Final Reflections: 2016

2016 was a year of incredible—and at times uncomfortable—growth.

Much of what occurred I couldn’t have guessed at last January. Some highlights: I started and completed my single-subject credential program. I finished the English CSETs. I started road biking. I joined a yoga class. I became a dog-mom. I turned 28. I realized, finally, who I was and what I wanted. I thought I came to terms with what I didn’t want.

These things needed to happen. I’m a firm believer that without active (even uncomfortable) growth, stagnation and complacency await. Even though changes may be disquieting or even painful initially, without these adjustments there can be no development.

My hope is that, as I pursue these new goals and build this new life, I will always feel that I am growing. I want always to be learning new things, facing new challenges, meeting new people, becoming a new me. I want these same curious qualities—this same frustration with complacency—to blossom as well within those I surround myself with.

This year was incredible. I soaked in hot springs on cold winter afternoons. I meandered through wildflowers on a warm spring day. I biked around a mountain range. I hiked part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I got Scout. I visited Tahoe more times this year than in all others. I made new friends. I learned so much about education, formally and informally. I learned so much about myself. So much about what I will and will not tolerate. The learning never stopped.

This year was also uncomfortable. My parents sold our childhood home and bought anew in rural Idaho. I learned things I can’t disregard about the ideals of my family, this nation, and their mutual implication for our future. During this process, I lost a piece of my identity I had never questioned. Completing school while also working and raising Scout at times felt impossible; many shower cries were had. Heck, raising Scout was the single greatest challenge I’ve faced this year (and possibly in my entire life). The discomfort seemed endless.

2016 was a wild ride. I’m not the same individual who began the year. I’m not even the same individual from 6 months ago. I hope that you aren’t either. I hope that as I pursue this mission of ongoing growth—incredible even uncomfortable growth—you will consider it for yourself as well. Do not stagnate in 2017.

Progress II

“Today was a shit show” – Taylor Swift (slightly adjusted for relevance)


…But I passed another section of the CSET!  The only part of today that was remotely similar to my last test experience (which was wonderful, as recorded here), was the presence of a curious albeit ill-fated spider in my car. What are the odds?

2 tests down, 2 more to go!


She was California

Her hair was the colors of the foothills in late summer, rolling in red- and golden-hued waves across her back and shoulders. Her eyes mirrored the sparkling green of high, crisp Yuba waters. A lifetime of sunlight had dappled her skin like the high Sierra granite. Lithe and willowy, her form enjoyed feasts of farmers’ market fare equally as much as partaking of the spontaneous activity nearby trails, hills, and creeks called her for. She marked the passage of the seasons by their greatest crops: spring wildflowers, summer stone fruit, autumn’s bounty of rice, nuts, and apples, and finally the winter rains.

Her favorite food was popcorn: corn from the fields, butter from the dairy, and coarse salt from the sea. Her favorite drink was likewise grown under the same glowing sun, grapes ripening on vines in counties named for early settlers and native landmarks. Her favorite sunsets were tinged with wildfire smoke and harvest dust. Her favorite retreats were high mountain springs, sheltered from crowds by miles of rocky trail. Her favorite flowers were California Poppies and Indian Paintbrush, most prolific in early summer. Her favorite skies were filled with the promise of sudden and enthusiastic cloudbursts, or the streaking lights of unobstructed meteor showers.

Her toes had felt the waters of the Pacific and the Salton; the currents of the Kings, the American, and the Klamath; the tranquil pools of the Trinity, Dinkey, and Desolation wildernesses. Her hair had been tangled by the warm Santa Ana’s, the gusting bay breeze, and the howling winter winds. Her eyes had beheld such vivid sunsets, panoramic vistas, and immense rock faces that she knew her hand would never be able to put them all to paper.

Raised in the tidal flats of the San Francisco Bay, she felt just at home on the flank of Shasta, in the rice fields of the Sacramento valley, and on the sandy shores of Lake Tahoe. Home was a ranch-style house on a cul-de-sac, an apartment near a college, and a townhouse in a farm town. Home was a gray stucco on John Wayne Drive. Home was a tent in the forest.

Home was California, as she was California.

