Dr., Rapid City, SD

I’ve tinkered with it for a while now, but finally I can show videos on my log!

Because videos are HUGE, I’ve configured them to download only when clicked. Let me know if video makes the site hard to use and I’ll take it down.

This video is Graham and Royal sitting on the window ledge waiting for Mama to come home. They saw a kitty and, later, Royal does a little singing. Enjoy!

The boys transferred asleep from the car straight into bed, hallelujah! We weren’t totally worn out, so we played Terraforming Mars.

Amie's so feisty when it comes to board games. Good thing you can't see MY face.

I won 😆

Recently it seems like the happiest bits of our lives, like Graham’s birthday or Val and Elda’s visit, aren’t getting the writing time they deserve. Alas, not much about that is liable to change until this transition’s over, but here are a couple pictures.

Graham had a wonderful birthday party last Saturday. He wasn’t feeling great and ended up opening presents and staying on the blanket the whole time while all his friends ran about Indian Boundary Park.

Graham's Birthday was a blast!
A video with Val, Elda, Amie, Graham, and Royal
Hanging out with the Elda and the Ello's!

Chris Gow’s analysis of the Parable of the Sower was worth a re-listen and a long ponder. On my walk with Jesus this afternoon the unfairness of grace was used by the Spirit to expose why I’m resistant to pray for a beautiful home for our family in Rapid City, SD. In the world I live in, the world Ben so poignantly describes, I am so aware of my littleness and unworthiness against the backdrop of human agony that I am offended that the King of History would give us any kind of preferential treatment. Yet He does that, doesn’t He? He binds Himself to Abram, even though His covenant drags His Name into disrepute and puts Him in the impossible situation of defending and blessing a sinner. There’s no explaining it: He’s absolutely mad in His relentless commitment to grace.

So, without bartering or offended silence, to the glory of Jesus' radical grace, I ask that the Father would give us a beautiful, restful abode for our family in the Black Hills.

Amie, Graham and Royal have been sick for a month. Never in my life have I seen such persistent sickness as I have in the past year. Royal wakes two or three times most nights, Amie coughs and hacks all day long, and Graham is tired and sniffly. Even though I haven’t had symptoms, I’ve been especially tired, probably from fighting it off.

After a failed hearing test we discovered that Royal has had fluid in his ears for months. He’s scheduled to install ear tubes and remove part of his adenoids.

Watchout world, Graham's got a bat!

Just for fun, a photo of Royal.

The water is back on at the Chicago Botanic Gardens!

This letter is the least I can do for Devonshire Montessori and the parents who learned on their way to drop their children at school that their trip was in vain. This is just the kind of bullshit that has crushed parents for years now.


I am a father of two boys age 4 and 2. This morning I learned that my youngest’s class will be closed all week for a positive COVID case. The case was present last week, May 11th. That’s 5 days from today, but it will be 12 days before next Monday. The school received this determination at 7:37 a.m. this morning Monday May 16.

Your policy for some time now has been to quarantine exposed children for 5 days with a PCR test. When and why did this suddenly change? Or was this determination a mistake?

When you change your policy and give no warning to parents and schools you leave us both in an impossible situation. I would appreciate an answer to my previous question but, even more, I would like to know how I may best contact your organization’s leadership to express my disappointment and lobby for change, especially since your phone number 847 933 8252 cannot receive calls because the inbox is full.

UPDATE: A nurse called me on the 24th of May in response to my letter. She kindly explained what happened and expressed her apologizes at the constantly changing rules. I am so grateful for the follow-up.

Apparently, the reason this particular case was modified from a five-day quarantine to ten days was purely because the school couldn’t vouch for 100% mask wearing in their toddler classroom. Fancy that, they couldn’t promise that a bunch of two-year-olds always kept their masks on. Anyways.

From the nurse’s description, it sounds like it’s been a major challenge to keep current on the latest CDC guidelines and apply them on each case for every school in the district.

This painting is encouraging to me at this time because I’ve also been meditating on eternal life.

While we live in this temporal life friendship and camaraderie are haunted by fear of loss. The older I become, the more friendships I enjoy, the more barbs of sadness I seem to carry in the friendships that have grown dim by distance and time. But humans aren’t meant to be pincushions of sadness and loss. The promise of eternal life offers a path out from sadness towards hope.

