Post Date Aug 6

Learning to read, one day at a time

This evening I’m sitting in a beanbag chair studying CSS. I spent the morning practicing Active Record and learning Sinatra. If you’ve never heard of these things before, don’t worry because one week ago I was part of that population of society too.

It sometimes seems like all these things are way above my head and impossible to learn.  I’ve definitely sat in a few technology talks where I had no idea what was going on, but the neat thing is things are beginning to change for me.  I understand a little more each day, and that progress both encourages and surprises me.

At first, reading Ruby Documentation felt like reading Chinese, but now it seems like light reading material.  Okay, not really, but at least I understand it.  Before, reading source code felt like looking at Sanskrit, but now I can peruse source code like it was a storybook.  Again, not really but I can trace what it’s doing and even play around with that knowledge.

It’s not easy yet, but it gets easier as time goes on.  This is the story of DBC and learning code.  It’s painful at first to learn code.  Reading everything is a crazy mind stretch and it’s a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to train your brain to read computer languages, until you keep on doing it and one day you realize you know what it says.

If you’re on the train of learning code, keep at it!  We all are just trying to do a little more each day, until one day it feels like we knew it all along.

Post Date Jul 21

Dev Bootcamp

I’m entering my second week at Dev Bootcamp, an intensive program designed to teach you to become a professional web developer in 9 weeks. It’s been a wild journey so far, but one that I don’t regret at all despite the rather unusual situations I currently find myself in.

It’s difficult to explain to your family and friend why, as grown people with a home and careers, you would consider starting all over again. I liked my house and I loved my job, but as a chaser of information I wanted to learn more about coding. I love the internet, how it connects people and how it levels the playing field when it comes to learning. Anyone can gain access to all types of information; anyone can learn anything if they can tap into the power of the web. I’m an avid consumer, and now I want to contribute too. I was an inspired by a video here. Joey more than agreed. He was passionate about learning code even before I knew where to begin. We decided to take the leap together.

And so here we are. We’re living in an empty apartment in Chicago with an air mattress and thrift store chairs. Every day we spend anywhere from 8 to 12 hours at our school in an office building in River North with our fellow classmates and teachers. I stare at computer screens and tap tap tap away, stretching the corners of my brain searching for every little bit of info I’ve ever learned about coding. It’s difficult, it’s pretty darn tiring, but I’m in a strange state of loving it anyway.

Week one of DBC was full of emotional ups and downs, because this program is intense and learning is hard work. You realize how fragile your state of mind is; you constantly compare your progress to others, and you suffer severe mental panic when you think you can’t keep up. You find yourself fighting the mentality that you’ve got to stay on top, cultivate your type A, be the best in the class because those are the people that succeed in life. The truth about DBC is that the people who succeed here are the people who are learning how to code. Everything else is extraneous. Do what it takes to master coding, and pass along all the knowledge you can on the way. It’s an environment that’s inspiring. It’s refreshing. It’s effective. I think it’s amazing.

So here we are, learning about data structures and algorithms. I’m building variables and methods at lightning speed, hoping they’ll stick in my code-muddled brain. Here’s to another day of coding!

Post Date Mar 6

Missionary Life, what what?!


This was a reflection I wrote while in Honduras in March, first published in July, 2014.

We’ve settled in our home in Honduras for the next few weeks, which is the Missioners of Christ John Paul II Center for Evangelization in Comayagua, Honduras. What that mouthful means is that we are living with a bunch of missionaries from the United States and Honduras in a comfortable but simple facility in a neighborhood in Comayagua, a city an hour away from the nation’s capital.

Life here is fun, difficult, unexpected and joyful all at the same time.

For slightly extroverted Jing, its fun to live in a house full of people. We pray, learn and laugh together. I have been learning how to make Honduran food, how to wash my clothes by hand, and how to express myself using the limited Spanish I have acquired in my short time here. I love it.

Life has also been difficult, with random hiccups or uncomfortable situations at every turn. I have been bitten by every bug imaginable, and therefore itch from head to toe. Every time I visit with a local family, I experience the overwhelming sensation of awkwardness at not being able to express basic niceties without a deep stretch of my mind in searching for simple words in Spanish. Finally, living in solidarity with a mission community with limited resources can be frustrating for a person who loves efficiency and hates wasted effort. I like to think I can solve any problem with just a little bit of determination and planning, but the truth is that I am still learning how to maneuver through a country where nothing is guaranteed, not cleanliness, nor safety nor comfort. You learn quickly that you have to rely on a God who sees a bigger picture than you. There is a learning curve to starting a new job or coming to a new country; I’m swimming through both, and I feel it heavily sometimes.

The unexpected part comes in what you learn about yourself when you take yourself outside of the places and things you are used to. The past few years I feel like I’ve shielded myself from self-examination by maintaining a contentment with busy work and distractions. Living here has cleared my mind, and I’ve made discoveries about the kind of person that I am with a clarity that can only come with a simplicity of life and hours of prayer. I can’t elaborate; I can only say that I didn’t anticipate seeing so clearly here. It’s not a finished process, but only beginning.