White Fang Web Scavenger Hunt – EDUU 551

Web Scavenger Hunt Lesson Plan

Carolyn Harmon

Brandman University



Blog Address: 

Subject Matter: Jack London’s novel White Fang

Grade Level: 8

Lesson Objective: Students will demonstrate an ability to find accurate and reliable information on the Internet regarding the historical context and environmental accuracy of White Fang by Jack London.

Common Core State Standard and/or Academic Content Standard:


Technology Standard: NETS for Students:

ISTE Standard for Students 3.b, 3.c

Website Addresses Used as Resources:


*Advice for students: You may use other sites if you find applicable information elsewhere instead. Remember what you’ve learned about skimming text for key words and/or using Ctrl-F to locate information.

Essential Question: How accurate is Jack London’s depiction of the brutality of the Klondike Gold Rush from White Fang’s canine perspective?

Subsidiary Questions:

  1. Are the initial animal elements of White Fang plausible? (Wolves, dogs, lynxes, and man living in close, violent proximity)
  2. What might have happened to White Fang had his mother perished after the lynx fight?
  3. Would a mother wolf run off her own grown pup like Kiche did to White Fang?
  4. What are some things that the native population of the Yukon and Klondike miners might have traded? Does this make the scene with Grey Beaver plausible?
  5. How does White Fang’s perspective of gold rush era San Francisco differ from reality?
  6. How does White Fang relate to The Call of the Wild?


In complete sentences, answer each of the above questions. You will use these responses to construct an interview with Jack London, where he answers these questions with your researched answers. Record this interview using your podcast software. Be creative!


Enter: Scout

When this year began, I believe my expectations were for predictability and tranquility. Shortly thereafter, I started grad school to fill my evenings. Going back to school in addition to working was a delicate dance, but it was manageable. Arrogantly, I imagined I could juggle a third ball with the same finesse.

In June, that third ball arrived. ‘Arrived’ is perhaps the wrong word; Scout hurtled into our lives. A stork delivered her in late June, via United Airlines and a connecting flight out of Denver. “We rescued her …from her good life in the mountains with her family,” Steve once admitted when questioned about her origins.

She was a mere 14-weeks old; 15 pounds at the time, almost all of which was apparently stored in her vocal chords. She sang us the saddest song as we drove home from the airport with her crate nestled in the backseat. It was the warm up for her first night with us. First from a corner of our room, then the hallway, and finally from the living room (her crate found several homes that evening), she elaborated on the song from earlier. It went on for many verses, tried different rhythms and tones, at one point flirted with becoming an epic poem similar to the Iliad, before settling into hyena howls of utter loneliness. No one slept. Everyone cried.

At 4 am, I took her for her first walk around our neighborhood. At 5 am, we watched her first sunrise in California. By 6 am, my sister had volunteered to drive up for the day to show us the ropes. It was Scout’s first miracle.


Scout, 3 mo., getting personal with Ducky on her first day with us.

People’d warned me about getting a puppy. I didn’t listen. I’d been participant to raising wee Jaydon with my family only 8 years ago. It had been a beautiful experience and had resulted in us having ‘the best dog ever’ in the following years. How different could it be with an older puppy, from a similar breed, in a house of my own? Funny you should ask that question… because I did not.

German Shorthaired Pointers are a sleek result of the same German engineering that has produced Weimaraners, Dachshunds, and Volkswagens. Bred for hunting as well as lounging by the hearth. Endowed with the finest nose, the sleekest coat, the largest feet, the sharpest teeth …I depart from the AKC description somewhat. There were some differences between the breeds, of course. Jaydon had been silver, with eyes of blue. He stood quite tall and carried significant weight (as muscle). As a pointer, Scout would theoretically share his intelligence and athleticism but in a smaller package. Also, she is solid liver with eyes of chestnut (or brown with more brown, if you prefer). Alike, but so different.


Scout and her favorite snack – my face.

The first weeks were the hardest. Being home alone with a teething, tireless puppy while triple-digit temperatures broil outside is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. She was everywhere at once, putting everything in her mouth, peeing with abandon, and otherwise having the time of her little life. It was hell. Adorable, enthusiastic, occasionally cuddly hell.