As Jesus rose from the dead with a body unconstrained by space, and since time is a function of space (thanks Einstein), then time also will be for us an endless present, unfettered from the curse of decay. The friendships represented in fingerprint leaves will life on in eternal present, unspoiled by time and distance. Though now I grieve that I may not again enjoy the company of many friends whom I love, I shall yet break bread with them in a fresh reality where goodbye will be erased from our vocabulary.

Graham and I were getting special drinks to celebrate the start of the Sabbath when we were approached by a camera crew who wanted to hear how we felt about the rising COVID risk. Since I’ve spent many hours thinking about this subject, I foolishly thought I should offer my opinion.

Not that the interviewer did anything to make me feel a fool; they were professional. No, as I walked away I replayed the quips I’d made about danger, vaccination, and precautions. Even if they tried, I don’t think I could be made to appear more foolish than what I freely offered.

I said that we follow CDC guidelines, but in the spotlight I couldn’t remember them. I tried to explain how difficult it’s been as a parent, but I couldn’t recall any of the many times we’ve scrambled to find a test for the boys, or the many obstacles children continue to face.

I’m quite humiliated at how silly I can be when put in front of a camera. For a more reasonable response (not that anyone will ever see my interview) here is an open letter I wrote to the mayor of Evanston. I’m not concerned about the rise in cases in our city because, even though the data my post relies on is no longer current, I have not read of a change in circumstance.

Yesterday morning I went out to look for a delivered package. Royal, who is turning out to be quite the morning person, went with me. Instead of looking and returning to our apartment, he walked out the door and down the street in his pajamas. He was so happy to be out, singing and skipping, that we walked all the way around the block, smelling flowers, noticing trucks, and chasing squirrels. This morning after breakfast he went straight over to put on his sandals for our walk. I guess 6:30 a.m. walks are now our thing.

Every day gets us closer to our South Dakota move. Our condo was put on the market a couple days ago. We thought that we’d find a home to purchase before the end of May, but that’s not looking likely so we may rent after all.

We’ve had a lovely stretch without much sickness, but somehow it still finds us every couple weeks or so. It was about three weeks that Amie had a fever, aches, dizziness and chills. All the same symptoms are back today. If it goes like last time, I’ll have the same in three days.

The boys have soccer practice every Thursday, courtesy of Devonshire Montessori. They’ve both enjoyed it I think, though Royal, to our astonishment, is taking many weeks to warm to participating. Each week he gets a little closer: first, it was sitting on Anne’s lap (she’s the teacher), then rolling on the ground, then rolling on the ball, on the ground.

I’m waiting for Royal to sleep. Since we moved him to the bottom bunk it’s taken longer to put him to sleep. He already has recurrent sleep issues and is now also able to walk out the door. So I’m sitting here outside the door, periodically asking him to get back in bed. Eventually I will get what’s left of the night to myself; maybe an hour.

I’ve had engrossing, timely projects at work recently and haven’t spent a much time writing. Overall a good thing, though it feels like a lapse.

The days are blurry. This might sound like a bad thing, but I think it’s actually good. There haven’t been as many crises to punctuate time.

Amie and I celebrated my birthday last week. Besides baking my annual deep-dish apple pie, she got us Broadway tickets for Moulin Rouge.

The show was lovely and absorbing. We’re always amazed at the artistry that goes into every Broadway show: the music, the movement, the story and the set were all spectacular.

One of my favorite aspects was the way the writers weaved the movie’s music with current rock/pop/love songs. I regularly try to tempt Amie into singing the Elephant Song duet with me, and the way that new hits were weaved in made the entire show familiar and emotionally-connected.

Since his Nanny (translation: great-grandmother) left for home Thursday, Royal looks every morning for her. He puts up his hands in a shrug and says, “Nanny?” with a confused look on his face. He’s also been searching for her bag in which he’d found many treasures.

At church, Royal took off searching the whole building top-to-bottom. Amie followed him and asked, “Are you looking for Kati?” to which he responded exuberant, “And Nanny!”