Year in Review: 2021

I hope this finds you and yours healthy and happy after another holiday season. The most notable change from last year happened to be a change of address. If I was going to own cats that could end up living for two decades, I might as well double down on life commitments: Shawn and I closed on our first house together in February. 

We bought our first house and made the move to Lake Tahoe!

The house is quite the fixer-upper, with mirror tiles facing a toilet and carpet on the WALLS. It is so quirky that it caught the attention of a new HGTV show focused on people that just bought hideous houses! Shortly after the purchase, they reached out to us and ran us through a whole “casting” rigamarole. Although you can find a photo of our kitchen as part of the show’s intro, we weren’t chosen to be on “Ugliest House in America” from HGTV. I’m counting this as a stroke of luck for my own public reputation.

Before/After looking into the guest bathroom

As you may know, anything related to home renovation has a long waiting list these days. We’ve settled with doing some stuff ourselves as just a bare minimum until we can get some help for a complete renovation. Since anything we do is relatively temporary, we’ve really run with doing silly things: from rainbow cabinet handles in the kitchen to an outrageously tropical guest bathroom!

Before/After Looking out of the guest bathroom

We’ve been quite happy with the new life we’ve taken on since moving to the Sierras. With a trailhead right in our neighborhood, we’ve gotten out for plenty of hiking and snowshoeing. If we aren’t in the mood to hike, there’s also a lovely ten-minute bike ride to the beach. If it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on a visit, trust your instincts. Get vaccinated and bring tools!

We escaped the mountains for a birthday backpacking trip in Death Valley National Park. I couldn’t believe the variety of scenery the park encompassed! It was our first visit and a charming one at that.

As lovely of a trip as it was, it felt like an even better birthday gift to finally get our COVID vaccinations shortly after. I’m so grateful not only to every community that made it possible. Not just the scientific collaborations to develop it, but also to both presidential administrations who played a part in helping to get them deployed. It took creative problem solving to place bets on them before they were finished with testing to speed up the eventual rollout. The forward-thinking continued by ensuring the US takes a strong stance on “vaccine diplomacy” to ensure the health of all of us sharing this planet. These efforts were no small feat, and neither is the ask for all of us to do our part. 

I hope that we can begin to look like a better America again. One that puts community (considering the burdens on our healthcare systems, the workers, and immune-compromised citizens) before ourselves. I appreciate the perspective of author Ryan Holiday on what feels like a significant failing on the part of a portion of our society – Americans are misinterpreting liberty not as freedom from oppression but from responsibility.

Channeling Rosie the Riveter post-vaccine

In doing my part of what I owe my fellow Americans, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like Rosie the Riveter after my second vaccine. Who wore it better!? 

Our first local backpacking trip. Hiking in Desolation Wilderness from Meeks Bay to Emerald Bay

As soon as Shawn’s mom, Carol, was vaccinated herself, she was on a plane to spend the summer and explore our new locale with us, including a couple of Yosemite trips. First, taking advantage of the chance to ride bikes on Tioga Road in the brief window just a few days after it was plowed but before they opened it to cars. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend it! They announce it with short notice, though, so it can be tough to catch. 

Riding Tioga Road in the high country of Yosemite National Park in the precious few days it is open to bicycles only before giving full access to cars.

The second was for a backpacking trip I was going on with my friends Rishi and Jeremy from the John Muir Trail a few years back. Shawn and Carol drove me down, and we spent the day hiking in Tuolumne Meadows.

The next day Rishi, Jeremy and I headed out to spend a few days hiking the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne the next day. This was by far my favorite Yosemite backpacking trip – full of incredible scenery and even better swimming spots. 

Carol’s visit ended with meeting the rest of the family in Colorado Springs for the first family trip we’ve taken since COVID. Beautiful hiking was a given, but we also got to visit with one of our Disney friends, Moorea, and her husband, Jake. I also had my first experience white water rafting with the added bonus of “becoming a swimmer” at one point, HA! 

It felt strange to come back to the house without Carol. It was more bizarre to see that it was even smokier than when we left (our flight out of Reno was delayed a good bit thanks to the wildfire smoke). Weeks went by, with the air quality getting worse and worse as the fires came closer. Near the end of August, we got the call we had been dreading: we were under mandatory evacuation. 

What a strange experience trying to quickly decide what was worth saving. We had bags packed for weeks just in case, but when the call came, we suddenly felt like we weren’t sure at all. It was crushing to drive away from our first house, not sure if we’d see it again, just six months after moving into it. As we waited in traffic, a photojournalist actually captured a moment of joking between us (article here), making me look far more cool, calm, and collected than I felt. 

Our Uber is here! BlueBell was ready to get on the road and away from the fires.

I’m so grateful that we have family that could host us in Modesto. It was an anxiety-filled day, but what a relief to hug Shawn’s aunt and uncle, Jody and Larry, at the end of the long journey. It was so lovely to have their company as always, but mainly as a warm distraction from worry that week. As lovely as the time was together, I was glad to get the call that we could come home a week later. Much of the following month was filled with overhearing stories from other residents who weren’t as fortunate as us. Some spent the week in their car in a Walmart parking lot, while many others ended up with no home to return to. Thank you to everyone that reached out to check on us. We were one of the lucky ones, but if you wanted to help in any way (besides doing what you can to reduce your climate emissions), there are a variety of ways to give.

Our cat, Scoop, required an emergency room visit for a respiratory infection, presumably from smoke inhalation. I think we’ve overcompensated on air filters now.

