My 26th birthday came in January, and what that means (besides, of course, chocolate cake and gifts of books and baking supplies) is that it’s time for another “Things I Learned” blogpost. Please enjoy this eclectic list of 25 things I discovered, attempted, or experienced for the first time over the last year.
If you’d like to read my previous “Things I Learned” posts, here are the links:
25 Things I Learned
1) 50,000 views
One fun discovery was that my website passed 50,000 hits this year! I don’t put too much stock in numbers, but milestones are still exciting.
2) Triple cheese
That said, to some numbers I do pay close attention. I learned that you can buy a double cheeseburger at my local McDonald’s for $2.99 or a TRIPLE for $2.39. Does it make sense? Nope. Is it a game-changer? Naturally.
3) Jury duty
In the summer I got my first summons to report for Jury Duty. I didn’t get chosen, but the jury selection process was way more interesting than I’d expected. Now I want to write a drama set in a courtroom… Maybe “12 Angry Individuals”? I could see it becoming a classic, honestly.
4) Board games
I learned how to play some new games: Sushi Go! and the Lord of the Rings board game among others.
5) 14th-century Norway
Recently, I learned more than I thought was possible to learn about Norwegian life in the 1300s, thanks to the extraordinary author Sigrid Undset. I began her trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter in December and finished it this January, and it’s my new favorite topic of conversation (for proof, see the 1 hour and 40 minutes I spent discussing it on my book review podcast).
Speaking of the podcast, I launched a Patreon page for Unknown Friends! I hardly even knew what Patreon was a year ago, so this was a big learning curve for me! But I’ve had so much fun growing my little Patreon community and creating all kinds of special content for patrons: bonus episodes, bookmarks, free books, and more. You can join us here on Patreon if you’re an Unknown Friends fan!
7) Snow dragon
The same three friends and I who made a snow horse a few years ago did our best to sculpt a snow dragon this past year. It was a blast! (Pun…intended? Not sure I want to own that one.)
8) Way of Lights
And speaking of winter activities, for the first time I got the chance to drive through the “Way of Lights” Christmas display at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL. I tried to take pictures but uttery failed. You’ll have to go see it for yourself!
9) Wedding cake
This is now my third year in a row talking about this ridiculous cake! But I finally made it, for my sister and brother-in-law’s one-year wedding anniversary reception.
I started working at a coffee shop! In September, my uncle and aunt opened a drive-through, 6:10 Coffee Company, in my hometown, and I help there as a barista and graphic designer.
(I literally knew so little about coffee before, it’s embarrassing. At coffee shops I always used to order a mocha because I knew it involved chocolate and was therefore safe—the extent of my knowledge. I’ve now been taught the meaning of terms I was clueless about before, like cappuccino, americano, macchiato, affogatto…. It’s a whole world of words!)
11) 5:00 am
As part of the barista life, I’ve also learned that (despite previous doubts) I am physically capable of waking up and getting to work at 5am when I have to. As a night owl, however, I am supremely grateful that I’m currently scheduled for the early shift only once a week.
12) Fast-food ordering
One more thing (among many) that the coffee shop has taught me: when you order at a drive-through, don’t start with the modifiers. Start with the item. Not a huge deal, but it’s a bit unhelpful to tell the person taking your order, “I’d like a large, iced, skim milk, sugar-free, caramel…macchiato.” The cashier has to select the basic item on the screen (macchiato? latte? cappuccino?) before they can punch in the details. Just a tip. As a customer I’d never thought about this before, but now I do!
13) Online banking
Moving on from coffee. As absurd as it sounds, I just this past year got access to electronic records for my bank accounts! To say I appreciate this development would be an understatement. Fun fact, I also learned what ACH stands for. I feel like an adult now.
I got reacquainted with Adobe Illustrator. In my senior year of college I had learned the basics of the program in a graphic design class, but I’d used it very little since then. I needed Illustrator for a couple projects in 2021 and enjoyed relearning the essentials of how it works.
In last year’s birthday post I mentioned just barely beginning to learn Italian, and to my own surprise I’ve kept up the study throughout the year! I’m dreaming of visiting Rome sometime in the near-ish future, and if so I’d love to have more than just English and hand signals at my disposal.
16) Caffè Nero
Okay, back to coffee just for a moment: in the process of learning some Italian I finally learned the meaning of Caffè Nero (the name of a London-based coffee shop chain): black coffee.
Experience taught me that narrating an audiobook is a lot of hard work! In the spring I tested the waters with a few isolated chapter narrations and essay readings for Unknown Friends bonus episodes, but then in the summer I dived in deep and created a complete audiobook of G. K. Chesterton’s delightful novel Manalive. The full recording is still available in my podcast archives and here on the website!
18) Food manager class
In November I became a certified food protection manager. (Which sounds unnecessarily pretentious. All I had to do was sit through a one-day class about cooking temperatures and E. Coli and nut allergies and then take a test at the end. Pretty chill.)
Coolest thing ever: I learned that an inflated balloon can remain infinitely suspended above an air vent. Try it!
20) Lord of Maps
Actually, this might be even cooler: I discovered that there’s a dude who draws maps—of cities, states, and countries—in the style of J. R. R. Tolkien’s maps! He even makes Illinois (i.e. the flat cornfield state) look awesome. Check out his work at www.LordofMaps.com.
21) Pretzel house
I learned that pretzel rods can be used to construct an uncannily sturdy “gingerbread” house. At Christmastime my friend Emma and I made a small-scale model of the Fontanelle House (more on that later) with pretzels and some good solid icing, and that little house was INDESTRUCTIBLE.
22) Five Lanterns
In the summer I wrote a new play inspired by chapter two of the Book of Esther, and, in order to make sure I was approaching the story from a fresh angle, I looked briefly at some other stage adaptations of the story. To be perfectly frank, most were clichéd and underwhelming (as I’d expected, sadly). But by far the best adaptation I discovered was a musical by Five Lanterns Productions, a Christian company that also offers a musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. You should check them out! I watched this performance of their Esther musical from 2018, which features surprisingly good singing and acting from young performers (especially King Xerxes).
23) Hadassah research
In the process of writing Hadassah, my Esther drama, I also learned a lot of historical details and traditions related to the Book of Esther. I learned about Jewish betrothal and marriage ceremonies, ancient Persian geography and trade, and various rabbinic interpretations of Esther, such as the idea that she might have been Mordecai’s wife, or the speculation that he may have had a divine vision revealing God’s plan for Esther’s future.
24) True history
I had to dig even deeper than I did for Hadassah when I started research for my biggest writing project of the year: The Fontanelle House. For this drama I extensively studied American life in the second half of the 19th century: everything from menus to medicines, from blizzards to blacksmiths to bone collectors. And I particularly researched the little town of Fontanelle, Nebraska, where my drama took place. I’ve already written on the blog about Fontanelle’s intriguing history, if you’re interested in learning some of the things I discovered.
25) Character development
And lastly, The Fontanelle House taught me more about writing, especially character development. I strove to implement techniques from writers Blake Snyder, K. M. Weiland, and Jeff Gerke, and although I didn’t perfectly execute their principles, the process of trying deepened my understanding of how to shape realistic characters. (The Fontanelle House presented special challenges in this regard, because not just one but THREE of its characters experience a crisis and a change of heart, and it was difficult to structure each of those transformations believably!) But I’m always grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the craft I love, and The Fontanelle House stretched me in ways I wouldn’t trade for anything.
In other words, 25 was a great year! I’m thankful for the many things it taught me, and I’m excited for the new growth that 26 will bring.