By late July (did it take that long?), Scout and I’d begun to understand one another. We had routines: we went to puppy school on Thursday evenings, we took hikes on Fridays, and we delighted our fan club at the dog park when evening temperatures allowed. I began crate training her to prepare her for my return to work in August.


Scout takes a break during her first hike.

The change was so gradual I didn’t notice. She grew in inches as well as pounds; she stopped having accidents; she began eating only two meals a day; she started sleeping a full 7 hours. She became a real dog.

We just passed our three-month-iversary with Scout. She is 6-months old and weighs 40 pounds. She’s knee high, but today managed to nip my shoulder with her teeth while jumping after a toy. Our families love her, and she in turn loves everyone. She heels, she comes, she sits, she stays. She’s a good dog, except when she’s bad. She sleeps on her back in bed between us, stretching long legs in her sleep and stealing our sheets.

She steals more than sheets. Time, food, undies, rugs, kisses, our hearts – all is fair game for Scout.

So my life this year is neither as predictable nor tranquil as I’d imagined. Most of the time I feel like I’m on the cusp of dropping many—if not all—of the balls I am juggling, but life’s so much fuller now as a result. And if I do happen to drop a ball or two, I certainly know who’ll be there to pick it back up.


Scout, 6 mo., surveying what’s left of Faucherie Lake after drinking as much as she could.


I think there are two of him. I think the one he has become muffles the one he used to be. The new him is a heavy blanket tossed over the light of the old. I can’t always remember the one he was. There is just darkness, flickers, and this stranger in my bed.

Once, in the early years, he snuck back into a shop in Santa Cruz to buy me a journal with a unicorn on it. That showed me that he recognized my love for writing, he was thinking of me, and even though he hated glitter, he purchased something covered in it because I was worth more than the inconvenience. Where is that version of him now? Who is this stranger I have instead?


“Today was a fairytale” –Taylor Swift

This afternoon I jumped through the first of four flaming hoops in pursuit of my English credential, fueled by Chipotle, the confidence of friends, and dogged tenacity.


That fine print? It says “CSET English Subtest I – PASS.” I’m ¼ of an English teacher now!

Best Home Ever

In 1990, my parents accidentally sold their first home on a whim. This caused them to have to find, buy, and relocate to their second home in record time with two babies and an energetic Dalmatian underfoot. I was a year and a half, and my sister was weeks old. Our new home was 6 minutes away; less than a mile as the crow flies. It would become, over the following 26 years, the best home ever.


The real estate flier doesn’t call it that. It calls it “A Beautifully Crafted Home,” which isn’t incorrect, but it fails to capture everything that structure has been for the four of us through the years.


So many firsts occurred within its walls. Although I’m sure they’re more numerous than I could hope to know, ones that immediately jump to mind are: Katie’s first steps, our first birds, and our first bird burials. We got our first male dog in that house, and later, our first cat. We loved our first Weimaraner there. All of our first days of school started there first. Katie felt her first earthquake within its sturdy walls. Dad severed a finger building new cabinets for the garage, which seems like a whole package of firsts. Mom had her first bout with vertigo, and her first experience with bed rest. The first phone number we memorized connected to the first cordless phone on our first computer desk. Our first experience with dial up internet happened as we gathered around our first computer.


There were firsts for me, too: I was standing in the driveway when my parents drove up in my first car. I was crying in the living room when I had my first break up. I was sitting at the computer when I enrolled in my first junior college courses, and later when I applied to my first real college. In the mailbox out front, I received my first college acceptance letter.


Something that never gets appreciated in the grand scheme of things like memorable firsts are the lasts. I didn’t realize how many lasts I had within those walls until I faced the prospect of Mom and Dad selling them. When was the last time I crawled into bed with Mom for snuggles? Or she slept in mine with me so we could stay up late talking? When was the last time I slept in my room there without having a room of my own somewhere else? When was the last holiday I spent there? When was the last time I camped in the backyard? When was the last time Dad made broccoli with Cheezwhiz or Mom made my favorite casserole? When was the last time I hit a hip or an elbow on a doorframe, and when was the last time I sat at “my spot” at the kitchen table? When was the last time I had to vacuum or dust the house, and when was the last time I “forgot” about that greasy pot soaking in the sink after making popcorn? When was the last time I heard my parents locking their bedroom door? When was the last time Dad sang “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” while opening my curtains far too early? When was the last time Katie and I scrambled onto the roof from the side gate, or sat on the built-in barbeque and painted our nails? I could extend this list for pages. That’s how many little moments I’ve experienced and appreciated within the walls of this home.