In October, my company, Enjoy, went public, and we headed back to the Bay Area for the listing party. It was nice to celebrate the accomplishment, but even nicer just to get the chance to see my awesome coworkers for the first time in nearly two years! The party could have been 24 hours, and it still wouldn’t have been enough time to catch up with everyone. 

We flew straight from there to Colorado once again. This time for the wedding of one of our Disney friends, Adam, and his lovely bride, Lauren. We also squeezed in some time to hike Pikes Peak and even see our friends Rishi, the Bells, and the Brazees! Despite all that time in Colorado this year, we still didn’t get to see all our pals there. We didn’t realize how many of you were there! I think we’d need a month-long visit just to see you, and I’m sure it still wouldn’t feel like we got as much time as we’d want to visit!

We had so much gratitude for the huge efforts it took to save our town during the Caldor fire, that we decided to try our hand at some DIY Halloween Decorations. The Tamarack fire was another that came close to us this summer, but was far smaller. I also made the mistake of telling Shawn that if we could find one of those 12 foot skeletons, he could get it. It seems they were not as hard to find as I had hoped. Or he is just really lucky.

Our social streak didn’t end there. Shortly after our return, Victoria came out for a visit. It was so delightful to have a Memphis friend (one of my oldest Memphis friendships at that!) out for some hiking around and kayaking on Lake Tahoe.

We spent our first Thanksgiving in the house hosting one of my Enjoy pals, Nina, with her husband, David, and son, Jayden. We changed up Thanksgiving dinner traditions as they brought all the fixings for hot pot. They also joined us in what I hope is a new tradition going forward – cutting down our own Christmas tree from one of our nearby national forests! The US forest service opens up local forests for Christmas tree permits every year in designated areas to help thin the forests. You get to cut down your own Christmas tree for $10 and help maintain the local forest’s health! See more here.

You may notice that our tree is sitting atop the newest member of the family, Ravioli. If it weren’t for the used car prices these days, we would have never considered a new car. Ravioli is also a plug-in hybrid, going about 40 miles in “EV mode” when the electric battery is fully charged. All-electric vehicles get a lot of the spotlight on tax credits. Still, some of those credits also cover plug-in hybrids, making the Rav4 Prime an oddly economically sound purchase.

Harvey is still with us, but the A/C hasn’t worked since I lived in Memphis. As it doesn’t get that hot in the Bay Area or in Tahoe, windows were plenty enough to cool us. Of course, windows are an unhealthy option when wildfire smoke abounds. Given how personal climate change has gotten these last couple of years (see above, wildfires), we felt strongly about the next vehicle getting better gas mileage than Harvey. As awesome as an all-electric vehicle would have been, there wasn’t an option that would work for us (all that we considered won’t be released until next year). We’ve had so much fun driving Ravioli in electric mode, though, that I think we are sold on full electric for the next one!

As Carol is big on Christmas, we met her in Disneyland after Thanksgiving so we could all enjoy the resort at its holiday best. Disneyland has never hosted a holiday party until this year and we were lucky enough to get tickets to the first ever “Merriest Nites” event. I’ve never “missed” or “craved” a Disney trip until these last couple of years, and it was a joy to be back in the parks. She returned to Tahoe for a few days and helped with setting up our Christmas decorations.

Shortly after our return to Tahoe, I finished my last week at Enjoy. It was great to hit the milestone of going public during my career, but I’ve been itching to go back to a smaller company for a while.

As it happens, I am pulling a “double boomerang” and returning to Hipcamp again. They have fully embraced remote culture, so I don’t have the worries I did before about being one of the remote people on a primarily on-site team. I am also super stoked to be working with the fantastic team again on something I care deeply about: getting more people outside.

I’ve really enjoyed my “funemployment” time during the holidays until I start in mid-January with plenty of work to do around the house. I’ve also taken advantage of living 10 minutes away from the nearest ski resort to graduate from the bunny hill to green runs!

We expected a quiet holiday season, but the weather had other plans. We got so much snow that it broke records for December since record-keeping began in the seventies! Our first big dump left us without power for a couple days. The next one started on Christmas Eve and dropped three to five feet of snow within a couple days. Every highway in and out of Tahoe was shut down for three days!

The highways shut down made for an oddly quiet and fun Christmas. It felt like we pretty much had the town to ourselves, and we took full advantage, even when plans got upended. When the nearby ski resort lost power on Christmas Eve, we had to cancel our plans to go downhill skiing that day and instead went a mile from the house for some cross-country skiing. With everything shut down on Christmas day and the next few days, we balanced Christmas movies with digging ourselves out of the house. To be fair, we had a lot of help from our neighbors, John, Linda, and their snowblower! We also did some snowshoeing to areas that would otherwise have been packed with people. 

With the highway open and feeling a bit stir crazy, we popped down to warmer climates in Santa Barbara for a few days. While warmer, the area was also contending with the storms, so it was quite a bit wetter, too! Our plans to hike the Channel Islands were dashed by poor marine weather, so we roamed about the town, eating way too much of Shawn’s favorite ice cream, McConnell’s (they are based there). We also wandered the super Danish village of Solvang on New Year’s Eve before settling into a campsite on the coast for a quiet start to the new year. 

This year was quite a jolt out of “the great pause” and into coming back to a “normal” life full of social interaction and travel. I feel like a different person now, though, less of a travel itch and more of a desire to get out and enjoy our new local life. Maybe I’m just getting old? 😉

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2022!

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