Can you believe that summer is almost over?
Technically, my summer came to an end with the first day of fall semester classes. I went from riding horses every day to lecturing college students on business and technology. The annual change from a life in cowboy boots to sensible pumps is always a little drastic. I’m still getting saddle time in the afternoons and evenings, just spending most of my mornings discussing economic trends and marketing strategies.
Summer 2017 wasn’t exactly an awesome season for me thanks to unexpected surgeries, moving, and other not-so-glam events. I initially didn’t think the season warranted its very own blog post; however, jotting down a few of the highlights has reminded me that headlining summers don’t have to include Caribbean cruises and blowout weddings. Some – like this past summer – involve some pretty cool, albeit not-so-Instagram-worthy events that shape the year that follows.
So, as we usher in the autumn breath of color changes, football games, and harvest season, here’s five highlights from the Summer of 2017:
Learning to Code
Ever since I landed my first start-up position, I’ve wanted to learn how to code. Spending over five years working within the tech space, I’ve recognized the almost necessity of me knowing what my web developers are talking about to ensure client project completion and that I don’t get screwed. Plus, business publications like Forbes and Inc. are always running articles about how coding is all the rage – insanely high demand skills coupled with equally insane compensation makes HTML, Python, and Java to seem like some pretty-necessary skills for the 21st century professional.
So, mid-insomnia attack, I applied for a coding scholarship to Udacity and found out a couple of weeks later that I’d been accepted. The coding course is a five to six-month program that can best be described as sometimes fun, most frustrating. There are only a few women in the program, which introduces some challenges; however, I’ve made it a priority to give it my best shot and hopefully graduate with my Nanodegree in Computer Programming at the end of this year.
Overall, it’s been quite empowering to tackle an educational endeavor I once found intimidating, and be able to apply my newfound knowledge to my work as a consultant. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks, or at least how to code!
An Extended Camping Trip
While I love the outdoors – hiking, kayaking, and riding – I absolutely hate camping. Maybe it’s the lack of AC, the cowboy coffee, or just the overall all night bug attacks. Whatever the reason, I really, really don’t like camping. Usually, my preferences for the Holiday Inn dictates our family travels; however, this summer’s frustrating housing project coupled with my family’s we’re-gonna-build-our-dream-house-and-pay-cash-while-paying-off-student-loans budget meant three weeks of camping. Ugh.
Thanks to eight years in the U.S. Army, my husband’s a camping pro, so I’m pretty sure our three weeks of living in the woods was as close to a five-star camping experience as you can get. I believe the appropriate hipster hashtag for this experience would be #glamping . Yes, we glamped in an unfinished tiny house with generator access (but no central air. I’m pretty sure the biblical description of hell offers no AC either, so…) with our dogs.
For the first few days, it sucked. No bathroom, no shower, no Wi-Fi. I frequented a Panera Bread each morning to work on client and school projects and judging by the fact that no one ever sat next to me, I’m guessing my fifteen morning applications of deodorant wasn’t enough to cover the I-come-from-the-woods aroma. The main thing was that I was able to work while we saved a couple grand, and by the end of the trip, I realized I actually started to enjoy living sort-of off the grid.
My Sort of Final Run
The weekend of July 4th, I signed up to run a 5k race benefiting a local veteran non-profit that does really, really good work – the Veterans Community Project (VCP). I’ve run off and on since I was 11, so gearing up for the 5k wasn’t supposed to be a problem; however, it quickly became apparent that my years of sports injuries were finally taking its toll. In the words of my doctor, “If you were a car, you’d need four new tires.”
Determined to show my support for VCP (and attempt to prove my doctor wrong), I spent the first part of the summer running through the arthritis pain, swollen joints, and subsequent other old-runner issues (not advisable). July 4th, I ran the VCP 5k that was hosted over at the Harley Davidson Plant in Kansas City, MO, did not PR, puked a lot, and collapsed on the other side of the finish line. Following the race, I binged on a Crackle Barrel Uncle Herschel’s Breakfast and told my husband the docs were right – I was going to have to either start injections and plan for joint replacements or figure out some other type of sport to do.
