2019: Year in Review

What happened in 2019? Lots of good things and some not as good things. This post is mostly about the good things in my life!

Lara with a suprised, funny expression after finishing the marathon

This post has gone from extremely pessimistic back to my usual, optimistic (but honest, hopefully) tone. I say that because I know that social comparison on the internet is some real shit, and I want anyone reading this to know, things are not always super great and exciting even if that’s how they seem. I mean, obviously, but I feel like that’s always worth naming.


Big Things

2019 was a big one for me! I had a very long list of goals outlined in this post, and I did accomplish about 60% of them – interestingly, most of those accomplished do not have to do with web work. I’ll say that’s a good thing.


In November 2019 I ran the New York City marathon, and raised $3,500 for Change for Kids, a non-profit supporting under-resourced elementary schools around the city. Wowza!

I would be remiss if I did not include this amazing photo taken right after I crossed the finish line, when I was having trouble walking and almost fell backward as a photographer snapped this shot:

Following the race, I had a 5pm brunch of a Bloody Mary, steak and eggs, chocolate milkshake, toast, and bacon.

Psychologically, completing the marathon did something very cool for me. I feel more confidence and conviction around challenging things, something like “Well, I ran a marathon…I can definitely do this.” Hoping to do another one in 2020!

Moved back home, to Pittsburgh!

Good riddance, California! I appreciate that Los Angeles – and California in general – are amazing places, but the west-coast vibe isn’t for me. In May, I drove across the country and officially relocated back to my home city of Pittsburgh. Here’s a picture of me in front of an old Route 66 attraction in Texas:

This is Amarillo, Texas, not Pittsburgh

It’s great to be home in Pittsburgh. I’ve moved almost every two years for the past 10 years, and this is the first time basically since leaving my parents where I moved somewhere withouth plans to leave. I am looking forward to that stability and making slow progress on long term things. There has certainly been an adjustment period, but I am quite happy overall, spending lots of time with my family, and meeting many cool people.

CSS Algorithms World Tour

2019 goal complete: “Rock the stage at CSS Day” in Amsterdam! And several other stages…

Lara presenting at a conference with a monster drawing in the background that says 'what is a PL'

I presented my talk, CSS Algorithms, at six different conferences and even turned down invitations to two others that were in the fall. It’s important to note that, of the six I spoke at, only one conference was an invitation (and I was rejected from several I applied to).

This summer was my first experience with a serious amount of speaking and…well…it was a bit rocky for me at the end. My talk was really, really well received, and I’m super proud, and I met so many great people, but I overextended myself and had a pretty major crash at the end of the summer. I hear speaking and travel gets easier with practice, but I am taking said crash into account as I plan my 2020 summer.

Learning about systemic oppression / it’s not about me

One of my goals for 2019 was to “learn to talk about race”. Now that I have “learned to talk about race,” I appreciate this goal is almost laughable in its naivete. But hey, it was a good goal and I learned a lot, so can’t be too snarky here.

This is the problem: a person like me, white, able-bodied and cis-gendered, can choose to “learn about race”, to have that as a goal, something to check-off a list, and then go back to living my usual life that is made easier by the systems that make so many people’s lives harder. This post by Hannah Drake that I came across yesterday explains it well. It’s not about me. Understanding that, or starting to, is really what I learned. Extra #woke, I know. That said, this is my personal blog, so it can be about me here, to some extent.

In Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria, Beverly Ann Tatum describes the default, white supremacist system as a crowded moving walkway. To stop walking is one thing, but the system still moves you along with it. To oppose it, you need to fully turn around and walk the other direction, against all the other people and the walkway. This is not a simple to-do list item, and it takes a lot of concerted effort.

I’m still figuring out what that concerted effort looks like, but for the time being, I will focus on helping the helpers, as Mister Rogers says (check out Finding Fred). In 2020, my goal is to contribute time and resources where possible to organizations in Pittsburgh addressing issues of social/economic/educational injustice. Specific Pittsburgh organizations:

  • Assemble, a maker/community space in my neighborhood that empowers diverse communities and provides free educational programs for children.
  • Circles PGH, a national non-profit working to move families out of poverty by making connections across socioeconomic lines and gaining social capital.
  • Repair the World, an organization rooted in the Jewish value of ‘Tikkun Olam” (which means ‘to repair the world’), that connects volunteers with local, justice-oriented organizations (I learned about Circles through them).