But life is joyful here. There is a deep peace in knowing that no matter what befalls you, you are standing in the exact place that you are meant to be at the exact time you are meant to be there. I don’t mind the discomforts, I cherish the blessings, and I look forward to what comes next.

Post Date Feb 24

Weekend Vacay


This weekend, Christine, Jose and I decided to take a trip to visit our new friend Katie in San Lucas Tolimán, a small town on the edge of Lake Atitlán in central Guatemala.

We asked our teachers if we could quit school early on Friday, and we hopped in a van with our very kind driver Manuel.  Manual took us on a spectacular adventure through the Guatemalan countryside, switchbacking up and down curvy mountain roads.  When we came to a bridge that had been washed away, Manual drove us straight through the creek it originally crossed.  When we came to a truck that ran into the side of a mountain, he waited until Jose jumped out to help the drivers push it aside, then he drove on unfazed.  Up and down he went, stopping on occasion to allow us to snap a photo of vistas that overlooked gorgeous valleys.  Manual, uber talented professional driver, got us to San Lucas Tolimán without trouble.

Our meeting with Katie was providential and fun, especially given the random nature of how it came about.  Christine met Katie via email through a random meeting with a lovely family at our language school, which consequently led them to discover they had mutual friends.  We decided to visit her mission, which led us to discover that we also had mutual friends.  From all over the world.  And while we had never met before this week, God has been recycling us among different places and people at different times.  Such is life among active Catholics:  there’s only two degrees of separation between me and the Pope.  I’m working up to one.

Katie runs a bustling mission in San Lucas established by a diocesan priest from Minnesota more than 40 years ago.  Today, the mission has completely transformed the community with its numerous ministries, including a hospital, a school with more than 400 students, and several environmental projects including an experimental farm and a fair trade coffee project.  When he passed away about two years ago, several thousand people came to line the streets during his funeral procession.  Katie made an amazing documentary about the life of Monsignor Greg, the catalyst for change in the community.  The movie and more about the mission can be found here.  Katie was so kind to show us the various ministries of the mission, and it was amazing to see the beautiful impact the mission has on the community of San Lucas Tolimán.

We spent our Saturday morning touring Santiago and San Antonio, both small towns on the edge of the lake.  The boat ride across the lake was the loveliest part of the day, as the water is so blue it’s almost unbelievable that the lake is real.  We pulled up to Santiago, a bigger town with plenty of tourist stalls and steeled our nerves as we were immediately accosted by vendors.  Young kids working in the tourist stalls spoke English, if you count the phrases “You think about it,” “It’s very beautiful,” and “Please, I give you good price.”  Vendors are very persistent bargainers and shopping wasn’t too fun until the frenzy died down a bit as we got some distance between ourselves and the stalls closest to the docks.  After we had gone up the street for a while, browsing the stalls was lovely as Guatemalans are known for their beautiful weaving and amazing traditional clothing, and some of their wares were absolutely gorgeous.

Santiago was also the home of Father Stan, a priest who was martyred during a brutal civil war in Guatemala that lasted years.  We visited the town church which houses a memorial in the room where he was killed.  His story is quite heartbreaking, as he fought for the dignity of the poor in Guatemala during those tumultuous years and was eventually murdered because of his work.  He worked alongside Father Greg, and they were good friends.

San Antonio, our other stop on our lake tour, is home to a famous local ceramics studio.  It’s a much quieter town, but we had a lovely time talking to the family that runs the studio and strolling aka climbing a rather steep hill up to the church which overlooks the lake and the town.

All this walking, shopping and learning made for a rather full weekend, as well as a long blog entry.  But so many exciting things managed to jam themselves into one and a half days!  We even snagged some time to say evening prayer together and chat with a new friend Gary, who rode his bike from Texas to Guatemala.  That’s right, bike, not motorbike.

In the end, we managed to return ourselves to Antigua safely early Sunday morning, and even managed a relaxing Sunday in town to boot.

Post Date Feb 17

Back to School


This morning, I packed up my backpack and Jose and I trotted off to school.  Inside a beautiful garden courtyard, I met my teacher Erika.  We sat all morning in our little classroom, which was two chairs, a table and a whiteboard in a little hut along a path in the garden.  For five hours she taught me Spanish verbs, grammar and vocabulary.  By the time we played a little game of memory with Jose and one other foreign student, my brain was fried.  After hours of trying to relearn every word you know and use in a simple conversation, I was spent.

However, school is lovely!  It’s quite helpful to sit and chat all day with a teacher, and Erika is patient with my blunders and helpful with my questions.  I love the magic of learning a language; it’s amazing to discover to you know the meaning of a word when before it was just a unrecognizable sound.  It’s like seeing a new place for the first time, and you almost feel giddy at the progress of any new vocabulary you can pick up.

The week promises to be quite fun, with a few educational field trips sprinkled in between lessons in our cozy hut.  I was promised homework as well, and you know you’re an old lady when you don’t mind the idea.  Otherwise, today brought back memories of meeting by the lockers after school, especially when Jose walked me home from school.  But he refused to carry my books!  I’m going to ignore him during first period tomorrow in retribution.