It’s been one hell of a year. I honestly thought at the end of 2020 that we must be on the cusp of some kind of course correction after some truly dark years in American (and world) history. Sure enough, Trump lost the election in November and by January there was already a vaccine rollout being discussed for late winter/early spring. For almost one whole week, 2021 was really looking up.
Then We had an Attempted Coup
On Wednesday January 6th, 2021 I had had a busy day. It was my first week back at work in the new year and I’d been deeply engrossed in hind-sighting 2020 and trying to figure out how to rally myself and my team for another year. I looked down at my watch and realized it was 3:50pm! Copper (our dog) was at daycare and I only had 10 minutes to pick him up!
When I got in the car the radio was set to the news. As I drove, my head still swimming with work and beating myself up a bit about missing Copper’s daycare window (they charge extra if you’re late), I learned of the Capitol Riot that was still unfolding.
This event, like many major political events of the last four or five years, immediately took its place in the unsettling backdrop of everyday life. Unresolved, stressful, somewhat abstract, but also constantly inserting itself into our lives, and steadily escalating in intensity. In the end though, it all amounted to just one more thing to deal with while trying to live life this year. Which, unfortunately, was still full of difficult, stressful, unsettling, and sad events that were much more personal. The first of which, was the unexpected death of our cat Scribble.
Saying Goodbye to a Very Sweet Girl
If you missed out on the privilege of knowing Scribble, allow me to introduce her. We adopted her from the Cozy Cat Cottage in Powell, Ohio in 2012. She charmed us from the first moment we met her. She waddled up to us with her tiny tail pointing excitedly into the air, purring like a motor that runs on pure contentment.
She made herself at home right away. Perhaps her favorite activity was something we came to call “being a proximity kitten.” Which meant that she just liked to be near us. Particularly she liked to be seen by us and have our full attention. She would pose and preen and when we told her how cute she was, she’d chirp and purr and eventually find a good place to fall asleep where we could see her.
When she played, she liked to talk the whole time. Her eyes could swallow you up and melt your heart at the same time. She was a serial seat stealer too, but we didn’t mind.
Her primary function in our household was “self appointed HR manager.” If anyone was upset, if anyone was stressed out, or fighting, or anything other than loving each other–Scribble was there trying to make things better. In fact, Scribble’s whole life philosophy seemed to be, there’s nothing we can’t get through if we just sit here for a moment together. Which is why if we spent too much time focusing on something besides her, she’d gently jump into our laps and remind us to focus on what’s really important–like maybe getting her some snacks.
We were also very familiar with her ultra-closeup. Scribble liked to wake us up with her face right in ours. And in my case, with some nibbles on my whiskers. Which, for the record, could really sting sometimes! In fact, she was pretty bad with boundaries in general. But again, we didn’t mind.
For the past nine years, Scribble has been a big presence in our lives and a core member of our little family. So when her behavior started to change we were naturally concerned.
In December 2020 we noticed Scribble was spending more and more time laying on our bed. Her lack of activity became concerning and Karla went into emergency Cat Mom mode. Researching all of her symptoms, taking her to the vet, and keeping a close eye on every cat health indicator possible.
In the first half of January it became clear that Scribble’s time was limited. Over the next month we discovered that she had several tumors throughout her body. It became clear that she was losing weight, and we could tell she was in pain. Karla dutifully wept her way through a difficult palliative care phase with her, but on February 19th, 2021 it was time to let her go and ease her passing.
Here’s how I updated some of our close friends that day:
This was Scribble this morning. She spent today sitting in my office chair as Karla and I took turns giving her love and affection—or simply being close to her. It was her last day. We just returned from the vet where she was put to sleep while we were with her. Obviously we are heartbroken and wrecked right now. She was sweet and brave and full of personality to the very end.
(Miss you girl.)
We’ve Still Got the Vaccine!
Clearly, 2021 was off to a rough start. But we still had the vaccine to look forward to. After Scribble’s passing it would be about a month until our families would have access to it and could finally see each other in person again. A flurry of texts broke out among us. Who’s eligible when? Which vaccine will you get? What’s the waiting period for it to take effect? And of course, when can we see and hug each other again?