Launched a redesign for Center for Artistic Activism

This has been a slow moving project, but we did it! I worked with my teacher from art school, Steve Lambert (the one who got me into WordPress in the first place!), on a redesign for the website of his non-profit, the C4AA, Center for Artistic Activism. They do awesome stuff (and their newsletter is cool).

The previous site was built with all the worst WordPress page builder crap you can imagine. We created the new version as a child theme of Twenty Nineteen with some fun effects. There are remaining items to complete and bugs to solve, but the site is up and about 8 times faster than the last one. It was about a year of exceptionally part time work, and a constant battle with my procrastination tendencies, but we did it! Major thanks to Zoraida Cabrera-Mieles for jumping in and helping with CSS and JavaScript. Check out the site here.

And here is a CSS algorithm for how we did the image filters – that was fun:

See the Pen c4aa image filter algorithm by Lara Schenck (@laras126) on CodePen.

Reading a bunch

I think I read more books in 2019 than the last three years combined! And many of them are non-fiction! I’ve come to really, really love the medium of books compared to internet articles or podcasts – the information is more time-tested. I’ve incorporated reading into my sleep routines, so I read one book about 30 minutes before bed, then read another, more boring book, for about 10 minutes in bed. This has added up to finishing quite a few books!

Incoming blog post or page for tracking books…someday.

Dipping my toes in academic research

I watched a talk by Felienne Hermans, What is programming, anyway? sometime in 2018. When I knew I would be traveling to Amsterdam for CSS Day, I sent her a Twitter message asking if she would be up for meeting in person when I was there – there were so many things in her talk where I thought “omg yes” that I had to write a message!

Long story short, we met up in the Netherlands and over email afterwards, got together a survey for collecting data about how people see programming languages. We announced the survey while we were both at Strange Loop in September. Since then, we have authored a paper together with one of her students about the results, and will submit to a conference TBD! Some of this content will definitely be in any talks I give this summer.

More on this soon! But maybe not that soon.

Started seeing a therapist

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. I found a great therapist close to where I live in Pittsburgh and my insurance covers it (unprecedented!). I am on the path of learning to acknowledge my feelings!

Delivered a monster zine to Questlove

This is a fun one. PMC has a bangin Halloween party every year, and this year I went to the NYC one and fucking 💜QUESTLOVE💜 was the DJ. It was fantastic. I figured out a way to deliver a thank-you letter and a monster zine to him by way of one of the venue employees at the party. Hopefully he liked it. His book, Creative Quest, was a game-changer for me so I wanted to let him know.

Another goal for 2019 was “next level monsters”. I only made one of them, but zines and comics are the “next level”, I think.

(For anyone unfamiliar, a zine is “a self-published, non-commercial piece of work (comic books, fiction and poetry booklets, mixed media) that fosters individual or small community expression.”)

Co-organized the Pittsburgh Zine Fair

Also on the subject of zines – I co-organized the Pittsburgh Zine Fair in October last year. It was such a cool event, and I am planning to help again this year. I wonder if there is some way to combine the Zine Fair with a tech conference – I feel like the communities would complement each other nicely. I really like organizing and volunteering at events, possibly more than speaking at them.

Work is great

I didn’t mention any design system stuff in this post and I fell very, very behind in documenting design system things this year due to conferences and rocky moods. But I will say: I really, really like my job and I feel very, very lucky to have it (I mean, I have such a weird career path!). There are certainly frustrations and occasional bullshit like there is with any job, but I work with balanced, well-meaning people, and I am very happy at PMC. Our department has some excellent leadership, and I feel that I am growing a lot in my role. Part of that growth is developing a healthy distinction between job-work and Lara-work.


Possibly favorite song and video of 2019 is:

Some strong seconds:

This is was/is a go-to during the aforementioned “rocky moods”:

I kept quarterly playlists – Q1 here, Q2 here, Q3 here, and Q4 here – but that is a lot of embeds, so here is the “2019 extremely list tracks” playlist that includes favorites from the quarterlies:

Back to 2020!!

2019 Year in Review blog post…check. I’m not 100% sure why I feel the need to write these posts, but it’s a good exercise and fun to “look back” I guess. Especially the music section.

K byeeee