2020 Favorites: Lessons Learned From A Weird AF Year

Listen, I get it.
“2020” and “Favorites” don’t really go together.
An oxymoron of epic proportions, right?

But as this shitshow of a year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on all the aspects of it. As many of us are wont to do as one year draws to a close and a fresh, shiny new one presents itself in 365 blank days of possibility, I’m searching for lessons in all that has transpired. Because while yes, many, many, many things were as horrific and unspeakably maddening as the continued fascination with the Kardashians, there were parts of 2020 that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Plus, I have a roundup of yearly favorites to share, naturally.

So you can read through my reflections and lessons from this complicated and convoluted year or just scroll straight to the favorites list at the end.
Although you might miss the big giveaway announcement.

Winter 2020: Change

As I mentioned in this post back in January 2020 began with change.
(Excuse me while I go laugh until I cry for 45 minutes.)

But in January, three months into our new lives as empty nesters, my husband and I had finally fallen into somewhat of a new normal without our girls in the same state as us.
And shockingly, we didn’t hate it.
We had settled into a new groove that included a ton of travel (and not just to visit our kids), dinners for two, binging new shows and movies we’d meant to for years, date nights on weekdays, and lots of plans for fun in the coming months.

I rebranded this blog to be more centered on life as empty nesters and spent hours working with a webmaster who guided me through a major redesign. I was energized again to write about the new direction my life was going and felt motivated in a way I hadn’t in a few years.

Both our girls were trucking along on their paths — maybe not always easily — but moving forward just the same.

At the beginning of March, the rest of 2020 was an open, exciting book of plans and possibility. Sure, life looked different, but it also was moving along as it should.

Lessons from winter:
•Embrace change
•Work toward new goals
•Rediscover who you are and who you want to be
•Pack one more long sleeve than you think you’ll need

Spring 2020: You Want Change? You Got It.

So then March came and justlikethat my empty nest became full again.

Seriously, what the holy hell just happened?!?

I blinked and my house was full of dirty dishes in the sink, stacks of tubs in the hallways, a pile of shoes in the mudroom (so, so many shoes), but voices and laughter I hadn’t heard all together in this house in a very, very long time.

Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened, and stunned at the changes that instantly happened in our lives — both my girls abruptly having to leave their school and job, spring break plans and spring plans in general canceled — but those things were far overshadowed by the feeling of gratitude that we were all safe, healthy, and best of all, together.

I soaked in every moment of our quarantine because after all, I knew in a month or two things would most likely be back to “normal” and my house would once again be empty and quiet.

So we did what millions of people did and treated this new, bizarre, unexpected life like camp for awhile: puzzles, LEGO Architecture sets, watercolor and crochet days, card games, movie nights, long walks outside, and more Cheetos than we knew was smart. Despite the horror of the pandemic, we kind of lived like we were on vacation.

Lessons from spring:
•Gratitude for all that we have
•Appreciation for little joys in life
•Flexibility (i.e., a full nest means my husband and I have to wear clothes more often, wah wah)
•Realization that is possible to grow tired of taking naps

Summer 2020: Isolation, Quaranscenery, And Important Lessons

By June we realized this virus wasn’t fucking around.
It became apparent that no one’s life was going to go back to “normal” for who knew how long.
At least in our house.

Maddeningly, an alarming percentage of the population felt above the guidelines and didn’t think they needed to play by the rules or act responsibly toward their fellow humans, but that’s a rant I’ve exhausted many times, and since it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the behavior of the selfish people who are an enormous reason this virus is as out of control as it is, I’m not going to give them any more attention than they deserve, because all they really deserve is COVID.

At the same time we were filled with respect and admiration for all the frontline workers who put themselves at risk daily … which actually fueled the anger toward those ignoring the rules even more, so it was kind of a double-edged sword.

With my husband now working remotely, we were fortunate to hunker down at the lake, and spent most of our summer in complete isolation.

Through daily walks and bike rides on the many beautiful trails, days spent on the lake, and evenings with my family either all individually glued to our own screens or all together playing a game or watching a show, gratitude continued to play a daily part of my life (and my journaling) as the world seemed to explode around us … and here in Minneapolis, I mean that quite literally.

The scary events and subsequent civil unrest in June prompted many, many discussions, questions, reflections, and lessons in our family. Maybe we couldn’t solve anything, but what we could do was to be cognizant of our own shortcomings, aware of a broader capacity for knowledge and understanding, and pledge to continue to learn.

By mid-summer I decided it was time to stop blaming 2020 for my lack of motivation and made myself get off my ass and do something — anything — that might fill me with purpose, even if sitting on the deck reading and eating Cheetos was more fun.

After reaching out to an editor at AARP’s The Girlfriend and pitching an article on Fangirling After 50 (which she accepted) I had what I thought was just a routine call with a couple of friends to pick their brains about my upcoming article.

What I couldn’t have known at the time was that that call was about to lead to something that would change my life.

