It’s now a tradition. After my birthday in late January, it’s become A Thing for me to share a blogpost about stuff I learned (or experienced or tried for the first time) over the previous year. I hope you enjoy this year’s!
You can find my previous Things I Learned posts here:
If you have an incredible memory, you may recall that the most exciting Thing I Learned last year was that my sister would be getting married in 2020! And in that blogpost, I also mentioned that she wanted me to make her wedding cake.
Turns out, due to Covid-19, the wedding had to take place in the UK instead of the US, so I didn’t actually get to make her cake. BUT, I did practice and learned a lot in the process about tiered cakes, which I’d never attempted before!
The four-tier practice wedding cake was big enough to feed, like, 150 people or something, so as you can guess, it got dissembled, frozen, and then dealt with one tier at a time. So I got to practice a new decorating technique each time we pulled a new tier from the freezer: various kinds of buttercream flowers, brush embroidery, and more.
After starting my book review podcast (more on that in a minute), I started looking for audiobook apps to supplement my Audible subscription. And I found Scribd! The app has mixed reviews, but for me it works well.
Theoretically, you get “unlimited” access to all its e-books and audiobooks for $10 a month (or $7 if you pay annually), but the catch is that there’s a large selection of books, especially newer releases, from which you can only access one book per month. But I haven’t found that to be much of a problem, since I read a lot of old books and most of them don’t have that restriction. So the “unlimited access” claim has actually been pretty true for me! And, given how many audiobooks I listen to per month, that’s a GREAT deal for $7.
4) All about Zoom
True for most of us this year!
5) Acrylic painting
It was in 2019 that I started tentatively trying to paint a little, and that year I finished pieces for both my sister and my mom. This year I painted one for my dad.
6) Foot painting
Oh yeah, and I also did this painting. But without hands. Had to keep the brush between my toes. It was for a…thing… It’s a long story.
7) Murder mystery
Did you know there are “mingle mysteries” you can purchase where you and a bunch of friends can each play roles and question each other and sniff out a criminal together, from the comfort of your own home? Check out Shot in the Dark mysteries online. I got to join some friends for one of these murder mystery evenings and, I kid you not—it was SO fun.
8) Starry jack-o-lantern
In October I tried and only half-succeeded in making a constellation-themed jack-o-lantern. I guess you can see Orion at least… And even though the final product didn’t look quite like I’d envisioned, I had a great time pumpkin-carving with friends!
9) New words
I’m a word-nerd and love picking up new vocab. I have to admit several of my most memorable acquisitions this year came from Anthony Doerr, one of my new favorite writers. I learned “atavistic” from his novel All the Light We Cannot See, as well as “goitrous”—that’s a fun one…
10) New favorite authors
Speaking of All The Light We Cannot See, this year I read from many authors that were new to me, and I gained some new favorites among them! Elizabeth Gaskell, Leif Enger, Anthony Doerr…
11) A smattering of Italian
As in, I just started trying to learn Italian, like, a couple weeks before my 25th birthday, so I wouldn’t exactly call myself fluent yet. Been at it for a month, and the way articles merge with prepositions is my current stumbling block. But my evaluation is that, deep down, Italian is just souped up Latin, so that’s helpful!
In November I made a new friend. This fella came to me through a white elephant gift exchange. Solar power turns him into a bobble-head. His name is Randolph the Rockin’ Rein-dog.
13) Google Books
This was totally random—I don’t even remember how I made the discovery. But somehow I found out that I and my scripts are on Google Books. Who knew?
14) Photoshop aging
THIS was cool. (The amateur designer/editor inside me is geeking out right now.) I did a little research and a little trial-and-error, and I learned how to edit modern photos in Adobe Photoshop to make them look old, cracked, and faded.
You can use the slider on this photo to see the before-and-after of editing. Isn’t that cool??
15) Psalm 119
Well, technically I finished learning it this year. The truth is, I’d been working on memorizing this psalm for…almost 2.5 years. In the end, though it required a lot of patience and mental focus that I didn’t always have, it was a rewarding process, and honestly, kinda fun along the way!
16) Arkansas hiking
My family and I hiked in Arkansas for the first time. There’s nothing particularly significant about hiking in Arkansas that I know of. But we decided to view it as significant. We were in Missouri and actually went out of our way to hike IN ARKANSAS.
17) Local hiking
Speaking of which, I also learned of a surprisingly enjoyable hiking trail about 15 minutes from where I live that I’d never visited before! An unfortunate amount of graffiti, but as far as the actual terrain it was great. Not at all a strenuous hike, but the ground wasn’t flat like you’d expect where I live.
18) Sight and Sound
In August I made it to Branson for my first ever Sight and Sound show! (Mean old Covid cancelled my earlier planned trip to Lancaster for Esther…) I got to attend Noah in Branson, and yes, like everyone says, the sets, live animals, and whole immersive experience was very cool.
19) As Ever, Sam research
Honestly, I could write a whole post of 24 (and many more!) things I learned just from my research for my WW2 play, As Ever, Sam. The 28th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Bulge and Doppelkastenschlüssel codebreakers made their way into my script, but I also learned so many things that didn’t end up in the play: how the draft worked (and changed throughout the war), how we broke Japanese codes and surprisingly used them to learn about German plans, how the Battle of Hürtgen Forest went so terribly wrong… (I could keep going but I might never stop!)
THIS was a learning curve, but SO, SO worth it. I pretty randomly started a weekly book review podcast in April called Unknown Friends, and now it’s in its second season! I’ve been floored by the support not only from friends and family but from listeners all over the US (and internationally!) who tune in every Wednesday to hear my episodes. THANK YOU, each and every one of you.
21) Ben Morgenstern expansion
Another daunting task that ended up being a super fun challenge. This past year I introduced scripts with customizable cast sizes, and The Return of Ben Morgenstern was my guinea pig. Though I’d originally written it for a cast of 11 performers, I kneaded and stretched the script until it could accommodate 25 cast members! The storyline didn’t change, and honestly the script didn’t even gain much length, but I added supporting characters that give the drama extra flavor…so much so that I almost like the 25-character version better than the original!
22) 3000-piece puzzle
My dad and I do a LOT of puzzles. You come to our house, you will inevitably find a half-finished 1000-piece puzzle spread out across our “puzzle table.” Well, my sister and brother-in-law gave us our first ever 3000-piece puzzle for Christmas in 2019, and my dad and I (over several weeks!) completed it in the spring. Yes, we’re nerds, but it was crazy fun!
This was the hardest thing 2020 brought my family. My dad was experiencing a lot of gut pain, finally went to the hospital, and ended up having surgery in early April which resolved the issue. But the surprise was, the doctor found a small tumor during the surgery—which no one had expected!
After a biopsy, my dad was told (on Good Friday) that he had lymphoma. The lymphoma spectrum is very wide, everything from essentially harmless to quickly fatal, so as you can imagine, especially in the early days of uncertainty it wasn’t an easy time. Years ago, cancer took both my paternal grandparents, and that thought plagued me. But my dad’s trust in God was as solid as ever and helped us all continually surrender to His will, whatever it might be.
24) A cure!
The long and short of it was, we learned that my dad had Stage 1 lymphoma, and his doctors set him up with chemo treatments over the summer. They weren’t fun, but they could’ve been so much worse that, at the end of the day, all we could feel was gratitude. In the fall, after he’d finished chemo, my dad had some final tests and one wonderful doctor’s appointment where he was told he could consider himself cured!
That final report was definitely the best thing I learned as a 24-year-old. ❤️