My parents were up first. I was so happy. One of my biggest fears throughout the entire pandemic had been that they would get sick and there’d be no way of helping them. We had (and probably still have) different ideas about what’s safe to do during a pandemic. Which is annoying when its random strangers, but when it’s your close family and friends, those different approaches to safety can be a huge source of stress and anxiety. That was definitely the case for me and I was looking forward to some peace of mind.
On March 4th my Mom and Dad were vaccinated. I felt knots I didn’t even know I’d been carrying start to unclench in my shoulders and back. All through 2020 my theme song was This Year by The Mountain Goats, in which a refrain is, “I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me.” But it was starting to dawn on me that we really had made it through as a family. It wasn’t always pretty and we didn’t always agree on how to go about it, but we were all still alive and now the two most at-risk family members were vaccinated and the rest of us were soon to follow.
Unfortunately, the relief was short lived. On March 16th my Mom messaged the family group text:
Your dad wasn’t feeling well at all this morning. Today he did have fever; still had headache & a cough. Couldn’t get in to see his Dr so we came on over to the ER. He did test positive for Covid. All other tests came back ok. No pneumonia, EKG was good. They did give him some fluids via IV & they’re doing a CAT scan to make sure there are no blood clots in his lungs. Dr thinks a clot is unlikely.
Still had a headache and cough? When did that start? The last message in the group text was about some pizza I baked a week ago. How’d we go from, “we’re vaccinated” to “Dad is still sick and it turns out it’s Covid?” And he’s in the hospital?!
An explosion of texts revealed that after their shots (one and done for my Mom and the first of two for my Dad) they had been out to eat and my Dad had done some volunteering at their church. The best they could figure, they’d likely been exposed through the volunteering. However it happened, the end result was the same. Before their shots had a chance to provide any protection, they’d been infected.
They told us that my Dad had already been in the hospital once, on March 11th, because he experienced a rapid onset of severe cold symptoms. The physician’s assistant he saw told him it was probably the common cold and a bad start to allergy season happening at the same time. He suffered through five more days of those symptoms before he felt so bad that they decided to take him back to the hospital where he finally tested positive for Covid.
Things began to happen very fast. It suddenly felt extremely urgent to get vaccinated myself so that I could visit my parents. Karla was able to call around and get us placed on several “no-waste lists” at various pharmacies in the central Ohio area. On the 18th we got a call that an hour away there were two doses that would go to waste if we didn’t take them. We dropped everything, jumped in the car, and drove to a rural Wal-Mart in Marion, Ohio to get our first shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
The process was started! We had two weeks until we could get our second doses and then two weeks after that before the vaccine was at full efficacy. After more than a year of living in some form of lockdown or another, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. But that month sounded like an eternity with my parents already sick.
Then, the very next day on March 19th, after some light prodding my Mom reported to the family text that she’d had a fever for a few days and her current pulse ox reading was only 90. I said that was actually pretty concerning and suggested she at least call her doctor or just go straight to the hospital. After my brothers and sisters-in-law agreed my Dad messaged back that they were heading to urgent care.
While my Mom was still going through intake at the hospital I had an emotional meltdown. The exact thing I’d been dreading the entire pandemic was actually happening. And just like I’d feared, I was powerless to help. All I could think about was my Dad, still very ill with Covid himself, sitting alone in his truck in the cold hospital parking lot. Unsure of his own health, unsure of what’s happening with his wife, and unable to be with her or anyone else. And of my Mom, who must have felt terrified of what was happening, but no one was allowed to be with her and comfort her. Every member of the family forced apart, and the ones suffering the most, the most isolated.
In a desperate attempt to do anything helpful I called a friend from high school who still lives in our hometown. Blubbering and inconsolable I asked him to drive to McDonald’s and buy a meal for my Dad. To take it to him in the hospital parking lot and leave it on his truck. And he did! I’ll always be grateful for that Tyler, and your friendship, thank you so much.
My Dad to the group text:
From Columbus to Eaton, McDonald’s just got delivered! Thanks Nathan !! Tyler just left. That was good. I had eaten earlier but I know I’m going to be here a while. Mom has been in room for about 2.5 hours, I was here for 5.5 hours, I’m doing fine.
