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2021 highlights, lowlights, pictures, and music - Lara L. Schenck

2021 highlights, lowlights, pictures, and music

A bulleted list of 2021 highlights and lowlights, but mostly highlights, and a few photos, mostly of plants and food, and some music. 2021 was a year of change and offline activities!

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A table with bagels and other dishes set up for brunch

This is my annual year in review post. Career-wise, I’ve been thinking about making a big change for a while. This year I took initial steps toward making it a reality. Besides that, the post is an unordered and incomplete list of personal updates and anecdotes.

Highlights and Lowlights

  • Started out the year intending to write a book. I wrote a lot of disjointed things, and realized that my the answer to my questions is more questions. I ended up doing something I’ve been considering since around 2018, and I decided to apply to PhD programs.
  • Also in the first quarter of the year, I was really energized for learning about math and deepening my computer science knowledge in relation to math. I still want to do this, but my energies had to shift to working on school application-related activities.
  • I started working with Andre Jacobs and advising on technology for getting his business, Supreme Network Global, online. I’ve learned a ton from this experience and from Andre. I’m excited to continue this work.
  • Ran 357 miles (compare to 1012 miles last year)
    • Had issues with IT band syndrome and had to take a long break from running. I did physical therapy and slowly built back up and am now running 5-7 miles, but at a more leisurely pace.
  • Spoke at 1 conference and 1 meetup
  • Attended an academic conference, ICER, and it was an interesting experience. I felt simultanously welcomed, intimidated, energized, and confused.
  • Started a Now page and periodically publishing a collection of updates. This has so far been a successful way to keep this site alive without putting too much pressure on myself to come up with instructional content. I think I will write more instructional content someday, but I have to get some more pieces in place first.
  • Mailed some watercolor monster valentines to women in prison through Let’s Get Free. In Pennsylvania, mail goes to a processing center in Florida, then is scanned to a digital copy, then mailed to the recipients. It’s sad that the monster paintings were thrown away in this process. I got two thank you notes from people who received them.
  • Inspired by academics who’s websites often include a blurb about their big picture mission, I started a Mission / Dreams page, similar to the Now page, to keep track of my big picture mission and how it changes.
  • I drew some fun monsters – specifically math & computer science monsters – at the beginning of this year, and then drew very few monsters in the second part of the year.
  • Continued attending therapy sessions every other week.
  • In the WordPress Core CSS team, we released the CSS Audit Tool, a tool that does a static analysis of the WP Core CSS code-base and reports results. We also got a good start on incorporating custom properties into the code base. I’ve needed to step back from involvement with the channel for now, but this progress has been exciting.
  • Tried using Buffer to tweet for a little bit and it was okay. Might do it again, but I will continue my current habits of not using Twitter at all except for publishing from here (though I did log in once to send some direct messages…I still need to log back in to check for responses).
  • Continued volunteering with the Center for Artistic Activism – they are doing really well and its exciting to see the organization grow.
  • Traveled to the Grand Teton’s and Yellowstone and that was amazing. Yellowstone in particular is like another planet. I was really worried about bears. I tried to remember the history of the displacement of indigenous peoples from these parks and the erasure of their history. We visit a lot of parks, and before each trip I read up on this history.
  • Visited Mexico City and treated ourselves to dinner at Pujol. For me, the beginning of the trip was tainted by some extreme anxiety about COVID, but everything went smoothly despite my fears.
  • Got married to the “great new boyfriend” mentioned in 2020’s review post (this will be the last time I subtly drop this big news into a list of bullet points). I’m very happy (well…I don’t feel very happy in this moment, as I write this, because I have COVID and starting to feel sick…but not too bad yet).
  • Learning Nepali. I did a great job with my Spanish during the Mexico trip, and Spanish study has come to a halt after the trip and I’m focusing on Nepali now to communicate with family (my partner is Nepalese).
  • My parents-in-law visited us from Nepal for almost two months. I learned a lot of Nepali cooking techniques, gained a few pounds, and had a great time with them. I’m collecting some recipes and may post them sometime.
  • Related to Nepali cooking: The garden was a great success this year, though perhaps a bit less organized. There was an enormous harvest of green chilis (khursani in Nepali a.k.a Thai chilis or bird’s eye chilis) which is well documented on the Now page.
  • My home bartending skills are becoming quite sharp.
  • As evidenced in the last few bullets, this year was filled with a lot of offline family time which has made me consistently happy.
  • Had a lot of ups and downs with my job. I was really, really close to leaving at multiple points due to what I suppose would qualify as burnout paired with temptation to change to a research-related role that would be more relevant to my future goals. I ended up sticking it out, though, and I’m glad I did. I advocated for myself and others, I got a promotion and, I think, have reached a generally healthy balance between job-work and me-work. I feel extremely grateful for the experience, relationships, and financial freedom my job has afforded me. The team and company culture really are wonderful (exemplified by the fact that I feel safe writing about this publicly), and I’ve become a more skilled engineer, leader, and mentor. Personally, however, I’m growing in a direction that does not align with this work, and the time to move on is gradually approaching. Continuing my job with this kind of energy is a big difference from my outlook during my freelance career and my earlier days at PMC when I passionately wrote about my work in the Designgineering Chronicles. In 2021, I made a lot of progress figuring out how to be comfortable with this new paradigm where my job is, well, a job.
  • Somewhat related: I feel like I’m getting the hang of trimming the fat from my ambitions and my to-do list, and – very gradually – learning to prioritize rest and boundaries. A lot of that has to do with shifting my focus to a long term vision, something I’m not sure I had until 2021. I’ve learned to be very suspicious of ideas and impulses that appear to be urgent. I believe that, usually, the best way to handle a new idea is to “let it marinate” and do nothing about it for a while.
  • Started playing chess.
  • I ended up applying to seven (!) PhD programs and applying for a National Science Foundation fellowship. Now, I wait until March-ish for results!



This is quite different from previous years where I enthusiastically maintained a quarterly playlist of favorite music discoveries. I did not do this, but I have come to know some Nepali music through my Amma and Bua (Nepali words for mom & dad which is what you call your in-laws), and I’m keeping a Youtube playlist of videos:

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