YOU GUYS—what. a. year! I keep a running list of inspirational quotes on my phone (lol, it should not surprise you that is the type of person I am!) and this is the last quote I saved in 2019:
This year will not end like last year at all.
You have learned to be free.
You have learned to be strong.
You have held onto light when the night was too long.
You have braved many fears.
You have learned a new song.
Through the deepest valley you have learned to carry on.
No, this year will not end like last year at all.
This quote really resonated with me last year—2019 was the first full year at a new job, which always presents many challenges and growth opportunities. I ended last year really tired, but excited about what was to come. But this year, this quote is a perfect summary of how I’m feeling as we’re just hours away from 2021.
A few weeks before the pandemic really forced the lockdowns, I just remember being so tired. It was late February, it was freezing cold, and my 45-minute commute in the elements was really starting to wear on me. Even though we were less than two months into the new year, I’d already spent eight nights in a hotel for work and when I was home, I had something going on every night of the week. I remember reading about the cruise that was plagued with coronavirus and texting my mom and sister that it would be my worst nightmare to quarantine on a boat, while also thinking the virus would stay on the other side of the world.
Then on March 12, I was riding the elevator at work and had a true Lizzie McGuire moment: I chipped my front tooth on my laptop. I called my dentist, booked an emergency appointment, and haphazardly packed up. I left behind no less than five pairs of shoes, a bottle of cholula, my favorite Tervis tumbler, my notebook, and a desk calendar turned to March. On my way out the door, I told my coworkers I would see them in April. (LOL—yeah, maybe April of 2021 if we’re lucky.) We got the email we were working from home through the end of March while I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, having my front tooth repaired. Those first few days and couple weeks of working from home were a wild ride—on one hand, having the freedom to pop laundry in between work calls or not having a commute once my day ended were great. On the other, I spent my time being consumed by the news, which spiked my fear and anxiety, especially since there was a lot less known about the virus back then.
The day the DC mayor issued a stay-at-home order through April 27, I cried myself to sleep. One thing I said often during those early months of the pandemic was that a big part of the mental challenge, for me, was not knowing what the end date would be. In hindsight, I am really glad I didn’t know—if you had told me in March that we’d still be living through the pandemic at Christmas, I’m not sure I would have had the mental fortitude to take in that news.
Of course, as the days and months marched on from March, I built a new routine for myself that made the days go by more easily than those early ones. The weather got warmer. The days got longer. I loved checking restaurants off my DC takeout to-do list. I spent more time on FaceTime and Zoom than ever before. In May, we got the gift of outdoor dining, which truly gave me a whole new lease on life.
And while this year has been extremely isolating living and working alone, I am so grateful for the lessons it taught me and the gifts it gave me–especially about what’s important to prioritize in life.
I needed to slow down; I was going at an unsustainable pace back in February—and while I wish it didn’t take a pandemic to pump the brakes, I hope when this is over, I don’t go back to over-scheduling myself.
This year also gave me more time with family—it was probably the most time I’ve spent with them since high school. We created some memories this year I’ll take with me forever.
And I would have never survived this year without my friends. They were there to help pick me up on some really dark days, and I hope they would say the same about me.
While this year was certainly not without struggle, I still consider myself to be very lucky—I have my health, the health of my family and friends, a job, a roof over my head, and food on the table. As we close out 2020, I know so many people are grieving what seems like insurmountable loss. I pray they find comfort and healing on the road ahead, and will continue to try to make a difference in lightening the load for others when I can.
This blog post is my favorite one to write every year. (You can read the ones from year’s past here—2019, 2018, 2017, 2016!) While this year had a lot of lows, there were also some pretty great highs and like any other year’s highlights, they are worth remembering and celebrating. So I hope you enjoy reading this blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Also, on a housekeeping note, in past posts, I used to just do one image per moment, but this year I couldn’t edit things down—so I picked out a few photos for each one. It’s 2020 and we have to find our joy where we can take it!
