A Semi-Expected Windfall

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My insurance plan has a rewards program for wellness activities, such as getting an annual physical, a flu shot, and a diabetic eye exam, among other things. I try to hit all of them, not so much because there’s a reward, but because I like the idea of trying to live a long life, and given my various physical and mental illnesses, I need all the help I can get. I got a call about a month ago or so from the insurance company wanting to do what they’re calling a wellness interview. So I did it, and was told that the interview would be worth a $25 gift card. They also informed me that I had a backlog of unrequested gift cards and wanted to know if they could send them my way. I said sure, and let’s make them Barnes & Noble gift cards while we’re at it.

While I love reading, the B&N gift cards are to feed my other hobby – LEGO Architecture. The local store has a fairly good selection of LEGO Architecture kits and my plan was to get the cards in and go shopping.

So I ordered all the cards I had coming to me and then promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward to this afternoon, when I went to go check the mail for the first time in a couple weeks (between the emergency trip to North Carolina to be with Mom following her stroke and the planned trip to Arizona to be with my wife’s family, we’ve been a little busy to hit the mailbox). Lo and behold were my $25 gift cards. All four of them. My wellness activities had netted me a hundred bucks’ worth of LEGO.

So this evening we went to the Barnes & Noble and reviewed the selection, and eventually decided on only one kit – the largest one I’d ever purchased, and the second-most expensive. (I purchased Fallingwater, the crown jewel of my collection, long after it had been retired, and the price reflected the retirement.) Today’s purchase is pictured above, and it ate all but about two and a half bucks of the gift cards. Note the number of pieces in the kit. I anticipate being at this for the rest of the evening and well into tomorrow before I finish.

So I told you all that to tell you that this is going to be a short post because I have a tremendous LEGO set to build. I’ll post pictures when I’m done.

A Generic, All-Purpose Post

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I haven’t written in over two weeks, partially because I haven’t had much to say most of that time, but I’ve also been both distracted and lazy. I’ve been meaning to write since the 2nd, because that day was astoundingly great, way more so than the usual day in my life, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. So let me start there.

On the 2nd, my wife and I went to San Antonio for three reasons. The primary reason for the trip was to see the LEGO Americana roadshow. It’s a collection of ten American landmarks – the U.S. Capitol Building (pictured above), the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument in Washington, DC; the Statue of Liberty in New York City; the Liberty Bell (built life-size) and Independence Hall in Philadelphia; and the Old North Church in Boston – plus several smaller free-build dioramas that highlighted a lot of LEGO’s creativity and product lines. The second reason was to visit the newly opened ThinkGeek store, conveniently in the same mall that exhibited the Roadshow. The third was to visit one of our best friends and have dinner with him.

The roadshow was amazing. As you can tell from the photo above, the models were intricately detailed and massive – see the heads of the people behind the model for comparison. The Capitol Building took up most of the space in front of Dillard’s, and if you know anything about the size of the entrance of anchor department stores in malls, you know just how big these models could get. I had a blast and took a ton of photos, and even created an Instagram account to display them all. (There’s a contest that’s going on for folks using the #LEGOAmericana hashtag on Instagram to win a LEGO gift card, and I wanted to participate in that contest.) As a fan of the LEGO Architecture line, I was very happy to see the work that went into these models.

ThinkGeek was everything we could have hoped for. There was an entire wall of Funko Pop! vinyl collectibles, more than I’ve ever seen in one place before. There were myriad fandoms represented – Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Marvel Cinematic Universe, several video games, and many other collectibles representing so many different movies, games, and genres. We knew our budget wouldn’t allow us to take anything home, but we did compromise and purchase a small stuffed monkey named Timmy,  who is ThinkGeek’s mascot. (It’s become a thing for people to dress their Timmys up in all sorts of clothing and to send pictures to ThinkGeek of Timmy’s “adventures.”) We mentioned how cool we thought the store was and we were invited to pick up and play with the high-end lightsabers that actually light up and make appropriate lightsaber noises. After a couple minutes of doing that, we explained that we were in from out of town, partially to visit their store, and they gave us a pin commemorating the grand opening that was the previous week – it was the last pin in the store.

And dinner with our friend was delightful, as is any bit of time we get to spend with him, which isn’t as much as we’d like.

I feel like I should also give a progress report on my CPAP usage. I’m still meticulously caring for it, and using it every night, and there’s a notable difference in my level of energy. I’m not napping anywhere near as often as I was, and I’m not especially fatigued throughout the day, either. The machine is doing precisely what it’s supposed to be doing, which is helping me get better quality sleep.

And finally, therapy was today. It was a good session, with a revelation that’s going to get its own post in the coming days, once I’ve had time to process it fully.

All in all, things are going well here, which is a very good thing.

