The continuing adventures of a second-career archeologist, teacher, and sci-fi geek

First Dig of 2023; The Pew Pew Factor; Space Geese; The Village People

First Dig of 2023!

Last Saturday I got out into the field for the first time since September and did some shovel testing at a site I can’t talk about for security reasons. I’m not trying to sound cool or anything, but looting is a huge problem in archaeology and it’s common practice to keep some sites secretive in order to protect them. I’ve been digging on this particular site since 2019, I think. I took Nora with me and she did a great job. She’s got enough experience and is old enough now to dig with the adults, which is pretty cool. I’m very proud of her progress and her advancement to harder excavation skills. She’s really good at what she does and adults are constantly complimenting me on her discipline and her focus. Sorry for the mama brag. You just don’t see a lot of 13-year-olds who know their way around an archeology site and it’s pretty neat that my kid is one of them. 🙂

I had to stick to paperwork and screening since I can’t lift anything due to my recent hernia surgery. I should be good to go in another month and definitely healed in time for field school in June. Here are some highlights. All location data has been removed for security reasons.

I love the smell of science in the morning!
I have a clipboard. This makes me cool or something?
My junior archeologist.
She’s down pretty deep in that shovel test pit.

The Pew-Pew Factor

So what Gwyddion really needs right now is Stuff To Shoot At and Blow Up. I’ve started calling this The Pew-Pew Factor. There will be plenty of that later in the series but I am totally aware that Things That Go Boom is a huge appeal to a lot of sci-fi fans and I need that early on in the script, like in the first ten minutes. Early in the series when it’s being set up there’s not a lot of Pew-Pews until there’s direct danger threatening the crew from the Big Bad Guys yet, so my brain has been contemplating how to blow stuff up. I’m working on how to start the series off strong to hook the audience and that means explosions. I like a good kerblam as much as the next guy, but this is something I don’t have a lot of experience writing. Ideas have started flowing, though. I’m still months from writing the pilot but I’m already thinking of how to start the entire series off with some serious action and big booms.

Space Geese (HONK!)

I’m also developing some nasty indigenous creatures that attack the crew and honestly, they are scary as crap. I’m pretty proud of myself for that. I told Nora the other day that I needed help coming up with alien flora and fauna. The first words out of her mouth were, “SPACE GEESE! Like the goose from ‘Untitled Goose Game’ but instead of stealing the farmer’s stuff like at the beginning of the game, they steal the archeologists’ trowels and drop them in the river…so…not really dangerous, just annoying.” I laughed so damn hard and decided that yes, Gwyddion needs space geese. There will be space geese.

Watch out for the trowel-stealing space geese (this was my first AI-generated art for this blog, by the way)

The Village People

Sometimes I’m in a room where I don’t belong

And the house is on fire and there’s no alarm

And the walls are melting too

How about you?

I’ve never been the favorite, thought I’d seen it all

‘Til I got my invitation to the lunatic ball

And my friends are comin’ too

How about you?

“Symptom of Being Human” by Shinedown

This song really sums up teaching in a nutshell and my relationship with my coworkers. You have to be crazy to do this job and it helps that everyone around you is just as crazy as you are, if not a little more so. We’re all in this asylum together, but the asylum’s on fire, so we’re all standing around passing out marshmallows to each other and rolling our eyes. My work besties are the reason why I’m still around.

I’ve been at Connally since 2014 and that’s a long time for a teacher. During this time I’ve chased this dream of becoming an archeologist. It’s been a huge challenge trying to balance teaching full-time and studying part-time at night, but the support at work has been incredible. I honestly couldn’t have gotten as far as I have without my coworkers. Their belief in what I’m doing and their support are amazing. I’m nearing the end of my master’s degree and there are particular people who have cheered me on throughout this whole journey. When I decided to put off my Ph.D. and go back to Gwyddion instead, they didn’t think I was nuts and totally embraced this weird dream I have of creating a sci-fi show about archeology in space.

I love these people…

These guys listen to my babbling about archeology and Gwyddion and they don’t blink. They let me bounce ideas off them, offer suggestions, and listen to me dream big all over their classrooms and up and down the halls of CHS.

