20 Years Home.

Eighteen months ago right here on this blog, I announced that I would spend every Sunday writing about my LDS mission in Quebec. That lasted for about three Sundays and then I let other things get in the way of my writing.

But July 1 marks 20 years since I returned from the Great White North, and I must admit—at more than one point in the past 18 months, I’ve measured my life now by what my 20-years-younger-self thought my life would be.

When I got home from my mission, the only future I saw for myself was marriage and children. It was all I wanted, and to be honest, I saw my mission service as pre-payment for that life. I sacrificed 18 months of music, film, sports, time with family, dates, and school, and the least God would do for me is provide that future I dreamed about since I was five. Right? RIGHT?

Except we all know two things: 1) He didn’t, and 2) That’s not how He works anyway.

Every now and then I feel extreme shame and embarrassment that I never got married. It’s not like I didn’t try…I mean, I wrote a book about it, if you want that whole story…so a couple of weeks ago I thought maybe I needed to quantify, somehow, what the past 20 years have been like for me.

In the 20 years since I got home from my mission, I:

    • Graduated from college
    • Started a teaching career
    • Scored a master’s degree
    • Saw the following in concert:
      • Indigo Girls, Dixie Chicks, Sarah McLachlan (yes, Lilith Fair lol)
      • U2
      • Depeche Mode
      • Harry Connick, Jr.
    • Traveled to Japan
    • Drove all over the United States multiple times, by myself
    • Played piano for 9 musicals, twice as lead pianist
    • Performed a solo in a musical about women in Jesus’ life
    • Fell in love three times
    • Coached a group of speech students to state champions in their event
    • Started a podcast
    • Wrote a book and somehow convinced someone to publish it
    • Watched 66 of AFI’s top 100 movies
    • Read hundreds of books
    • Made dozens of wonderful friends
    • Visited Apple Headquarters
    • Presented at several national conferences
    • Earned a fellowship with the National Endowment for the Humanities
    • Selected as an ASNE Journalism fellow—three times (they kept accepting me even though the first two times I had to bail on the program)
    • Landed my absolute dream job of journalism and popular culture teacher
    • Selected for a competitive coding scholarship (totally failing at that, but that’s a story for another time)

I’m sure I’m leaving out other significant experiences and accomplishments, but I’ll stop here. Because here’s the point: I did not envision any of this. Not one bit. My tunnel vision on July 1, 1998 was limited to marriage and babies. I look at that list and if I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe it. 

In three weeks, I’ll celebrate another birthday. In the weeks that followed my mission, my nana died, my dad retired from the Air Force, I met a guy I dated for the next six months (and of course, wanted to marry), I turned 25, and my littlest sister got married. It was a lot to process, and honestly, I’m not sure I really did.

So at the risk of “tempting the wrath of whatever from atop the thing,” here’s hoping the next three weeks before my birthday are more calm than they were 20 years ago, and that the next 20 years of my life yield more of the same.

Collateral Learning.

At the end of every school year, I talk to my classes about collateral learning. I tell them that I realize they have six or seven teachers who, for 10 months, tell them their class is vitally important to their lifelong success. And then I tell them, almost like it’s a secret, that for me, I’m more interested in their collateral learning. What did they learn this year about time management? Friendship? Setting boundaries? Identifying passions?

Yes, math and science and social studies and English and the arts and journalism are important, but what did they learn about how to live a fulfilling life? That is equally important.

This morning at 2 a.m., I thought about collateral learning in my current schooling. I’d been working on a JavaScript lab for nearly 7 hours, and while I’d asked for help and identified minor bugs, the lab still wasn’t passing the autograder.

It’s 2 a.m., an hour I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long, and I’m tweaking bits of code in hopes of being declared worthy, and I’m failing over and over and over again.

Oh, let me be clear: the code works just fine in simulators. In code validators, I’m getting zero errors. The people who helped me say they can’t find anything wrong with the logic or syntax of my code. It’s just the class automatic grader that doesn’t like something about my code and refuses to pass it. And since the autograder is a robot and can’t point to a specific choice I made, I’m a little stuck.

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 2.09.52 PM

Same errors for seven hours. I mean… just give up, amirite?

So at 2:12 a.m., I finally shut my laptop, turn on my meditation app and think: what am I doing to myself?

I haven’t written anything since starting this class. I haven’t practiced the piano. Haven’t practiced the music for the choir I’m singing in this summer. Haven’t read anything for enjoyment (because let me tell you, while informative and helpful, reading about JavaScript is not really enjoyable right now). Haven’t seen any new movies, haven’t binge-watched any TV shows. Haven’t edited any podcasts, organized my real or digital life, or seen any friends.

(I have gone to Jazzercise, so at least that’s something.)

What am I learning, exactly?

So before drifting off to sleep, I resolve to reevaluate my goals for this class. I make a list of things I need to do today, and things I want to do. And I go to sleep.

I woke up this morning with collateral learning still on my mind, and in the past month of working on this class, I’ve learned that I am not the best about self-imposed boundaries. It’s always been hard for me to say no to people, so this should not come as a surprise, really. But I didn’t think I would ever work on something for so many hours and be unable to set it aside, take a break, and do something that brings me joy.

I’ve learned that–right now, at least–I enjoy web design more than web development.

I’ve learned that I need to track my time spent on this, I need to plan more things in my days so my time with the class is more focused, and I need to be a tidge more forgiving to myself when I’m slow to grasp content.

I’ve learned I need a break.

We Interrupt These Six Word Stories…

This school year, I’ve composed a six word story about each day. While at school, I am on the lookout for the funny, the inspiring, the poignant. Some days I have too many six word stories to choose from. Some days, there’s nothing.