Fighting Sleep and Promised Pictures

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Today’s blog post is going to be quick and dirty. Let me handle the title of today’s blog post in reverse order. Above is a picture of the finished Fallingwater build that I wrote about at length yesterday and promised to provide today. It was great fun to do and it’s brilliantly put together. Of all the LEGO builds, this one puts the most emphasis on the landscape surrounding the building, but the house itself is an engineering marvel. The house is designed to lift off of the landscape base so that you can examine it in closer detail. It’s also put together in three interlocking pieces that just slide into place. It’s fantastic to have it on my shelf after all these years.

As for today, well … today has been spent fighting sleep most all day, which isn’t a good thing. I have a lot to do today, what with the show (and its theme that took a bit of research and decision making to come together) happening later this evening. Got up, did vitals, had breakfast, went to lie down, got up after a short nap, put together tonight’s playlist, went to lie down again, and finally got up a few minutes later due to my mid-afternoon meds and vitals alarm going off. So I decided to go ahead and knock out my self-development checklist items while I’m up before going to lie down again. (I need to get them done before the show starts, since our playlist looks to be pretty long tonight.)

Wish the lethargy would lift, but it’s still there.

A Dream (Sort Of) Fulfilled

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I wasn’t the best student when I was in high school. Homework bored me to absolute tears, and thanks to several years in a private school that would just say “well, he knows the material, we can overlook the lack of homework and just pass him” I never learned the discipline of doing homework. As a result, I left school in my junior year and had my GED exactly a month later. With the lack of performance in high school, college wasn’t really much of an option, so I decided to enlist in the Navy. That lasted nineteen days before I blew a knee completely in basic and my options were to let the Navy replace both my knees (back when they were done one at a time – and oh yeah, I’d still be considered in basic training the whole time I was recovering, so I was looking at nearly two years without family visitation or even phone calls back and forth to them) or I’d get a medical discharge. Not looking forward to two years of isolation from my family except for letter writing, I opted to head home. I was already out of the Navy by the time I turned 18.

That left me with trying to determine what Plan C was going to be for the future. So I enrolled in the local community college in a drafting program, with the hopes that I would like it enough to turn that into a career as an architect. Problem is, I hadn’t matured enough to discipline myself when it came to homework, so my attempt at becoming an architect was short lived.

I eventually learned how to knuckle down and do homework, and have two vocational certificates in massage therapy and pharmacy technology to show for it. But this story isn’t about those educational pursuits. This is about my continuing love for architecture.

My all-time favorite novel is Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is set around the construction of a cathedral in 12th century England. While the story is driven more by the cast of characters involved with the construction and the towns around it, there is a fair amount of detail spent on the finer points of architecture and craftsmanship involved in creating such an awe-inspiring structure. I love both the epic story and the construction details equally.

In 2008, the LEGO Group announced and introduced its Architecture sub-brand. Chicago architect Adam Reed Tucker, who had hit upon the idea of making architectural models out of LEGO bricks, designed the first few pieces in the collection, which included the Sears (now Willis) Tower, the John Hancock Building, the Empire State Building, the Seattle Space Needle, the Guggenheim Museum, and Fallingwater, the Mill Run, Pennsylvania residence designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the eight years since its introduction, the Architecture sub-brand, split into the Landmark, Architect, and most recently Skyline series, has evolved greatly. The methods of construction are becoming more and more sophisticated, as can be shown when comparing the earlier, retired model of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (little more than barrel-shaped pieces stacked high to approximate the shape of the actual tower) to the recently released updated Burj Khalifa model, which uses more bricks, significantly more sophisticated construction methods, and is considerably more faithful to the original building.

I have constructed nine of the 32 models that have been released. The Guggenheim Museum was my first, and I have subsequently added Big Ben, the Seattle Space Needle, the United Nations Headquarters, Trevi Fountain, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the new, updated Burj Khalifa. But the one that I always wanted to acquire the most – Fallingwater – always slipped through my fingers until it was finally retired, as many of the sets are now.

Fallingwater was the pinnacle of the series, in my opinion. Incorporating not just the building but the environment around it, its 811 pieces made it the third largest set, behind the Robie House in Chicago (2,276 pieces) and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1,188 pieces). That many pieces carried a high price tag and it was always out of reach for us. We could never justify its purchase while it was still available and I long regretted letting it slip away.

However, life sometimes has a funny way of working itself out. Recently I checked Amazon, just to see what was available in the line, and lo and behold there was a brand-new, never opened Fallingwater. It was significantly more expensive – it is said that LEGO kits are arguably a better financial investment than gold – but it was available. I checked the budget, found just enough room, checked with my wife to be sure that spending that much money on what was effectively a toy was okay, and hit the purchase button.

