Semester Classes

Except for my newspaper class, I teach all semester classes. Which means the past two days have been a repeat of August for me: meeting over 130 new students, going over policies, procedures, and setting up needed technology for my classes.

And the August nerves are always there, too. I loved my classes last semester—what if this semester’s classes aren’t as fun? What if they don’t like the course content? What if my usual classroom management and general demeanor doesn’t work with them like it did last semester?

Then I think about a very important lesson I learned as a 12 year-old military kid. We had a 10-month assignment in Montgomery, Alabama for my dad to go to a command school. We knew going in we’d only be there a short time, with no option to extend at that base. What kinds of friends and connections could I make in ten months’ time?

Turns out, quite a few. Because when we left Montgomery, I was a wreck. And I was again when I left Nebraska, and again Montana, and everywhere I have lived since—I have found things to love about the place forced upon me and was monumentally sad to leave. 

Shout out to all my Enneagram 4s. Anyway.

I’m learning a similar pattern the longer I teach semester classes. Every semester is different, and I find myself thinking at the end of every semester, “No way can the next one be as good,” only to learn that it can, and sometimes the new semester is even better.

Two days into the new semester and I can genuinely say that I think I’m going to have a blast. And I hope my students do too. At least one student in every class so far has made me laugh, which is always a good sign. 

One of the “first day” activities I do with my classes is have them submit five things I can expect from them as students, and five things they expect from me as a teacher. Their responses are sometimes heartfelt, sometimes funny, and always hopeful.

The world feels like a dumpster fire most days, but I try my best to not get drawn up in the fray too often and focus on this: I’m lucky to teach the courses I teach and have the students I have. Every semester, every year.

And I will try to remember this in mid-April when we are all just DONE with ALL OF IT. 

2021.

It was the year that I finally decided I wanted to live in a place that wasn’t a placeholder “until I get married.”

The year I hired an interior decorator and bought all new furniture—and when I say all, I mean every single piece of furniture except for my Nana’s kitchen table and my piano.

The year I decided I was worth replacing my broken wooden spoons, the year I decided I was worth having a garage. 

The year I realized there is only so much I can do in a day; it is okay to move items on the to-do list to a later date, it is okay to say no.

The year I didn’t write nearly enough or read as many books as I’d have liked to or even see as many movies as I wanted or bake as often as previous years.

The year I started painting my nails.

The year I questioned whether I should keep writing, keep teaching, keep active social media accounts.

The year my dad broke his neck and a month later I sprained my ankle.

The year I bought a new car.

The year I got rid of all my aspirational clothing.

The year I put up a Christmas tree but then didn’t decorate it, the year I contemplated having a Christmas party at my new place but then didn’t, because of the sprained ankle.

The year I almost deleted my entire blog, the year I didn’t delete my blog, the year I still can’t decide what to do with my blog or figure out why I still have one. 

The year I finally qualified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

The year I got to see my brother and sister way more than I usually do.

The year I got marginally better at accepting help when people offered to help.


We might read a variety of end-of-year retrospectives that will make us feel a variety of feels, or receive letters from friends and family with details of travels and accomplishments. It’s often easy to get lost in comparison or rumination that the year just didn’t measure up to expectations—even in a pandemic when those expectations may have been modified.

If you find yourself sinking into a vortex of comparison, take a minute or two and think about your year. Maybe a couple of positive memories bloom from seeds of grief, doubt, or disappointment. At the very least, you made it to December. And that alone is a triumph. 

Precious Things

About a month ago, Kate Bowler published this op-ed in the New York Times, and her question has lived rent-free in my head ever since:

What’s a precious thing in your life that would never be assigned to a bucket list?

I was stunned by the first image that fell into my brain:

It is Fall 1991, and I am walking across BYU’s campus, crunching as many dead leaves as I possibly can. I can’t remember seeing so many different colors of leaves up close—bright reds and yellows with occasional oranges and browns. It’s chilly enough that I’m wearing a coat, with my treasured cassette Walkman tucked into my pocket, listening to a tape my dad dubbed for me before I left Montana. On one side, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. On the other, a lesser-known Gershwin composition titled “Lullaby for Strings.” This precious moment, I’m listening to the lullaby. The cool air, crunchy leaves, and comforting music soaks up my stress and slows my walk. I try to parse out the four different instruments, focusing on a violin one minute, cello the next, but eventually lose interest in tracking the individual instruments and succumb to the beauty of the group.

I could never assign those moments, walking across campus with various genres of music buttressing my homesickness and imposter syndrome, to a bucket list. I could never imagine crafting those exact sequences of moments and saying “This. This is what I want to do before I die.” But they are moments I repeated many times in my three years at BYU that when I think about it, or when I take the time to listen to “Lullaby for Strings,” still fills me with a cozy calm that all can be right in my world.

