Wednesday, January 1 2020


Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to the new year. This morning, we slept in, and over a cup of coffee Marissa and I planned our day, which will be errands, projects, and leftovers. But before diving into the mundane routine of a new year, I wanted to take extra time to reflect on 2019. And what better way to reflect on the year than with snippets from old journal entries?

Even though my first public blog post was in July (party, dumplings, and blogging), I had actually been journaling privately since April. This is my first actual journal entry.

Sunday, April 14 2019

Hey Journal,

Today while cleaning up my sister's old laptop I discovered the ruins of an ambition project I started to write one thousand words a day. The funny thing is I remember telling everyone that I wanted to do this, but I didn't remember I only made it five days. Well today I set out on the same venture. Accept hopefully I'm older, wiser, and just a little more patient. Plus I have a better system now. I have to admit, the writing got a little whiney, which is perhaps why I tweaked the rules to just let me write as much as I want. Short and sweet.

Tonight I tried making gnocchi. Damn Gordon Ramsey makes everything look so easy, I think it might be witchcraft. Eh, I'm going to rally, I'm bound for a gnocchi redemption this week. I'll let you know how it goes.

My private entries resemble the public ones. Sometimes they were a little more stream of conscious, crass, and unfiltered, but for the most part they recap my day and reflect on major things coming up - just like I presently do every morning. I even start off most of them with 'Dear Journal'. Here's my comments on that from May 24, 2019. Journaling has always been a part of my life in some way.

I find it funny that I still have the habit of opening each entry with "Dear Journal". That's straight out of Doug's (the cartoon show) playbook, and I've been doing that much longer than I've been using a computer. I used to write occasional journal entries in this crummy little notebook I bought from our church bookstore. I drew weird bubble letters all over the front of it with sharpie. At the time, I was envious of Kelly's journal. She bought a diary, you see. This was engineered for privacy. It had a lock on the front with a little key that hung on her backpack or something. It didn't matter that the key was literally useless, I just liked that she had a book that was outwardly and visibly private. But boys weren't supposed to have diaries - they had journals. So there's a little antiquated 1990's gender stereotype to amuse you, fresh from the tap of my memory.

Spring of 2019 was a cleaning year. Marissa and I finally got a handle on keeping things organized, and part of that came out of reorganizing our kitchen. And now having a clean kitchen to work in every day, cooking became a much bigger deal to me. A lot of my entries our about cooking recipes. This entry from April 28, 2019 is basically an itemized dissection of a failed attempt at Chicago deep dish pizza.

I have some thoughts for how I can improve upon [deep dish pizza]. Namely:

I put way to much work into the dough last time (work in both senses of the word actually, I didn't realize pretty much any dough with corn meal would work, and I kneaded it for too long, making it very bready). I didn't roll out the crust thin enough. Even though the pan is deep, it should be mostly cheese and sauce, the crust should only be less than a half inch. I was afraid to trim the excess crust. Not wanting to waste crust, I just balled up the excess around the top, which produce a hilariously thick crust. I attempted to make pizza sauce, which did not work. It was too watery and looked like marinara, which leaked out of the pizza as soon as the first slice was cut.

And here's another entry from June 28 where I anguish about my bad jumbalaya.

Yeterday's jumbalaya was a bit of a disgrace. Jumbalaya is a tricky thing. What's supposed to happen, I believe, is that the rice is supposed to cook and soak up all the chicken stock, which is what turns it from a big pot of soup to a pot of fluffy, soft jumbalaya. I used brown rice, as recommended in the recipe, but I didn't get it on the pot until about 6:15, and by 7:00 it was still just a bit under-cooked. I added the shrimp and cranked the heat, hoping to make up for lost time in the last five minutes, but that over-cooked the shrimp and still didn't finish the rice.

Having dinner on the table at 7:00PM sharp has always been a big deal to me. And that's become easier. Since then I've developed more cooking common sense and better technique. Hitting the Recker Family 7PM dinner standard isn't so hard anymore, but when it used to be a big source of anger and frustration. If I was still in the kitchen at 7:05 PM, I was probably gritting my teeth and bottling up an outburst.

Learning to cook forced me to learn patience, and learning patience forced me to deal with my anger. I started keeping an anger journal. I spent a lot of time trying to find patterns and commonalities behind outbursts. Here's a snippet from June 20, 2019.

I think I'm beginning to see a pattern forming with my anger. There's plenty of entries in my anger log that show that I have outbursts when things don't work right - like when I'm fixing code to do something, or a recipe isn't working out, or when I can't set up a computer to do something very easily. It even happens when I can't beat a video game. I realized this last night while I was cooking dinner. I couldn't get the potatoes and the kale to mix, so I started to rage and lash out. I blamed Marissa for buying the wrong potatoes (even though I told her they were fine the day before). It made me realize that I seriously lack patience. When something doesn't work well the first time through, rather than working through the issues, it seems I lash out and blame other things. When I can't immediately get code to work, I blame the idiot upstream developers. When I can't immediately beat a video game, I blame lazy gaming companies and poor level design. When I can't get someone's computer working for them, I blame greedy software companies for making their licensing too paranoid and convoluted.

In the summer, Marissa and I took a vacation to Vancouver. I decided to take a break from journaling. That vacation was my longest break from writing since I started in April, and I regretted it. This was from June 18th, after we returned home.

I have to say, it feels good to be writing in the ol' journal again. While I was cleaning up my documents yesterday, I couldn't help but be impressed with how magnificent my single file journal looks now that it spans three months. But then again, the several days missing from June bum me out a bit.

Here's a personal challenge. Next time I take a trip, I need to keep journaling. It may take me out of the feeling of deep relaxation that comes with vacation, but I bet there would be some benefits. Maybe entering back into the real world wouldn't be so hard. Maybe I would remember more sights and sounds and capture them in a record more effectively. That's definitely true, because now all I have is pictures and a few stories.

This was the first time it became clear to me that journaling was no longer just "something to stick to", but it actually enhanced my ability to reflect on things.

I also learned the importance of focus in writing. I'm a great focuser, but my problem is that I don't always focus on what's in front of me. This is from July 1 - the day before I started publishing my journal entries.

Ah - I'm having some foggy brain this morning. I keep taking breaks from writing this journal entry to debug the build. I guess I had a surge of ambition, but I'm having a hard time focusing on other things. It's difficult to find a balance in things when you get excited about a coding project. For the longest time, I used to work as long as I wanted, especially when Marissa and I weren't married yet and I'd spend long nights in an apartment alone. I used to stay up until three in the morning writing code. I would keep writing until I felt like it was completely finished.

Some mornings it's hard to write, and I have to take five minutes to actively clear my head. This year, I've learned that focus is a powerful tool, but it's not a super power. It's a muscle, and I think you have to flex it sometimes.

At this point, I've kept my family waiting for long enough. Rodney is dressed and ready to kick of 2020 with a family trip to Denny's and some errands. And so to conclude this entry, I'd like to take a minute to thank the readers of this publication. Making these journal entries public had to have been my favorite decision of 2019. I feel more connected to the people around me, especially when an entry inspires someone I haven't talked to in a while to send me a DM on twitter on send me an email. It's fun luring people out of the social woodwork and carrying on personal side conversations. And if you choose to silently read and remain anonymous, that's just fine too. I like to think we're still connected.

Happy new year, everyone. Hope you have a wonderful Wednesday, and a great 2020.