Christmas 2021 Newsletter

If 2020 was the story of the plague, 2021 is the story of how we finally began to beat it back.

It would be easy to say it began at the end of 2020 when the first vaccines started to be available, but the truth is we were very fortunate that much of the ground work for the vaccines was done over the last two decades so we had a head start. And, as 2021 went on, vaccines for the deadly pandemic became more and more widely available. As I write this at the beginning of December I could walk in to any of a dozen places within 5 minutes of my house and get a shot. And while COVID is still with us – Delta variant rampaged much of the world in late 2021 and there is now talk of an even more infectious Omicron variant – the vaccines seem to be working well and things are looking much better than they were when I was writing at this time last year.

I think I have concluded that we will probably never be able to eliminate COVID entirely and that it is just going to have to be something we learn to live with. One of the people I follow for good information, Dr. Bob Wachter of UCSF, has said as much in interviews. Anything that I am saying I won’t do because of COVID I am basically saying I won’t do ever again. It was sobering to hear someone say it like that. Which leaves us with two choices: do or don’t.

We are firmly in the DO camp. And now that all of us, including Scarlett, are fully vaccinated, we intend to resume all normal activities. We’ve already started eating out again. We went to concerts. We had family over for Thanksgiving. We trust the science, we trust the vaccine, and the entire point of the shots was so that we could return to living our lives normally.

I have no idea what the future will hold. Maybe there will be a Alpha Delta Beta variant that will evade all our vaccines and put us back at square one. Or maybe COVID will become endemic and no more threatening that the common flu. But for now we’re going to choose hope over fear, science over superstition, and get back to enjoying our lives.

So, what happened in 2021?

In February, we had a snow and ice storm. We were actually in Knoxville when it became clear that something was going to go down, but ended up bailing out early and heading home. On the way home we stopped and got firewood to keep the house warm in case we had a power outage, but thankfully there wasn’t any outages to speak of. What we got instead was an absolutely gorgeous snowfall. Interestingly, the transition line was just a few miles away from us. We had 8 inches of snow, but people just a couple miles away got cold rain. Weather is interesting like that.

In March, we launched in on our biggest project since we bought this house in 2012: renovating the half-bath. Because our home was the model home for the neighborhood and was used as a sales office, the bathroom had to be handicapped-accessible. But it was using up a lot of space for us that could be better used as storage. So we took the room down to the studs and added a wall, along with an additional electrical outlet for the upright freezer and a future location for the server rack. It was a huge project, but we are so pleased with how it turned out.

We continued our thing for trains as well. Did you know that Huntsville has it’s own small train museum? We rode with them twice this year, once at Easter and once around the Halloween.

Not everything was great this year, however. In June we hired what later turned out to be an unlicensed contractor running an unlicensed business to extend our patio. It turned into an unmitigated disaster after he took a gigantic concrete dump in our backyard. Half-assed doesn’t even begin to cover this work, and much of the rest of the year was spent dealing with this white elephant.

It was wild. They showed up halfway through the day. Did no prep work, just poured concrete straight on the grass. Mixed it in a wheel barrow despite the size of the job. Argued incessantly with each other. Ran out of concrete halfway through the job and one of his men fell asleep on my back porch. Literally never seen anything as incompetent as Isaiah Armstrong was during this whole experience. Five armadillos in a trench coat would have done a better job.

I would have hired out the demolition but because it is such a small job (or would be for someone with the proper tools and enough help), it was impossible to get a demolition contractor interested in taking it when there is already so much more higher paying work out there. But I had to get it demolished because the negative slope was causing water to drain into the walls. It took me a week using mostly a sledgehammer and pick to demolish it and nine trips to the landfill to get rid of the concrete. Now all that is left is mostly gravel, which I will be going over in the spring (hopefully) with a new patio.

The two lessons to take from this: don’t trust Angie’s List when they tell you someone is a “Pro” and that they are licensed and insured. Angie’s List now is nothing more than lead generation for contractors, they do no due diligence on anyone. And never, ever hire Isaiah Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama (Isaiah Armstrong Painting & Construction) to do any work for you. He is an unlicensed contractor running an unlicensed business and will more than likely do wildly shoddy work.

And unfortunately, when it rains, it pours. A few weeks after this happened, our downstairs HVAC went out. And the choices were either spend $3,000+ to fix an already 10 year old HVAC, or just replace it. We opted for the second (and more expensive) option, but when it’s summer in Alabama you will do whatever you have to do to get the air cool. Thankfully my HVAC contractor is good; I’ve used them for years and they even lent us some temporary window units to keep the house cool until the new HVAC could be installed.

Around this time we decided to get away from it all and went to Atlanta for the weekend. We visited the Fernbank Museum, which I had not been to since I was a kid. The dinosaur in the atrium was pretty cool. We also rode the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway up to the small town of Copperhill, Tennessee.

In July, we took our big trip for the year: to Sarasota, Florida to stay at the beach for a week with Sarah’s family. While we would have preferred to fly, we ended up driving down because rental cars were going to be like $1,000+ for the week. We had a fun time around the pool, on the beach, and visiting attractions in town. We also stopped by and visited with some friends of our who live outside Orlando. And, on our way back, we stopped in Dunnellon, Florida to visit my great grandparents’ home. I had not been through here probably since the early 1990s so it was a nice trip down memory lane.

In August, Scarlett started third grade! Our little girl is growing up so fast. Scarlett did her entire second grade year virtually, but we opted to send her back to in-person schooling for third grade. Thankfully, Madison City Schools has handled the COVID situation well; most weeks there are only a small handful of cases across the whole district. Masking is required indoors, and we are grateful to not have seen the kind of drama that has surrounded other districts around the country. So we felt comfortable sending her back, even more so now that she is fully vaccinated.

Scarlett has also been selected for the Gifted Education program at Madison City Schools. We are both very proud of our smart little girl.

In October we went on our first family camping trip. Not like staying in a cabin or something, actual tent camping. We visited Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee, about a two hour drive from our home. We actually had a great time and are looking forward to doing it some more, and perhaps for longer, in the spring.

November was an eventful month.

In November, we went to the pet store to get some cat food and somehow walked out with another cat to add to our Home for Wayward Cats. Meet Eros! He’s a little love sponge that is totally happy just sitting on someone’s lap for hours.

Also in November, Sarah and I attended our first large event since the pandemic started: we saw Genesis play live in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a great weekend and they put on a really great show. You can tell Phil is getting up there in years, he sat most of the show (apparently he has some kind of nerve condition) but he could still sing just as well.

Also in November, our little girl turned nine! Can you believe it? I still remember bringing her home from the hospital and she’s almost double digits! And in case you can’t tell, she kinda has a thing for unicorns.

A lot of other smaller things happened in 2021 as well. I found out that work from home is most likely going to be a permanent thing for me and I could not be more pleased. Auburn was … well, Auburn. Sarah and I both turned 40 (I’m finally a man!) and we celebrated quietly at home as is our tradition. I saw Phish play in Birmingham in July. We went to the Garden Railway show in Nashville. And lots of other little things happened in the meantime.

But none of it would have been possible without the dedicated work of the doctors, nurses and scientists who helped control this pandemic and made the vaccines possible. We are eternally grateful to them for giving us our safety back.

And if you haven’t gotten your shot yet, please do. 🙂