After successfully delivering a food hug to my Dad, I could take some deep breaths, collect myself, and acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t the end of the world just yet. But things were still quite serious and we were all on pins and needles throughout my Mom’s illness.
As it turns out my Mom did not get to come home that night. She stayed in the hospital for another twelve days, finally being discharged, on oxygen, on April 1st. It had been a grueling fight with a long road to recovery ahead. She had developed pneumonia, blood clots, and narrowly escaped being intubated a time or two. She came home on oxygen, steroids, and with regular at home checkups scheduled. Estimated time to full recovery, if possible at all, at least 6-8 months.
Thankfully, my Dad’s second trip to the emergency room–when we all found out they had Covid–ended up being the worst of it for him. He had a long road to full recovery too, but it was mostly battling fatigue and brain fog as opposed to pneumonia and blood clots. Not to suggest it was easy! But I’m happy to report it wasn’t more serious. It easily could have been.
And We Can’t Forget Our Own Health Stuff!
Karla had been putting off going to the dentist for most of the pandemic. But once she was vaccinated it was past time to get her wisdom teeth removed. The procedure went really well and her recovery time was about average, but true to her experience with things like this, the pain was intense and took longer to subside than most other folks tend to report.
As for me, I was still in the process of getting my contact lenses finalized. For most of 2020 and into 2021 I was severely vision impaired due to the rapid onset of a degenerative eye disease called keratoconus. It can best be described as a thinning of the cornea that results in a bulging or bubbling effect on the “lens” of the eye, which distorts vision.
The nature of this disease makes it extremely hard to correct. Each little bubble splits the visual field in that area, causing a blurring effect on the parts affected by the distortion. The more bulging or bubbling that occurs, the more intense your visual impairment. Think about trying to look through bubbles in glass. And since the thinning of the cornea is a process that never stops, getting a prescription right is impossible without surgery and special contacts. A process I started before the pandemic in 2019, but wasn’t able to conclude until spring 2021.
Right around the time of the above photo I would have received my final prescription (for a year) of the custom contact lenses my condition requires. It was the first time in over two years I could see clearly enough to read without difficulty. Which had been a source of significant frustration and personal anguish since my job and all of my hobbies/passions are highly visual.
Seeing Family and Friends for the First Time in Over a Year
By the time our two week waiting period ended (after our second vaccine dose) Karla and I were beyond ready to go see our families and re-enter the world in general. I immediately drove from Columbus, Ohio to Eaton, Ohio–about two and a half hours away.
I spent two nights at my parents’ house catching up and enjoying just being with them in person again. My Dad and I then decided to go out and get a proper hike in. Something we’d been talking about doing since 2017 when he, my brothers, and I had all gone out to Sedona, Arizona and completed a few big hikes there. After Covid, we didn’t want to wait another minute.
It was our first overnight hike together. We wanted to keep it simple but still get the experience of hauling everything we needed on our backs. We’d spent months during the pandemic separately watching Alone and deal hunting our own gear for camping, hiking, bushcrafting, and more. Turns out 25-30lbs. on your back for a hilly five mile hike in the mud is no joke. We were exhausted by the end but it was totally worth it. We made camp for the night next to a trail shelter and hiked back out in the morning.
Once back in Columbus I saw Karla off on her trip to see her parents in Arizona. We went out to a diner, I dropped her off at the airport, and then came home and got super sick.
I had fever, chills, nausea, body aches, the whole works. For about 24 hours I was a complete mess. Then it cleared up like it had never happened! I’d been terrified that I had a breakthrough infection of Covid. But it was just a stomach bug that I likely picked up while drinking creek water or just being out in the world again for the first time in a long time. I was feeling 100% as soon as I, uh, cleared my system out. Then I got right back out there!
I went out to eat again, went rollerblading with my nephews and nieces, hugged my mom(!), and went axe throwing with my wife. Come here life, let’s get after it!
And after that, things only picked up speed. We went to a Reds game with my parents.
We visited Eric and Dee, Karla’s brother and sister-in-law, in Michigan. And, let’s be honest, we also visited their cats.