On Friday, a ‘for sale’ sign was driven into the front lawn, over the weekend we moved furniture around and cleaned the house to a high gloss, on Monday a photographer arrived, and today the sale went live. The sign nicked not only the lawn, but also the aquifer of my memories. I’ve been floundering in the artesian well of emotions it set loose ever since.


Thinking about all the firsts brings joy. They are happy moments, with bright sun and boisterous birdsong. I float to the surface of this current and enjoy the ride. Firsts are obvious. Firsts are immediately appreciable. Thinking about the lasts carries such weight. They drag me under and steal my breath. The lasts are hardest to accept because I didn’t appreciate them enough when they were occurring. You never know when something is the last; it’s just another in a string of many, at the time.


And yet, I’m just the kid. I didn’t redo the kitchen, the bathrooms, the garage. I didn’t paint (and repaint) each room as styles and tastes changes. I didn’t pay the mortgage, pick the landscaping, or hang the wind chimes. When I think about how special this home was to me, even without this personal investment, I imagine how much more strongly my parents must be feeling during this process. If my grief is this immense, how must they feel? How are they able to leave each day for work or errands knowing how few days of the same remain? How can they drive up and hear the familiar rumble of the garage door and not burst into tears?


My logical (however minimal) side understands that this decision is what is best for them at this time. My sentimental (much more pronounced) side is having trouble coming to terms with this change.


At 26 years, my relationship with this structure is exceeded only by three others. A history like that deserves some acknowledgment. For that reason, I wish the flier was more accurate:


Beautifully crafted 4-bedroom, 2-bath house in Northgate neighborhood. Remodeled kitchen. Spacious yard. Best home ever.


2016-07-10 12.33.34

Cycl-urious Carolyn

“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.” –Mark Twain


I’ve taken up a new hobby, guys. In April, I participated in a charity road ride on my trusty yearling mountain bike. My friend Elizabeth (imported from Redding for the occasion) and I got matching shirts, hit the carbs pretty heavily, then woke early and did 30 miles on a breezy Spring morning. We were in our respective homes by 2 or 3 that afternoon. Good one, Mark Twain, I thought. I had trained only mildly for the event, believing our route to be a simple 17 initially. Still, 30 had only felt punishing for the first one and final two miles and surprisingly invigorating immediately afterward. Surely I would live!


2016-04-16 09.04.31


However, I spent the evening in a strange repose on the living room floor, nursing joints and aches I had never before known. Am I dying? I asked Steve. He calmly assured me that was probably the case. Damn it, Mark Twain.


But I pulled through. Before the week was through Elizabeth and I had signed up for another ride. This one would take us 40 miles, circumnavigating the Sutter Buttes. My friends who are fluent in the strange dark arts of cyclery assured me that a road bike would make a world of a difference. I had disliked road bikes before this experience, ranking them only marginally higher than beach cruisers (gross), but the experience on the last ride had me bike-curious.


After copious amounts of online research, a visit to the bike shop downtown to be fitted (I’m about a 54, gentlemen), and some coerced Craigslisting, I became the second owner of a well-maintained, pretty little road bike. (Specialized, of course, are there even other brands out there?) I promised myself it wouldn’t displace my beloved mountain bike as the queen of my new bike harem. I said it would just be a casual thing. I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly enjoy cycling as much as mountain biking.


I was full of lies.


I loved it! The new bike carried me around all 40 miles (plus an extra few when we missed a turn) on a sunny Saturday in May. Afterward, I experienced none of the muscle and joint pain previously encountered. The prophecy of the road bike was fulfilled. However, I’d had my mouth open in what I imagine was a ridiculous grin the entire ride and as a result, I was inflated like a balloon. (This will be a recurring problem, I’ve since learned, until I can stop being so absurdly joyous while cycling.) That’s a problem for another day, though. No regrets, Mark Twain!

