Christmas Letter 2013

I haven't posted here in over a year?! Apparently I've had other priorities...

2 December 2013

Dearest Friends and Family,

I've composed bits and pieces of this letter in my head over and over again but consistently fail to do that crucial step of putting pen to paper.

The last time I wrote a "Christmas Letter" update in Summer of 2009, I was working on slowly digging myself out of a deep, deep hole of a life. I dropped out of school and moved into my parents basement. Aside from a couple of temp jobs I was unemployed the entire year. Instead of working, I spent my time reflecting and planning for a better future, reading loads of bestsellers, and exercising daily with my dad.

At my parent's 40th anniversary party (August 2010) I announced my next big step: move to East Saint Louis, IL to volunteer for the Griffin Center for a year. Diane Sonneman, the director, helped me get an Americorps Scholarship to provide for my living expenses. I worked as an Education Advocate and Learning Lab Coordinator for an after-school program that served the children of the public housing projects in East Saint Louis. I'm not sure how effective I was under either of those lofty titles but I learned volumes about social justice, racism, and myself. As an outsider to the community, I struggled with my desire to learn and observe and my nature to fix it all--and right now too! I fluctuated hourly between hope and apathy. There are no easy answers...

Christmas in East Saint Louis
I'm convinced that there's something magical in the midwestern water because I blossomed socially in my year in the area. I made more friends and faster too than I have any other time in my life. Although I've only been back to St. Louis once since I left, I've been able to keep up with many of my St. Louis friends through conferences all around the country. (And a few of them have come to visit me too!)

Incredible STL Women: Lauren, Claire, Kaleena
Moving back to Colorado was a bitter-sweet choice that was primarily motivated by getting in-state tuition. I started back to school at the Community College of Denver Fall 2011 with a full load. The next semester I took a few engineering classes at University of Colorado Denver along with my full community college load (25 credit hours that semester). I'm doing well academically and am currently the president of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers on campus. Graduation from UCD is so close I can taste it. I'll be getting a B.S. in Civil Engineering in two short weeks.

I moved apartments last September and now live alone for the first time in a pretty big apartment. I'm loving my neighborhood, Capitol Hill, and just love having guests! (I think I got the hospitality bug from my mom.) Come visit! I have plenty of space and Colorado is amazing and Denver is even better. :)

A pretty major car crash last September (days after moving) totaled my 1995 Toyota Corolla. Thankfully I live in the right part of town because I've yet to replace it. I got a lot of good miles out of it and gave her many incredible road trips. I intend to go car-free until after graduation. So far, I can bike, walk, bus, fly, or politely mooch rides to get just about anywhere I need to go. I just love using and abusing my bike to fly past all the "cagers" when biking downtown.

My love of biking was temporarily derailed in April, however. I crashed hard when I saw the steps in my path only after tumbling down them. In the ER I remember telling the doctor, "Don't I at least get one year between accidents?" And right before finals too. It took me about a month to get back on that horse. I'm now a more convicted helmet user than ever.

My summer job was a big catalyst for biking again. An hour+ commute via bus gave me the push I needed to choose a 40-55 minute bike ride instead. I bike to/from work every day this summer! I worked as an inspector this summer for the Public Improvement Inspections division for the City of Aurora--a neighboring suburb. I was in the field almost full-time and helped oversee so many interesting construction projects! 

Looking fly in a hard hat and safety vest was tough, but I like to think I pulled it off.

When I'm not a student, I've been spending my free time dating. I love everything about getting to know someone new, instantly sizing them up and then noting where first impressions are wrong, comparing notes on hopes/dreams/likes/dislikes, and waiting for the perfect moment for a first kiss. For now, I'm just enjoying the ride.

Motorcycle Road Trip around Southwestern Colorado with a boyfriend.
This summer and fall have been the summer of weddings and I loved every one of them! Two cousins and two high school friends. First-time bridesmaid for the two high school friends too! So much fun. And each one came with a mini-vacation in the mountains of Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, and central California.

High School Church Friends Helping me "cover up"

Kaleena and Sarah
I know you're just burning to ask what adventures lie in store for me next. I have no idea. As soon as I finish up this semester I'll be in full-time job hunting mode. I passed my Fundamentals of Engineering Exam in April, (1st step in professional licensure for engineers.) so my prospects are bright. I can put initials after my name and everything! Kaleena Menke, EI. I've been giving my career a lot of thought and have a lofty list of qualities for my dream job: directly helping people/saving the world, actual engineering, field work, and travel. Got any ideas?

Final thoughts: My instructor for my capstone Civil Engineering Design Course just gave us these final words in his last lecture this evening and I love it:
To Have Succeeded
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others;
To give one's self;
To leave the world a bit better,
     Whether by a healthy child,
     A garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived...
This is to have succeeded
~Bessie Anderson Stanley
Given my track record, it will probably be another four years before I bother to send another newsy update. In the meantime you can find me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog and on and on and on. Hugs and Kisses, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! Love, Kaleena


  1. It is very difficult to write a comment after such a beautiful letter knowing that my simple comment can never match up to the quality and effort that you put into this beautiful Christmas letter - and during finals! Here goes: It is an honor to know a human being as beautiful, talented and gifted as Kaleena Menke. Thank you for this "catch-up" letter. It reads as someone who has already grown tremendously in the last few years, someone who has forged her own path, someone who has already succeeded, but only in reaching her first plateau in a lifetime of ever higher plateaus. Giving advice to you would be a mistake. You have already shown that you have what it takes to make excellent decisions. Keep doing what you think is right. Your family and friends will always be here, watching you continue to succeed, amazed at your success, and cheering you on. Love, Bob.

  2. Wow, just wow. What an amazing human being you are Kaleena. All I can say is this:

    Keep on kicking ass and taking initials; don't stand around long enough to take names!! ;) All the best to you and your family!! And the next time you're in the STL...let me know, will ya?!?

  3. Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
    Bring you Good wishes of happiness.

    Sorry for greeting you earlier,, just don't want miss saying this.
    By the way, I'm clotee. It's my first time visiting your blog. I am blogger too, and now try my best luck to open an e-store. Nice to know you.


  4. Thanks for sharing your adventure Kaleena! I think a lot of people confuse "finding yourself" with "courage to be yourself" and I think you've done the latter with flare! Congratulations on graduating and sorry I surprised you at the ceremony. :-) Happy Christmas!