Popping Meloxicam like tic-tac’s, I had an idea – why not start endurance riding? I’d always wanted to see the country from horseback, I already owned a hot-blooded Arabian mare, and posting for 100 miles across the desert would probably do as much for my body as running used to (without the osteoarthritis). So, with the help of a dozen endurance-focused blogs and publications, I’m on Week 10 of my endurance training schedule, and you know what? No joint pain!
J.D. vs. DBA
Like many other military spouses, my academic pursuits have been routinely interrupted by the U.S. Government. I’d graduated with my BS and my MBA – two big educational goals – but had a half-finished doctorate’s (my husband’s draft-like Afghanistan combat deployment and the hell that followed pretty much screwed that pooch) and a couple additional certificates. As we’d progressed in the whole recover-from-war-phase of our life, I wanted to graduate with a doctorate’s of some sort and zeroed in on two programs – Juris Doctor (law school) and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).
I thought both of them were kind of a longshot but figured either would help me in my academic pursuits and provide additional working opportunities for my consulting company, Becker Marketing & PR. Turns out, I was accepted into both programs at multiple schools, so much of the summer involved running cost-benefit analysis on the options( #MBAnerd). The J.D. programs were restricted to in-person classes (not good for veteran caregivers) and the expected graduate earnings were actually less than what I made post-MBA graduation. The DBA program offered low residency options with customizable scheduling offered encouraging graduate earning reports (more than MBA), and all school staff I spoke with were more knowledgeable of my family’s postwar needs than even the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) staff. DBA was a win-win-win.
I’m pretty pumped (and nervous) about the program; however, a good portion of my postgraduate work transferred in, so I’m only looking at two years of dissertation madness. Classes are underway and I’m feeling more and more confident in my program selection, as reading Harvard Business Review and Behavioral Economics texts are pretty much my definition of heaven. I hope the school continues to be veteran-friendly and remains supportive throughout the program; if not, I’ve gone ahead and identified two other Ph.D./DBA programs that will accept a transfer.
Midwest Road Trips
So no summer is complete in my book without a few road trips. This season, my husband and I were able to mark a few more Midwestern destinations off our travel bucket-list. Given that we’re still pretty new to the Midwest, pretty much every roadside attraction and historical marker compel us to photograph it from a dozen angles and learn everything we can about its not-so-unique-uniqueness from Wikipedia.
Some of my favorite destinations of summer 2017 were Madison County, Iowa and Pella’s Tulip Festival. Following a midnight read of Robert Waller’s Bridges of Madison County, I’ve been dying to visit the historic covered bridges and surrounding communities for months. Timing our trip with the neighboring Tulip Festival was a pleasant accident turned awesome photographic opportunity. My trip highlight: seeing the barstool that Clint Eastwood sat on at the Northside Café in Winterset.
I also had the opportunity to attend the Kansas Tourism’s KCKS Instameet, participate on the social media panel, and meet some inspiring Midwestern photographers. While I’m pretty new to the Instameet scene, these unique social-focused events are quickly becoming some of my favorites, due to the unique photography opportunities and diverse attendees. Most of us photographers spend a lot of time alone on shoots, so it’s really fun to have an opportunity to get together, talk shop, and make new friends.
While post-military life still feels a little surreal for my family, its’ starting to feel as though we’re beginning to get our bearings. There’s always a lot of chaos surrounding periods of transition (a complicated mix of challenges and opportunities when the VA is involved) but I’m excited about what the next season holds.
I’m not going to lie – juggling academics, business, caregiving, farming, teaching, and writing can feel a little overwhelming at times (I’m increasingly thankful for my calendar app); however, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the effort and tenacity my family’s post-war journey to date has required. Any day that goes down with an IED explosion or medical malpractice at the hands of the VA is a freakin’ amazing day.
I’m excited about seeing what the next few month’s hold; you can probably expect a lot of from-the-trail endurance riding pics, midnight calving videos, and technology-oriented posts popping up in your Instagram feed.