2016-05-14 16.03.27-1



Last weekend, after unforeseen late, heavy snows delayed road clearing well into June, Lassen Volcanic National Park hosted their annual Hike and Bike the Highway Day. For one day, the road through the park is closed to vehicles and the route becomes a scenic, cyclists’ paradise. Of course I wouldn’t miss it! Elizabeth and I met early in our excitement and headed into the park via the southern entrance.


The thing about the park is, it’s a series of volcanic features, including the large mass of dormant Lassen itself. From both park entrances, the highway begins steeply climbing towards the summit. The upside to this is a sprightly downhill glide, but in contrast, the downside is first a grueling uphill climb from either direction to get there.


Elizabeth, that minx, is an incredible cyclist. She bikes everywhere, always. She lives in a city with not only hills but BIG hills. Hills that get snow on top while rain still falls at the bottom. So she’s pretty skilled. In contrast, I live at a city with an elevation of 50. Fifty feet above sea level. Our only hills are the levees. When not participating in an organized ride, I bike casually and without purpose. Moral of that little tangent: she biked an additional two miles before I’d reached the summit.




We began our ride in a valley dotted with wildflowers and running water. At the summit, ten feet of snow fenced the road. On the ascent, the effort warmed us into complacency. Even as we entered the snow line, passed frozen lakes, and rested our bikes against snowdrifts, heat thrummed through our veins. The descent would be a learning experience. The throngs of cyclists donning gloves, long layers, and even (frighteningly) balaclavas should have been a strong indication of what was to come. Several well-meaning individuals encouraged me to layer up so I added the jacket and leggings from my pack to my person. At least my pack is lighter now! I thought jovially (and probably with my mouth open).


They were right. They were so right. It physically hurt how right they were.


The descent was teeth-chatteringly cold. The metal on our bikes reached A Christmas Story schoolyard pole levels of cold. I was clamped onto my brakes pretty solidly, both due to the fierce speed and because my hands froze there. Our ponytails may have frozen straight out behind us. I might be exaggerating there but it was cold, guys! At the base of the mountain, after a descent that took less than a quarter of the time of the ascent, we lay on the sun-baked pavement beside a geothermal feature and pressed our cold hands against the ground for warmth. It was fantastic!


Thus, the sun set on our third long ride together in as many months. As Mark Twain predicted, I have lived and I have no regrets. Let’s do it again!


2016-06-11 13.19.04


It was a beautiful spring day. The blue sky was scrubbed clear of dust by a delta breeze and fat, happy clouds scuttled across the expanse. Red-winged black birds darted in and out of view in pursuit of lunch. My car’s interior was warm from sitting in the sun all morning. I sat there in the parking lot of my school, failing to appreciate the day, bawling my eyes out. It was a beautiful day; it sucked.


We have lived 365 days that he didn’t. 365 sunsets without a dog to feed. 365 mornings without a dog to snuggle. 365 days without the unconditional love of a dog waiting at the door.


For some people, this is usual. These are people I have always pitied. Life without a dog is so much less full than one with. Dogs are a daily reminder of unrelenting, enthusiastic adoration. They embody forgiveness, understanding, and flexibility (among other characteristics). Ridiculous joy is their constant companion. Dogs are as close to nirvana as we can get. And yet, some people choose not to experience this.


Some people are given this taste of paradise, then lose it. We are the latter.


Our weimaraner followed a parade of dalmations. He arrived as a wide-eyed pup on a flight from Missouri in August of 2008 while our final dalmation, Petey, was enjoying his plump twilight years as the Harmon pet. They made quite the odd couple. Petey resembled a spotted sausage, with meaty, defined muscles from 12 years of frequent hiking. Jaydon was small and lithe with piercing blue eyes. On their first hike together, Petey plugged along methodically and Jaydon fell asleep in Dad’s arms. Later, Jaydon grew tall and strong. He would be the tireless leader and Petey, eyes gone milky with cataracts and joints grown stiff from arthritis, would plod along in Dad’s shadow.


Jaydon and Petey are together again. We are here alone.


It’s another beautiful spring day, though on the other end of the spectrum. This one is more fitting. The sky is shades of moody gray and thunder grumbles in the distance. Hail falls in an icy frosting. I have cried today as I did then, and many days in between.