So without further ado, here are my top 10 moments of 2020:
WORKING THE FOOTBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN NOLA
I have a really fun job—I do PR for Capital One’s cardholder experiences, and often host influencers and reporters at the events we sponsor. That’s why I was lucky enough to get to go to The Battle on the Bayou—the College Football Playoffs National Championship Game—in January to see Clemson and LSU face off for the win.
Prior to this job, I never had been to a championship game in any sport, so what I didn’t realize that the game itself is one aspect of what happens when a championship comes to town—there are usually concerts and fan festivals for people to partake in, whether or not they’re going to the game. (At least, this was my experience at both the National Championship and Men’s Final Four in 2019!) It makes for a busy work trip with long, long days—but the work is fun and I love how much you’re able to bond with the team on the ground.
The National Championship game kicked off on Monday night, but I flew in on Saturday to fulfill some work obligations and flew home on Tuesday morning after the game. While I was in town, I was able to work with our influencer, Ben Higgins from The Bachelor, to tell our cardholder experiences story at the game. He helped us highlight all the unique perks Capital One cardholders could take part in—everything from front row access to a free Tim McGraw concert at the tailgate concert to an amazing on-field post-game experience.
My youngest sister goes to Clemson, so it was fun to cheer on a team I was familiar with—my coworker and I even waved to Trevor Lawrence on the field after the game. Because LSU was playing just an hour from Baton Rouge, New Orleans was wrapped in purple and gold and “Geaux Jeaux” signs were everywhere. I think we heard Calling Baton Rouge at least 100 times. The Secret Service ran the entrances since President Trump was in attendance. The energy of the city was unreal and the Superdome that night was so loud. I don’t know how the teams communicated—I could barely think!
This was my third time visiting New Orleans, and I’m glad it wasn’t my first—there were so many people in town for the game and Bourbon Street was packed when we went one night! It was an advantage to already know my way around—and where to pick up the best beignets. I love working sporting events and hope this is something I’ll be doing again this time next year—fingers crossed.
WORKING SOUTH BEACH WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL
In February, I took what became my last pre-pandemic trip to Miami to work South Beach Food & Wine Festival. I flew into Miami on a Wednesday night and headed straight to the poolside bar at the hotel for a late dinner and a glass of wine. It was such a nice respite from the cold DC winter—and had I known this would be my last trip for a while, I probably would have stayed an extra few days, hah!
Similar to the National Championship game, I hosted several reporters and influencers at SOBEWFF to show them first-hand all the unique experiences and perks Capital One cardholders can unlock, and in turn, work with them to share that story with their audience. This means I was lucky enough to get to attend the events with them—and partake in the delicious food!
This year, my favorite event was Burger Bash—which some come as no surprise given how many burgers I’ve documented eating here on TOT haha. Held right on South Beach under a big tent, restaurants and chefs from all over the country make bite size sliders and you can walk around each booth to taste them. (My favorites were Shake Shack and Red Robin—but there are a ton of non-chains, too!) There are also stations for beer, wine, and liquor from vendors who come to the event as well. My work at the event wrapped up within an hour or so, and then I was free to enjoy the event. I walked around a ton of booths with two of my coworkers and then we went out for drinks after—it was such a nice bonding experience and a really fun night! Burger Bash is a really popular event that attracts thousands of people, so it was also one of the last times I was surrounded by a lot of people without masks, which is crazy to think about now.
While I was in Miami, I also was able to have dinner with my cousin Christina and her husband Levi. The three of us always have a great time together and I’m so glad we got to catch up before the world turned upside down a few weeks later.
THURSDAY TAKEOUT & SATURDAY NIGHT FAMILY DINNERS
During the height of quarantine in March, April, and May, two nights of the week singlehandedly kept me sane: Thursday and Saturday nights.
Every Thursday night, my sister, Jennifer, would come pick me up from Dupont and we would do takeout from a different DC or Arlington restaurant with her roommate, our cousin, Kara Marie. We were often joined by our other cousin, Julie Ann (Kara Marie’s sister), and our other sister, Lindsey. We would look forward to where we’d be taking out from all week—bonus points if the restaurant also did to-go cocktails!—and we even threw in some theme nights to keep things interesting. After dinner, we’d usually watch Jeopardy!, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or a movie. Sometimes we’d partake in a virtual trivia game my sister’s coworker hosted that was SO much fun.