We had a gym moment, a bonfire with friends, went to a Clipper’s game with my brothers and sisters-in-law, and went camping again. Not necessarily all in that order.
We were getting in as much family fun and get-togethers as possible because we knew that by late summer we had to put our entire focus into something we’d been working towards for YEARS. Moving to Washington state.
“Don’t Forget, You’re Moving!”
Karla and I have been attempting to move to the general Seattle area of Washington since sometime in 2018. We’d been saving, planning, and desperately trying to shift those plans to roll with the insane rollercoaster of the last few years. One thing after another had delayed our move but once we’d been vaccinated it was all systems go. The move was happening one way or another. So we packed everything up and finalized our plans.
In a heroic effort of remote research Karla worked with our friends Bethany and Skye (who live in Washington already) to finalize our new home base–Issaquah, Washington. A beautiful little town in the mountains about 20 minutes east of Seattle. We’d never heard of it until our friends put it on our radar but when we looked into it, we kept hearing people describe it as, “the place where people in Seattle go to camp.” So naturally, I was sold. But it also turned out to be a great fit for us in a lot of other (more important) ways that are too involved to get into here. The important thing was, we had a final location locked-in–including a townhouse who’s lease we signed sight-unseen! Not something I would ever do if it weren’t for the fact that our friends were able to go view our unit on our behalf. Thank you, you two!
It wouldn’t be a major life event if it didn’t come with some last-minute curve-balls. The first was that Penske called us one night (right before bed) to inform us that the 16′ truck we’d reserved (which I was already scared of) was unavailable due to a double-booking. They only had the 22′ mega-moving truck that cost an extra arm and leg for fuel but also came with the added perk of being absolutely terrifying to drive. The second, was that our car broke down. The one that Karla, Pocket (our cat), Copper (our dog), and Steven (Karla’s brother) were supposed to be following in as I drove the truck.
These changes meant the following:
- I now had to drive this massive 22′ truck across the country, by myself. We’d already shelled out over $2,000 for this thing and the terms for that deal were set.
- We either needed a new car or to get our existing car fixed. We tried to find a new (or used) car that fit our needs and budget–but on such short notice we didn’t have any luck. So we shelled out another $2,000 for car repairs. And Karla had to wait a whole week before she could follow me.
- Then we had hotel expenses to consider. Now, instead of us all staying together each night, we effectively doubled our lodging costs.
- Finally, unloading. I’d now arrive at our new home a full week ahead of Karla and Steven and have to figure out a way to unload the truck and turn it in on time–without help.
In short, we ate the extra costs. Somehow. And I decided to grit my way through the drive. The unloading stuff would have to be figured out on the road. None of which had to do with the challenge at hand: we still had to load everything up! To say we were stressed would have been an understatement.
That’s when our brothers came to the rescue, helping us load the contents of a two bedroom apartment and garage into our moving truck, in a single day. Thank you Brad, Kyle, and Evan! We still owe you all for that! Love you so much.
The next morning, it was time for me to hit the road. I had a box of snacks, a long queue of audiobooks, and a hard deadline to return the truck in Washington. It was mandatory 8-10 hour driving days for me, with no relief. If it weren’t for the fact that I love long drives (and I’m pretty good at them, if I do say so myself) I would not have attempted this. But I was confident I could physically do it if I treated it like a fitness challenge. Which meant breaking down my routes, rest stops, food intake, etc. to try and get decent “performance.” I know that’s a bit weird but I wasn’t sure it would be possible if I didn’t take it seriously. So I did.
Meanwhile, Karla was stuck at home with no furniture (that’s an air mattress pictured below) and two pets. Oh, and no food or car. So she was faced with figuring that whole situation out while I was on the road. But we decided to adopt a moving motto, “just roll with it.” And boy did we have a lot of opportunities!
Perhaps the one good thing to come of Karla getting stranded in Ohio for an extra week was that she got to have a final game night with her brothers and sister-in-law.
Finally, Karla got the call that the car was ready for her to pick up. She and Steven immediately loaded it up and hit the road that day.
As Karla was leaving Ohio, I was already finishing my trip!
