2020 in Review

What a mess of a year! If a global pandemic wasn’t enough to ruin it, throw in civil unrest and a nightmare election cycle and you’ve got 2020 in a nutshell. When the year started our family was already home-based, with me working remotely and my children being home schooled by my wife. We had a ton of activities outside of the house, all of which came to a screeching halt in March and many remaining in pause to some extent through the balance of the year. Staying home all the time sucks. Not being able to see people regularly sucks. The only thing worse than that though, is the hyper-politicization of everything. First it was political to say the virus is real, next it was political to wear a mask, then it was political to say racism is bad and here we are at the end of an awful election cycle where how you cast your vote became political! If we could make something political in 2020 we did. On top of all that relationships became sacrificed to your political leanings. Don’t agree with a friend? That’s fine, you can find a replacement. Have a disagreement with a family member? No big deal, just stop talking to them. It’s December finally and looking in the rear view mirror I’ve realized that as awful of a year as it’s been it hasn’t been a total bust.

January was a slow start, but then in February our family went to Disney World with my mom, my sister and her kids. We had a great week long visit to the parks while staying at the Art of Animation resort. The trip was not without incident though. My youngest got sick in the park during our first full day, and then on our final day of the trip (Valentine’s day) I was sick in bed with a high fever. We headed home and I was feeling only slightly better than death. The plane flight home exacerbated existing issues with my Eustachian tubes in both ears, and I ended up feeling like garbage until late May. At the same time my dad fell and broke a hip while we were in Disney, which would have been stressful enough had covid not kicked in a month after he took up residence in a long term care facility, where he eventually caught covid and — thanks be to God — recovered. Meanwhile, that whole ear situation kicked off a long journey of visits to the ENT and ultimately tubes being placed in both ears, once elective procedures resumed in Indiana. Despite all that, Disney was a blast, and spending time in the new Star Wars section of the park was nothing short of unbelievable. Flying the Millennium Falcon and drinking blue milk afterward was a dream come true and I cannot wait to go back.

In May I was finally feeling better and was also in need of a hobby, as most everything we were involved in had come to a screeching halt. I’ve always wanted to take up brewing my own beer and there seemed like no better time to start. Sara and I ordered a kit from Northern Brewer and tried our first brew. It turned out pretty good and inspired us to brew three more times, including experimenting with lagering our own Oktoberfest. Because we already had most of the equipment we needed, we also tried our hand at making wine and in June fermented and eventually bottled a Pinot Noir that we are still enjoying.

Before moving to Indianapolis I routinely made all of our own bread, but in the move I lost my interest, motivation and most importantly time. Like a lot of people during the spring lockdown I resumed bread making, but I put my own twist on it. When you brew beer you end up with a lot of wonderful “spent” grains left over. Many people just toss them out, others will put them in their compost bin, and then there are a few of us who dry them out and incorporate them into bread making. I modified King Arthur’s excellent Walter Sand’s recipe to incorporate beer grains and have been making our bread each week.

I started smoking meat in Spring 2019, but I really kicked it into gear in 2020, thanks in large part to a few fantastic sales at Kroger, extra time and because my cooking setup improved dramatically. We were able to find a contractor to add a deck to the back of our house, where I could finally put my grill and smoker. Prior to the deck, both were located in the garage and I would pull them out when needed and move them back in when done. It was all a bit of a hassle and I never liked running through the garage to get to the kitchen. The deck was a game changer, and we smoked a ton of pork, chicken, hot dogs and jalapeños. The deck also gave us a way to socialize (distantly) with friends over the course of summer, which was much needed after the spring.

I was never much of a gamer growing up. It wasn’t for a lack of interest, but it wasn’t something my parents really wanted me to get sucked into. Nonetheless when I was 7 and had my first heart surgery they thought video games might keep me sedentary during my recovery. They gave me a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and I spent hours working my way through Super Mario World. I never really got many other games, though, and eventually my interest waned. Sara and I had a Nintendo Wii for awhile but it honestly didn’t interest me much. However when the Switch was released in 2017 I had a chance to play one during a work trip and fell in love. The problem was my better half was of a similar mindset as my parents had been and feared our kids would get sucked into a virtual abyss. When out of nowhere she gave me the go-ahead to secure a Nintendo Switch I began a multi-month search for a console. At the end of June I found one at a Target in Colorado and thanks to my loving sister-in-law it was secured and mailed to me (and the kids). I have gotten into gaming, buying more games than I’m willing to admit for both the kids and myself. At the end of September my luck was running high and I secured a pre-order for an Xbox Series X, which came in November. My friend Jon and I have been learning how to fly X-Wings lately, and someday he’s going to explain to me what Halo is. I am terrible at gaming, but I’m having a lot of fun and so are my kids. Plus we’re being responsible with our time limits too, I swear!

When I wasn’t gaming I read. A lot. I finished 66 books in 2020 covering a wide range of topics and genres. Admittedly I got sucked into a number of political memoirs that made headlines, but aside from that I read some great books which I’ve detailed already on this blog. I kept up with every new Star Wars release and also worked through a list of books I would have read in High School had I not graduated early. I also revisited a few classics. Reading was a great way to unwind from work and the stress of current events. Much to the chagrin of my wife and friends, though, I wasn’t a big fan of The Hobbit.

Circumstances at work due to covid enabled me to spend more time writing code, a part of my job that I’ve done less of in recent years but I still love dearly. I was able to contribute to the Lightening Email Builder Pardot send experience and had a really awesome time working on it.

Our family started a regular habit of going for a midday walk. Despite having a decently sized home, the walls started to close in on us as we spent so much time together. We found that a 30 minute walk for the five of us together with our dog Dax gave us some nice exercise and would unwind the tension of being so close together all the time. It’s a habit I hope we continue, despite cold weather, and it’s one I would recommend everyone take up.

Jon and I took a brief hiatus from the podcast between March and June as covid was changing everyone’s daily lives. Despite that break we hit episode 100 this year! It’s crazy to think we’ve done so many episodes. While there weren’t nearly enough milkshake reviews Jon and I covered a lot of ground, and I think, made some good listening.

Football and the Steelers in particular have been a bright spot for me as well. I thought that maybe the season would be delayed or cancelled, but it wasn’t and the Steelers have advancing the field yard by yard. Apple had a heckuva year, and as a fanboy I had a fun time dissecting and trying out new products. I dragged my feet on the AirPod Pro's, which was a huge mistake in hindsight, but I finally got a pair and they've been one of those truly magical Apple products. The HomePod Mini and iPhone 12 were also unexpected joys, and I am thrilled with Apple’s M1 announcement. The clock is ticking; I will be getting one.

There’s no doubt that 2020 was rough. As bad as it was, though, it gave me an opportunity to slow down and focus on old and new hobbies alike. It was too easy before 2020 to get caught up in work and the busyness of driving place to place. The forced reset of priorities in 2020 was not without its benefits, and while I wouldn’t wish this year ever to happen again I’ll embrace the gift it gave nonetheless.

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