I love lists of all kinds–read these books, see these movies, visit these places. I feel a such satisfaction when I look at a list and think, “Okay. I’ve experienced these things. This means I have lived.” But does completing any list really mean that I’ve lived?

I’ve been slumpy since the school year started, off my game in nearly every aspect of my life. Many different factors play into my slump, but this week I’ve started to make concrete plans to pull myself out of it. First up?

More identifying precious things. Less living by lists.

To Those For Whom Birthdays Are Hard

If you are the type of person who celebrates your birthday with meals and parties or even declares repeatedly for weeks, “It’s my birthday month!” This post is not for you.

This post is for anyone for whom birthdays are fraught with sadness, anxiety, or resentment.

Or all three.

I’ve been thinking all month about why I’ve often felt so much angst about my birthday, and I wonder if other people with summer birthdays struggle with this. I was never in school on my birthday, so there was no built-in pool to hand out party invites. Several times in my life, my birthday was spent at family reunions, on the road to family reunions, on the road to weddings, or even on the road to a brand new state because my dad had orders to a new military base, or living in a new state where the only people I knew were my family members because school hadn’t started yet.

My family was always great about making sure I had gifts or my choice of places to eat, but parties were rare.

I grew up watching my parents plan birthday parties for each other, where dozens of people crammed into our home for hours.

So when I turned 30 I wanted to have a birthday party. 5 people came. When I turned 40, I tried again. 2 people came.

Not quite the bashes that I saw my parents throw.

Add this to the usual angst associated with aging in general, and my birthday has rarely felt like something to celebrate. And it doesn’t help that J. Lo’s birthday is the same day, and she’s only 4 years older than me and looks like, well, J. Lo.

So this year, I decided to do something different.

I wanted an ordinary day. It would be my first non-Facebook birthday in 15 years, so I figured only a handful of people I know would remember. I wouldn’t have to field text messages or deal with the anxiety of wondering if I should like or love every wish on my wall, or just do a blanket thank you the next day, or respond individually…

(Is Facebook stressful for everyone on birthdays, or just Enneagram 4s?)

Anyway. I no longer want the pressure to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say, it worked out well this year.

With no social media reminding people to tell me happy birthday, I fielded very few texts. I planned an evening that included an online workshop about Supreme Court cases, watching Paula Poundstone live at the Lied Center in Lincoln (I won tickets for web access! Support your local PBS station!), followed by Tig Notaro’s latest HBO special, and I saved the season 2 premiere of Ted Lasso for last. I watched Olympic coverage all day, did some cleaning, did some packing.

It was a very ordinary day, and I just want anyone out there who struggles to celebrate another year of life to know this: you can make your birthday an ordinary day. You can release the expectations, you can tell people “I’d rather not do anything for my birthday this year.” No meals out, no party, no cake, no gifts. Sure, some might find ways around it—like “housewarming gifts” or “moving survival kit.” (Both much appreciated, by the way, Deanne and Amy.) But you can actually control the expectations and execution of how you spend your birthday.

A birthday GIFt from my friend AE Stueve.

Holidays are hard for many. So are birthdays. And perhaps I can sum it up best this way: don’t set yourself up for Ann Perkins expectations when you know, deep down, you’re a Ron Swanson.

How’s Your Summer Been?

I have been living a mostly pandemic-driven summer, but on the occasion that I venture out and run into people I know, one of the first questions they ask is “how’s your summer been?”

And I don’t know how to answer that, really, because first of all, it’s small talk, but second, I can’t tell if they are expecting me to regale them with tales of adventures and plans for the ten weeks that I’m not beholden to the high school.

I’m not sure they want to hear about how I’m procrastinating the curriculum fine-tuning that I wanted done by June 30 (it’s not done), or the schedule I’ve set up to pack all my things in preparation for a move the first week of August, or how I’ve been in physical therapy since just before school got out for “significant vestibular weakness” that I’ve probably had for at least a decade but was only diagnosed after a gnarly case of bi-positional paroxysmal vertigo.

They might want to hear about how I got rid of every piece of furniture I own except for my piano and my nana’s dining table (got rid of the chairs that went with the table, though—those things were torturous to sit on), and built a TV stand, a bookshelf, a desk, an office chair, an end table and a lamp. All. By. Myself. I bought a couch and a pouf, and I no longer despise my environs.

But that’s a long story to tell, really, so when people have asked me, “how’s your summer been?” or “any big plans for the summer?” in that small talk way, I really might just start replying, “Do you want to see a pic that sums it all up?” And show them this:

A screenshot of my bandwidth usage this month—the highest it’s been in 11 years.

Feels good to have accomplished something concrete.