And now I want you to meet them. Guys, my village:

Brittany Ferrara, ESL English

Brittany and I have very similar senses of humor. We’re both super sarcastic and crack each other up. I was thrust into ESL English against my will this year and spent a lot of time last semester just mad and frustrated because I honestly had no freaking clue what I was doing (and still don’t). It’s hard being a square peg in a round hole, but Brittany has been an enormous help in keeping me sane and giving me resources for my classes, and honestly listening to my bitching. She makes doing my job so much easier and I’m grateful for her. She also loves sci-fi and cosplay and knows what the hell I’m talking about when I start talking about random obscure episodes of Stargate or actors. Someday we’ll get to go to a convention together (I haven’t been to one since 2016). Brittany is my partner-in-crime when it comes to geeking out and turning a bad day into a good one. She always has time for me and I love hanging out with her. She listens to me bouncing off the walls when I get a new idea for the show and tells me what she thinks.

Brittany and Basel

Basel Yousef, Digital Animation, Video Game Design, AV Art

I’ve known Basel for years and this guy makes me laugh so hard that I cry. Basel is a fellow Whovian and one year we dressed up like the Doctor and the TARDIS for Halloween (I was the TARDIS). He’s another person with whom I can geek out about sci-fi and he geeks out right back. We have terrific conversations about artificial intelligence and robots and spaceships and everything else, basically. Basel and I find each other in the hall and wind up wasting half of our conference periods just talking about everything. He’s also an amazing VFX artist. If anyone wants to hire someone to do their VFX, you should really call this guy. I can’t believe how talented he is! He gives me great advice on the visual aspects of the show, which is something that I just don’t have the talent for and know next to nothing about.

Ty Hoppe, English

Me and Ty killing time outside

Y’all meet my work husband. 🤣 We’re B Hall besties.  I’m not sure why this dude puts up with me, but he does. Hoppe and I have been through a lot together, both professionally and personally. He’s one of my closest friends at CHS and I am privileged to know him. Hoppe and I both are former theater nerds. He’s a wonderful playwright and a terrific English teacher. We sponsor GSA together and are we lucky enough to hang out with a great group of kids every Thursday afternoon who keeps us in stitches. Hoppe will kick your ass at Apples to Apples, by the way. Hoppe has been my rock this year when everything turned to crap when I was handed five out of six preps (totally untenable and unrealistic). He’s someone I can go to for anything, from “I don’t know how to teach this novel” to personal issues. He listens and gives great advice and keeps me on my toes.

Jason O’Quinn, English

O’Quinn’s been here as long as I have. With the exception of one other teacher, the two of us share second place in terms of tenure in the English Department at CHS. With that comes a certain familiarity with each other’s quirks. Jason almost always says something that makes me laugh no matter how bad of a mood I’m in. He’s the Keeper of the Coffee in the B Hall (even if I do sneak off to the C Hall more often to get my fix, sorry dude). Jason’s always willing to jump in and help out when needed and he’s saved my sanity more than a few times. Jason and I always fantasize about riding our rolly chairs all the way down the B Hall (this is the year, Jason, I swear).  I think he watches my adventures and shenanigans with a healthy dose of bemusement and skepticism and I need him to ground me sometimes. He’s really good at that, but he is still supportive and encourages you to chase your dreams.

Jason O’Quinn and Marston (with a photobomb from Michael Chaffin)

Marston, English Department Chair

Marston keeps Diet Dr. Pepper and chocolate in his classroom just for teachers. He’s hilarious and is another person who makes me laugh, usually with O’Quinn somewhere nearby (they’re neighbors). Marston will always make time to listen to you, even if it’s not related to work. He is kind and has the intuition of knowing exactly what to say to you when you need to hear it. I appreciate his quirky sense of humor and he wouldn’t blink twice if I went screaming down the B Hall dressed like Indiana Jones and running from pretend boulders (I may or may not have done that). Marston is great at helping you find the answers to weird situations that pop up and let’s face it, we get a lot of that in education. He is cynical, funny as hell, and down to earth. Marston is another person who grounds me when I need it (and often without knowing I need it). Marston, it’s a great day to be a Connally Cougar.

Wes Naron, Theater and Fine Arts Department Chair

Wes is our theater tech director and you all know I was a drama major, so we get along great. He’s unexpectedly taken Nora under his wing this year despite her still being in middle school. He taught her how to use the light board and has big plans for her for next year with theater tech and acting. Wes is deeply spiritual and what he doesn’t realize is that his faith sometimes has given me strength when I needed it. He’s a huge sci-fi geek and so of course we’re going to get along. Wes is always positive and encouraging and never fails to put me in a good mood. He knows how hard show business is and he knows what to say to keep me going on this hard road. I can talk to Wes about just about anything, from archeology to faith to obscure episodes of Star Trek. Unfortunately, Wes is down at the ass-end of the school so I don’t get to see him as much as I want, but I’m trying to make the trek down to the theaters more often to hang out with him and Breaz.