The set that I’ve been wanting for years is now sitting on my dining room table, awaiting my wife’s arrival. We have a system. She organizes the bricks into trays for easier access, and I build while she (usually) knits or crochets. It’s honestly all I can do to not go open it and get started without her here, but I figure I’ve waited for years for this, I can manage to wait a few more hours for the build.

I’ll put a picture of the finished build in tomorrow’s post, and will have the full photo series in my Facebook album.

This is my tenth LEGO Architecture kit, which in some people’s opinion officially makes this a collection. I’m very pleased to make it official with the one that got away – but not forever.

Building LEGO kits isn’t the same as being an architect, but I can still appreciate the principles of architecture. I also own the LEGO Architecture Studio, which is a collection of over 1,200 white and clear pieces to allow for creative construction without instruction. It’s a way for me to express my creativity. Some pieces I’ve built are worth sharing; some, well … not so much. The point is that I can build whatever I want within the limitations of a huge number of bricks, and the bigger point is that I’m having fun. I don’t count the Studio in my collection, since it isn’t designed to make a specific building and can’t accurately be called a “kit” in that sense. But the Studio, my eleventh LEGO set, is by far my favorite. It lets me explore. It lets me create. And it lets me wonder what could have been.

I try to live my life without regrets, knowing that even one different decision could have vastly altered the life I live now. Would those changes be better? I’ll never know, and it’s a frustrating thing to try and speculate what decisions would have made my life better and which ones would have made them worse. Granted, I don’t have the best life. I’m practically a shut-in due to my mental illnesses, money is exceptionally tight, and I have a host of other physical illnesses that I would prefer not to be dealing with. But I have an amazing wife and a supportive network of friends and family that love me and want the best for me, and that’s honestly the most important of all.

The door to becoming an architect isn’t entirely closed off for me. I wouldn’t have a very long career, but it’s a possibility. And that’s what life is, a series of possibilities. Tonight my possibilities will involve building my dream LEGO kit.

And who knows what possibilities will present themselves tomorrow?

Building a Distraction

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Yesterday evening we went to go pick up another Brené Brown book, I Thought It Was Just Me, that I think will be helpful. The Gifts of Imperfection is coming to a close and I’m probably going to spend some time with it taking notes before starting into the next book. I read for comprehension this time through, next time I’m going to read it with the intent of following through on the questions she asks throughout the book.

While we were at the store, my lovely wife surprised me with another LEGO Architecture set. This is my ninth set, plus I have the Studio. One of the early sets they had was a rudimentary model of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the tallest building in the world, but they discontinued it for some reason maybe a year or more ago. Yesterday, I found out the reason. They’ve re-released the Burj Khalifa as a vastly improved model – bigger, more complex, more detailed than its predecessor. After a rare dinner out (thank you, loyalty rewards program, for the $25 off!) we came home and started to build.

As usual, my wife separated and sorted bricks and I built. I was amazed at how well built this model is at its core. It felt like an architectural project, with several internal elements designed to reinforce the model as it grows taller and taller and larger design elements that were constructed before being added to the full model. The methods used to realize this set were plenty and as creative as anything I’ve ever seen in a set before. It took about two hours before the spire, the final element that took twenty steps on its own, was added to the rest of the model. The finished piece towers over the rest of my collection at 15.4 inches tall. It’s truly a beautiful thing.

As much fun as I have admiring it over on the top of the bookshelf that I display my collection on, I had just as much fun or more actually building the thing, so this afternoon when my wife asked me what I wanted to do, I told her I wanted to break down the model and reconstruct it. So that’s what we did, and it was just as much fun the second time around as it was the first.

The best part, however, is that it’s worked to completely distract me from my recent downward spiral. We can’t go buy a new model every time I get depressed, but this was a special treat and I cannot thank my wife enough for letting me have it. The timing was perfect.

June 5, 2015: Three Good Things

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1. After telling my mother about the death of her sister-in-law, she seemed to take it fairly well, only breaking down once for a very short period of time. I did the best I could breaking the news to her gently and it seems to have been sufficient. (I’m not making bets on her having broken down once I got off the phone, though.)

2. LEGO Architecture build #7 is complete – the United Nations headquarters in New York. It joins the Guggenheim Museum, Big Ben, the Trevi Fountain, the Seattle Space Needle, the Empire State Building, and the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve always had an interest in architecture and this is a way I can enjoy architecture and still feel like a kid about it.

3. I had my first steak without salt tonight. Almost as flavorful as it was when I was salting the crap out of my food.

Bonus! I got everything done on the checklist except for exercise and stretching. Considering that I had planned today as a pass due to finding about my aunt’s death, I seem to have kept right on plugging through the day, though I admittedly slept through most of it. I’m over on my caloric intake for the day, so we’ll call that my pass.