Once I got out of the mid-west the drive went a lot faster. Things also got emptier and weirder, which I didn’t mind. I was ploughing through audiobook after audiobook and doing my best to enjoy doing a drive I’d always wanted to do. Albeit a little slower and in a smaller vehicle.
Every day I was so tired by the time I stopped that I didn’t want to go far out of my way for food. I wanted to check into the hotel, eat, get ready for bed, and pass out. So I always settled for whatever was nearby. And on this route that didn’t guarantee much. Thankfully Karla did a great job picking out places for me to stay while she was stuck at home. A few times in particular she picked out hotels that had excellent restaurants right next to them. They were huge morale boosters for me as the grind of the long drive started to wear on me. I can honestly say that a legitimate highlight of my trip was eating this mushroom burger after several days of long hours behind the wheel.
And then suddenly the drive was over. I woke up on the morning of Friday, August 20th and drove from Missoula, Montana to our new home in Issaquah, Washington. And the unloading saga began.
We tried booking some local movers to help with unloading but they were all booked up. Thankfully, our amazing friends Bethany and Skye, who helped us find this place and now live just a few houses away, jumped into action and came to the rescue.
Between the three of us we unloaded a full 22′ truck over three days. Karla and I cannot express how grateful we are to them for all of their help and friendship.
But the grind didn’t stop. I had work on Monday and without Karla to help unpack there wasn’t a lot I could do around the house while also working full time. So I slept on our friends’ couch at night and worked off of a table in the middle of a room full of boxes while Karla and Steven finished their drive.
(Which, by the way Steven, was so amazing of you to do for us. Thank you!)
When they arrived they looked just as tired as I’m sure I did. But we’d done it. We were well past the point of no return. For better or worse, we live in Washington now.
Living in Issaquah, Washington
We now live in Issaquah, Washington. A place that, until we arrived with all of our possessions, we had never been to before. But we certainly liked what we could see so far. The picture above was taken out of our bedroom window not long after we arrived.
But we didn’t have (and still haven’t had) much time for taking in the sights just yet. I desperately needed to get a home office set up so I could fully re-engage with work again. I’d been “off” for a week to do the move and then working from a phone hot-spot surrounded by boxes for another week.
I had to get ready for the busiest time of the year for my team–Black Friday and Q4 in general. As of this writing my office hasn’t progressed much beyond the second picture below. So many of the items I need to finish it (like more bookcases) have been out of stock with waiting times several weeks or even months out. My best guess is that it’s part of the ongoing pandemic related supply chain issues a lot of major ports are still experiencing. Seems to be affecting furniture and clothing especially.
On Karla’s end, she too set up her home office, and then immediately began using it to continue her local job search.
We knew it would be more expensive in the Seattle area going into this move. When we did our initial budget for the move and financial planning for once we got here (2018-19), living expenses here were roughly 40% higher than in Columbus, Ohio. We felt prepared for that. Between what we’d saved, our budgeting practices, and our best guesses at income growth over the next few years we felt that the transition was possible, but posed some challenges. However, by the time we actually arrived the cost of living difference had ballooned to roughly 70%.
We felt the need to start maximizing our earning potential right away. And you know what, Karla totally did! I am so proud of the incredible bravery, competence, discipline, and grit she displayed while securing the perfect job for herself right now.
For those of you who don’t know, Karla has been self-employed the last couple years as we’ve been trying to make her dream of being a professional portrait painter a reality. She left the fashion industry after having worked in the design departments of Lane Bryant and Express for a total of four years. The creative side of the industry wasn’t what she’d hoped it would be and her lifelong love for oil painting was only getting stronger. So at the time it made sense to give it a go. We knew a time like this might come when we absolutely needed everyone in the household contributing as much money as possible, so when that time came she stepped up and nailed it.
Karla got a job with SanMar, a fashion brand that specializes in business to business fashion needs. Such as providing blanks for other brands to print on top of, uniforms for companies like Starbucks, and a whole lot more. Instead of working on the creative side of the industry, Karla was able to secure the role of Product Developer; who’s job it is to facilitate the creation of a product from concept to completion across multiple people, teams, and even companies/countries when you factor in manufacturing and shipping. She’s still painting (and taking commissions) but it’s secondary for now while we get our economic feet under us out here.