Theater geeks forever! Wes Naron, me, and Amanda Breaz

Amanda Breaz, Theater

Just saying Amanda’s name makes me smile. She is seriously one of the funniest, kindest, and most selfless people I know. The students ADORE her. She is down-to-earth and a little snarky and keeps me in stitches. I also don’t see her enough because she’s lucky enough to share an office with Wes in the nether regions of CHS. Weeks can go by and we won’t see each other, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like no time’s passed at all between us before one of us says something to get the other one to laugh. Breaz has the job that I’d love to do if I weren’t chasing a career in archeology and writing Gwyddion. She’s always encouraged me to go for my dreams no matter what they are. Her positive attitude and words of encouragement remind me that she believes in me (now I’m tearing up). Actors chase their dreams. Breaz knows that and she reminds me that I can achieve whatever I set out to do if I just keep trying and refuse to settle.

Christopher Friede, Algebra and Geometry

Chris Friede

I’ve actually known Chris for ten years. We met when I worked at Manor High School when I did English intervention. Friede taught world history and we just clicked, along with Michelle Zelenski (who is now in graduate school in Florida). I encouraged him to audition for the cast at the local medieval festival because I had such a great time doing those when I was in college. He was cast as Prince John (yeah, that Prince John). I later discovered that I’m descended from Prince John, so my nickname for Chris is Grandpa, even though we’re the same age! Our kids are friends and they regularly beat each other up in Minecraft and chat in Discord. Friede just started working at CHS this year teaching in the math department and it’s great to have him around again. Chris is one of the smartest people I know and often has insight into something I didn’t see when I’m bouncing ideas off of him. He keeps me thinking and pondering, which is the mark of a great teacher and a good friend. He’s kind and gentle with a wicked sense of humor that I love. He’s also patient and a great listener, which is a blessing because I can talk the ears off of an elephant when I’m excited about something. 

Mia Clark, AVID, Human Geography, African American Studies…and probably a few other classes that I’ve forgotten about (seriously, this woman does it all)

Mia is my “screw this bullshit” person. When I’m mad I can go to her and we’ll turn it into a major cathartic bitchfest. And then we often wind up laughing, often at the futility or ridiculousness of it all. My older sister was exactly like that and I appreciate that I still have someone like that in my life now that Mindy’s gone. Mia reminds me that it’s ok to make mistakes and that life is messy and gross and wonderful, sometimes all at the same time. Mia doesn’t mince words. She calls it like she sees it and I truly believe we all need a friend like that. Mia often has the words for a situation that I don’t have. Sometimes she seems to know what’s going on in my head and puts everything into perspective for me. I can be myself in front of Mia and she gets my weird. She’s also seriously one of the best teachers I know. She is a walking encyclopedia of lesson plan ideas and I love to pick her brain when I’m bored with the routine or need a last-minute idea. Her dog, Charlie, is really damn cute, too!

Angela Fried, Advanced Placement United States History

This woman is usually the first person I see in the morning since her classroom is by the back entrance and at the crossroads of B and C Halls. Angela’s the only person I know who has ever had dysentery and has also been to the Oregon Trail, which is why I made her this for her birthday 2 years ago:

Did you know that I know how to cross-stitch? You do now!

I think she is one of the funniest people I know and I love her “OH HELL NO!” attitude, which is a huge benefit when you teach high school. Angela also gets my weird sense of humor and just goes with it. Angela sparkles in a sarcastic way and I wish I knew how she pulled off that magical voodoo. She is also my go-to person when I need an idea for an engaging lesson or Canvas is being extra stupid and I need help slapping it into obedience. She also has a stand-up of the Tenth Doctor staring at you disapprovingly in her classroom so I have a place to go when I need to get my David Tennant fix. *fans self* Angela gives me triple high-fives when COOL STUFF HAPPENS with Gwyddion, whether it’s a reminder that I don’t need to be scared or I come in laughing about space geese (HONK!). Some days I literally walk in the door and scream into her classroom like a goat and Angela doesn’t blink, but is like, “Well, good morning to you, too!”  She’s that kind of a friend. We all need an Angela in our lives.