Lessons from summer:
•My soul is fueled by trees, fresh air, and green
•For 23 years I’ve been way too hard on Minnesota; I’ve never felt so fortunate for its beauty or appreciated it more
•Many, many people are disappointing human beings and my capacity for anger is far greater than I knew, yet so is my appreciation and respect for all those who put themselves at risk to help others
•Stop making excuses
•Put yourself out there
•Wear the two-piece bathing suit … and own the shit out of it

Fall 2020: Plot Twists

September arrived and with it came a change in almost all our paths. For the past few months, they’d been twisty for sure; and for my younger daughter, difficult to navigate as she grappled with some major life decisions which were accompanied by some major mental health struggles.

After many weeks of stressful debate, she made the difficult decision not to return to her Connecticut campus (COVID fears, sure, but other factors playing a part as well) and began her sophomore year remotely, which, for a Musical Theatre major isn’t exactly desirable … or effective.

My older daughter found a job at a veterinary clinic, which, while not at all on her path as an aspiring marine mammal trainer, was a paycheck (and animal experience) until zoos are once again hiring.

And that call that I had in August with my two friends? That call became a giant fork in my path as it led the three of us to create and produce a podcast, something that over the past few months has filled me with more purpose and joy than anything I’ve done in years. When life gives you a pandemic, join the mob and start a podcast. Why not?

{Shameless plug alert} Our podcast, Pop Culture Preservation Society, is all about preserving and elevating the pop culture nuggets of our GenX childhoods. We discuss and dissect all the crushes, books, movies, music, and toys that shaped our youth. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and are getting great reviews (some from people we don’t even know)! We also have started a super fun Instagram page full of nostalgic images where many people are connecting and sharing their own stories. It’s honestly more than we ever hoped for, more work and hours than we ever expected, and more satisfying than we dreamed!

Recording remotely (in our closets) until we can safely be together again!

However, not all the events of the fall were positive or uplifting. At the end of September, we had to say a heartbreaking goodbye to a furry family member who has been an enormous part of our story for 18 years. Our sweet calico, Leea, who lived a life full of love and was devoted to all of us, finally told us it was time to let her go. We were — and still are — devastated by her absence. If there was anything positive about the pandemic-forced quarantine, it’s that we were all here together to say goodbye and to hold each other up.

Despite all the excitement and consumption of the new podcast (as well as having my writing published in a couple of publications that had been on my bucket list), menopause, hormones, and mental health issues didn’t seem to get the memo that things were good, and the combination of all three things exploding at once has been NO JOKE.

For the past few months I’ve been struggling with some nasty anxieties (among some other challenging things I’m working to deal with), but with the help of my trusty therapist and some new things I’m trying, I feel like I’m turning a corner and am optimistic about the days to come.

And speaking of plot twists and mental health (which is something I will never shy away from speaking about), a few weeks ago my younger daughter made the very difficult, scary, mature, and BRAVE decision to completely change her path and transferred from her BFA Musical Theatre program in CT to a BA Theatre program here at the University of Minnesota! After the past nine months she’s had a lot of time to think about what she wants, and you know what? She doesn’t know! And that’s okay! Respecting herself enough to know when to pivot — and have the courage to do it — is an honorable thing to do at age 19, and I couldn’t be prouder of her choice.

Whew. The fall was a LOT.
And while it may look like we’re ending the year much like our spring looked like — staying inside and isolated, often bored with pretty much everything around us, watching too much TV, eating too many Cheetos — we’ve all grown and changed in ways none of us could have imagined in January and continue to be grateful for every moment.

Lessons from winter:
•Embrace change (FULL CIRCLE HERE, PEOPLE)
•Be kind to yourself
•Get help when you need it
•Take risks
•Life is full of surprises and plot twists — embrace them
•Cheese is a perfectly acceptable dinner

Looking Ahead to 2021

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s not to make plans.

And now, for those of you who’ve read all the way through, congrats! — you made it to the 2020 Favorites’ List!
And for those of you who skipped to the end, it’s okay, I totally understand. I write this stuff for myself mostly, anyway.
(And as for the big giveaway … I said “might.”)

2020 Favorites!

Okay, ya’ll, these are strictly in list form.
I’m tired of typing and don’t want to explain each one.
You’re welcome.

Just know these are in no particular order and no judging for my choices. You may disagree but isn’t that what makes America great? Well, that, and the new POTUS and VPOTUS, obviously.


The Vanishing Half
Always The Last To Know
Wild Game (A Memoir)
28 Summers
I Was Told It Would Get Easier
Dear Emmie Blue
Anxious People


Schitt’s Creek Season 6
Little Fires Everywhere
The Morning Show
Ted Lasso
This Is Us
The Unicorn
Cobra Kai (I said no judging)


Pop Culture Preservation Society (duh)
Kelly Corrigan Wonders


(This is hard because I honestly can’t remember a movie I watched)

Happiest Season
The Bee Gees Documentary, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”

Happy New Year!
Wishing all of you peace, hope, and a new year full of lessons!

1 Comment

  1. Joyce Weber on December 30, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Appreciate all of your insights. I believe 2021 will be a much better year.

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