And then there are the days when the six word stories I could compose would invite speculation or questions. Today was one of those days. The only things I could think to write must exist in my personal journal, and most likely will live only in my memories and perhaps an occasional conversation.

It didn’t help that I woke up sad, so some of today’s events just augmented that sadness. I started to panic a little because spring break has started, and breaks are notoriously difficult for me.

And then this post popped up in my Facebook memories.

I can’t quite articulate how much work it is to keep my depression in line. Work I often do not want to do.

Here’s a scene: at 3:00 p.m. today, I’m sitting in our office with Stueve, and students are milling in and out of our office, grabbing equipment and asking questions. I know I should eat my yogurt and granola, because I know I should go to Jazzercise at 4. But I don’t want to do any of those things. And I say it out loud, I don’t want to eat my yogurt and I don’t want to go to Jazzercise.

I want Cheetos and Ding Dongs and an 8-hour escape to Stars Hollow.

And the student sitting in a chair in our office said, “You should eat your yogurt and you should go to Jazzercise because you know you’ll feel better if you do.”

She’s right. I know I’ll feel even marginally better if I do. So I eat my yogurt and I go to Jazzercise, and I feel marginally better.

It’s the first night of spring break, and here’s what I know: writing will help, and scheduling time with friends will help, and working a little will help, and watching movies will help and of course, yogurt and Jazzercise will help make sure the next ten days won’t send me into a spiral.

So here’s today’s six word story: Some days, you do what’s necessary. #EvenWhenYouDontWantTo.



A Math Story.

Once upon a time, I was really good at math.

And I mean, really good.

On the first day of 9th grade Geometry, we took an Algebra test. The teacher wanted to know our math aptitude. Algebra made so much sense to me. It was easy, and when it wasn’t easy, finding the right solutions was so satisfying. Math was like putting together puzzles, and I could always complete it with dead accuracy.

On the second day of 9th grade Geometry, the teacher announced that one person scored 98.5 out of 100 possible points on the test. She smiled as she handed me that test and she said, “I expect good things from you.”

And perhaps hubris led me to wait so long to get help in Geometry–I didn’t want to go to the teacher who had high expectations for me–but it didn’t take long for me to realize Geometry was not my wheelhouse. Nothing made sense. Everything was abstract. The puzzle pieces I loved in Algebra didn’t exist in Geometry.

When I finally did go to her for help, sometime in the 2nd quarter of school, after several minutes of trying to explain a problem to me and my still not understanding, she became exasperated.  I can’t remember her exact words to me, but I left her room knowing I was stupid and had no business taking math.

I’m pretty sure my mom had to fight to put me into advanced Algebra 2 for 10th grade, because my Geometry grade should’ve put me in regular Algebra 2, if not remedial Geometry. But advanced it was, and I did fine, and I had a teacher who was patient and kind and slowly that year, I remembered I was good at math.

But the damage from Geometry was fairly permanent, and any math synapses in my brain appeared shut down for good. I was now one of those girls who was “bad at math” and since I was a gifted pianist, I had a fall back anyway, so I threw myself into the performing arts for the rest of high school and left math behind.

Present day: last Wednesday I received my acceptance letter to the Grow with Google scholarship program. This is a coding bootcamp of sorts–a three-month initial program to show the program I “have what it takes” to make it into their six-month program.

The math side of my brain is screaming at me: “Whyyyyyyy? I thought we were done with this 30 years ago! Go back to writing. Go practice the piano. Read a humanities theory book. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

I’ll admit–I’m in the middle of a project for this class that I worked on for 90 minutes and I still can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. My brain hurts, much in the same way my muscles first hurt when I started Jazzercise, or the way my ego hurt the when I got edits back on my first published piece, or they way my fingers hurt when I sight-read the score for the musical. And my initial instinct is to give up.

But I know from Jazzercise and writing and playing the piano that the pain isn’t permanent. With practice and consistency, tasks become second nature. So I’m firing up my math synapses, long dormant, and reminding them that once upon a time, they really loved math and solving puzzles–and they can love those things again.


All or nothing, all the time.

My winter break this year was utterly delightful. A perfect balance of time with friends, work, lazy mornings, and glorious alone time.

I knew I’d need a winter break like that because I could feel a storm of sorts brewing. Not a destructive storm, necessarily, but a storm nonetheless. The kind that you sit on your porch to watch roll in from the west and then marvel that such an event doesn’t do more damage to all the surroundings. Like a lightning storm, perhaps. Or a snowstorm that lacks blizzardy winds.

Here’s the current storm:

  • Principal pianist for the school musical.
  • Working toward earning Adobe certification.
  • Starting a coding bootcamp.
  • Teaching full time (as usual).
  • Increased sports broadcasting responsibilities.

I’ve left out others–I still need to give time to my family and friends and church, still need to occasionally clean, still need to produce a podcast, still need to break into the most recent round of edits on my book.

I told a friend today that I’m not sure I know how to do happy medium. I feel like most of my life has been either all or nothing. I’ve spent summers of my teaching career bopping between my bed and couch watching Netflix, and then there’ve been summers of non-stop travel and school. I’ve spend school years doing just what was expected, and school years taking classes and implementing new programs and writing curricula.

I just don’t hang out in the middle.

So a few favors to ask between now and April: if you see me and I’m looking a little hollow, please smile and don’t mention the bags under my eyes. If you don’t see me for several weeks, please send me a text and make sure I haven’t gone completely off the rails. If you see a social media post and you think, “Hmmm she might be near a breaking point,” ask me when I last took time to see a movie or read a book or meet a friend for dinner or a beverage.

I’m sure I’ll thank you.