These three are usually found in each others’ company: Mia Clark, Alan Cardon, Angela Fried

Alan Cardon, Advanced Placement Human Geography, Social Studies Chair, and Some Other Social Studies Classes I Forgot About

Ah, Cardon. King of the Dad Jokes. He literally never fails to remind me at least once a month that my archeology career is in ruins. He also has the magical ability to tell these horrible puns when there is NOTHING within reach to throw at him. I’m not sure how he does that. I think God rolled a natural 20 on Evade Projectile Objects for Bad Jokes when he made Cardon’s stats. Cardon is Keeper of the C-Hall Coffee Pot (sorry, O’Quinn). His room is full of Lego. Alan also listens to me natter on about Gwyddion and the more technical stuff, like how the hell I’m going to find a production company. We are getting matching stargates for our classrooms so we dial each other’s rooms and then pass coffee back and forth. 😂 One thing I really admire about Alan as a teacher is the high expectations he sets for students. He expects that they’ll make mistakes, but he knows what they’re capable of achieving even when they don’t. One of our jobs as teachers is to push our students to accomplish more than they think they can and Alan’s really good at doing that. He’s also another person I can turn to for lesson ideas at the last minute. Alan’s taking my kid to Germany and France next year (and me as well, but going to Europe with Mia and Angela and Cardon and Nora is going to be a serious good time).    

Jennifer McCauley, LPAC Coordinator

Me and Jennifer McCauley, my big sister at work.

Jennifer is CHS’ former librarian and I had the pleasure to work with her closely for many years with my reading classes. Jennifer is wickedly funny and like a big sister to me. She and my husband are crawdad buddies, even though I can’t stand them and Nora cries if she sees anyone eating mudbugs. Jennifer has Lousiana in her blood and has been gently trying to convert my palate to her voodoo cajun ways for the last few years. My tastebuds have gone kicking and screaming. No, literally screaming. That stuff is spicy! We used to go to breakfast at The Pancake House before work and make dirty jokes about the dutch babies (*snickergiggles*). I can sing bad Stevie Nicks songs at Jennifer and she doesn’t blink. Hell, she sings along! There was that time we dressed up like football coaches and blew our whistles at the students and told them to HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE to class. Jennifer loves cats, Slash, Baby Yoda, and Diet Coke. I love that I can tell her anything and that she’s always been there for me, whether it’s professional or personal. 

Football coaches, or fool’s ball coaches? Nice headsets, ladies.

Connie Sinclair, Front Office Goddess

Me and Connie Sinclair, the heart of CHS

Connie was the first person I met at CHS when I came in for my interview and was immediately struck by her kindness and sense of humor. Some of the best advice I got from teaching school was to treat the school administrative assistants like gold because they’re really who run the schools and it’s TRUE. CHS couldn’t function without this woman…and she’s retiring this year. No, Connie, no! What will I do without you? Connie is the person I can call when I have a random question because she either knows the answer or knows who I can ask. Connie protects my delivered lunches from predators. Connie makes me laugh hysterically and I love her to pieces. She shares my love of travel and we’ve had some wonderful conversations about our journeys. Connie’s known me since 2014 and she’s seen me develop into the archaeologist I am today and the crazy adventures I’ve gone on. She’s always supported my dreams. It’s going to be really hard next year when I walk into the office and her smiling face isn’t there to greet me.

These are my people, my tribe, my village. I wanted you to know who they are because Gwyddion would never be happening if it weren’t for their support, their belief in my weird dreams, and putting up with my shenanigans (and often partaking in them with me!).

I am so lucky to have these wonderful coworkers and friends in my life.


  1. Jason O'Quinn

    Oh my freaking goodness, this is the best thing I’ve read in a very long time, and not just because it provides me with much-needed words of affirmation, in this time of being told that my instruction is subpar and my leniency to students is excessive. We really do have a CHS family, and, within the English department specifically, I cherish those we have now, while still missing those departed. It feels like so much has changed in these nine years. We’ve seen four principals, three instructional coaches (just counting those on the English side), two librarians, two department chairs, a revolving door of administrators and counselors… We’ve worked alongside colleagues who began teaching when you and I were younger than Nora, and those who were still in high school themselves when we started at CHS.
    And I did read the whole post. The archaeology and Gwyddion sections are no less amazing and I am ever thrilled for you! I just am overcome with the sentimentality that your eloquent description of our Cougar colleagues has evoked.
    Please allow me to put you at the top of the list for delivering my eulogy. 💚

    • Heather Leonard

      I write good stuff now and again, don’t I? It’s crazy how much things have changed in 9 years. I know in my heart I won’t be there too much longer. Change is in the wind, whether it’s Gwyddion or archeology or something else, but I will always be grateful for the friends I made at CHS. This post was a love letter of that gratefulness. I’m truly lucky and blessed to have such amazing coworkers like you, Jason.

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