Most of our time here has consisted of keeping our heads down and working. But of course, life still happens. Here are some of those moments.
I sprained my ankle while walking Copper. We were walking down a short but steep embankment at the dog park and he must have smelled something good because he lurched at exactly the wrong time. It caused me to slip as I was taking a step and my ankle turned underneath me, hard.
I heard a loud crack and thought I’d broken my ankle. I was writhing on the ground in pain as Copper continued to pull at the leash. A woman walking by (about 10 minutes later) saw what was going on and tried to help. In the process both Copper and her dog got loose and began running around the area unleashed. Including into traffic. In desperation I tried to run after the dogs but of course my ankle wouldn’t allow it.
I was able to call Karla from the ground and she and Bethany raced over to the dog park to help. I passed out on a park bench from the pain as they arrived. Not long after I came to a fire truck pulled up and five or so firemen huddled around me. How ridiculous. They helped me into our car and gave us directions to the nearest emergency room (so we could avoid the ambulance fee of several hundred dollars). That was October 1st.
The next notable event was the power-outage we experienced in October. High winds took down some powerlines and thousands of people lost power for days on end. We lost over $500 in groceries. We’d just gone to Costco and stocked up our freezer and fridge for the busy season ahead. But as always we just had to try and make the best of it. We hung out by candlelight and made coffee by camp stove.
Then we were well and truly into the festive fall season. Including pumpkin carving and long walks through the leaves.
One of the absolute best parts of being out here so far has been the immersion in nature. The entire town of Issaquah is nestled in the mountains on a plateau. So everywhere you look there is a gorgeous view and patches of magical looking trees to be explored.
We couldn’t imagine trying to fit in more travel for the holidays this year. So for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s we’ve stayed put and tried to rest as much as we can.
After the start of my Christmas break from work, I didn’t want to put off getting our Covid boosters any longer. We’d both been waiting for the right time to potentially be knocked out for a few days from side-effects. But there’s never really a good time for that. So on Christmas Eve we got our shots. I got the flu shot at the same time on the opposite arm, because in case you can’t tell yet, I tend to do things all the way.
As I’m writing this we’ve been snowed in for a few days. As in literally we cannot leave our home by car. Everyone we asked about the weather out here said that they barely ever get snow, and when they do, it never sticks. Then we got a once in a 30-year snow storm! Seems like we’re just living in those kind of times.
Reflecting Back on 2021
This year, or rather, a few years in a row now, have really pushed and challenged me as a person. Each new year I try to reset. I hope, even expect, that there will be some kind of break from the pace and intensity of the experiences happening in my life. But that hasn’t happened. And so I’m doing my best to adjust to reality. To be more adaptive, ask for help more often, and re-align my priorities and expectations accordingly.
I won’t bore you by going into minute detail in this post on the changes living through 2020 and 2021 have inspired me to make. I’ll be covering those in the coming weeks and months in separate blog posts. I hope you’ll join my personal newsletter if you’re interested in keeping up with that journey.
My Big Takeaway from 2021? Hold Onto Your Heart
There were a lot of moments throughout this year where I wanted to be bitter. I was bitter. I was resentful of the state of the world. Of the strain it was putting on me personally and literally all of my loved ones.
I was frustrated and scared of the scope of the various crises going on. And I was overwhelmed trying to live normal life, work a demanding job, and somehow wrap my mind around being alive during the worst pandemic in a century, daily death tolls as a matter of routine, wide-spread social and political upheaval, an economic recession that feels an awful lot like a depression, and on and on. And I’ve been pissed just about every step of the way that I’ve been obliged to apologize for or justify that I’m struggling during this objectively difficult time.
Then, like some kind of audio tonic, at various points throughout this year, Head on (Hold On To Your Heart) by Man Man, would shuffle its way into my spotify queue and I’d be reminded that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and at your wits end. And it’s okay to fight for your own happiness.
So far, that’s meant really appreciating my family and friends. And telling them so when I have the opportunity. But I’ve thought long and hard about other much bigger changes I’d like to make in my life too. As I mentioned in the section above, I plan to share a lot more on my blog in the coming year. I hope you’ll join me as I try to hold onto my heart, one blog post at a time.