One takeout night that was particularly memorable was Cinco de Mayo—which are the second and third photos above—Jennifer, Kara Marie, and I waited in the Lauriol Plaza line for two hours, partially in the rain, for Mexican food. The restaurant’s online ordering system had crashed earlier in the day, so they lost everyone’s order. The police came to control the line—and to tell them to stop handing out free tequila shots to people as a make-good, hah! We were so invested in getting our chips and queso so we waited it out. Truthfully, it was the most fun we’d had in a while—everyone around us was equally frustrated and equally invested on getting their Mexican food. We finally got our food and margs and it was worth the wait! We took it back to my apartment and enjoyed while watching What a Girl Wants.
The fourth picture above was taken the first time I went to a restaurant post-pandemic: the day Phase One started in Virginia! Jennifer, Kara Marie, and I went to The Lot in Clarendon, had a few too many froses and ate our weight in quesadillas. It was the best day! Despite things opening up, we still do takeout together often, and spent a lot of time together on restaurant patios or rooftops this summer.
My other favorite night of the week was Saturday because until we entered Phase One, my parents hosted me, Jennifer, and Kara Marie for dinner. We’d kick off the night with a happy hour and appetizers, my mom would make dinner that we’d eat in our formal dining room, we’d take a long walk around the neighborhood—usually with a beverage in hand!—and then we’d play a game or hang out on their back deck. While we’re not on the every week cadence anymore, we get together for family dinners more now than we did in pre-pandemic times, which has been one great thing to come out of this year.
DAILY WALKS THROUGH DUPONT CIRCLE (AND WALK + TALKS!)
Prior to things getting shut down in March, I had a pretty regular exercise routine of Soul Cycle and Orangetheory 3-4x a week. Between that and my daily walks to the Metro and around my large office building, I didn’t really have to put too much effort into staying pretty active.
When that all went away and the gym in my apartment building was also closed, I quickly realized I needed to find a new way to stay active—not necessarily for the physical benefits, but because it helps my mental health so much. I also needed a way to break up my day and put separation between the working hours and my relaxation hours, similar to what my commute had done in the past. So I started going on long walks once I wrapped up my work day as a way to get out of my apartment for a while and come back refreshed, and the habit stuck. There was nary a day I didn’t walk around my neighborhood—if it was raining, I just took an umbrella.
Had the pandemic not led to my daily walks, I don’t think I would know Dupont like I do. I discovered so many beautiful homes, gorgeous streets, and new restaurants to try. It also was a great way to get out and remind myself other people were going through this—come 5 or 6pm, it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was out for a breath of fresh air.
While on these walks, I called my Mom everyday to check-in, and I usually would call one or both of my sisters. A few times a month, I would do “walk and talks” with a friend. We’d both go on walks around our respective neighborhoods and chat for a long time, usually at least an hour. It was such a good way to stay sane and connected—it felt like I had a good friend or family member right there on those Dupont walks with me!
A WEEK SPENT AT OCEAN ISLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA
When things started to open up at the end of May, my sisters, cousins, and I booked a week at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina—our favorite place! Unlike most beach trips growing up where we booked our week at the beach months in advance, we were able to score an amazing deal on a little condo just a block off the beach less than three weeks before our trip. While our condo was fully refundable, it all worked out that we could go, and it was one of the highlights of my year.
The first few days we were in town, we had kind of crappy weather—it was cold and rainy, but we made the best of it and even took a day trip to Myrtle Beach to go to Margaritaville. I hadn’t been since college and it was fun to drive down Highway 17 and see all the old restaurants and putt putt golf courses we used to go to on summer vacations. The second half of the week, the weather really turned around—it was hot and sunny! We’d pack a big cooler—ok, multiple coolers—fully of hard seltzers, pack lunch and snacks, and spend the whole day on the beach. One day when the ocean was calm enough, we even took our drinks into the water for some “seltzer swimming.” The last day we were in town, the waves were kind of rough, which is my favorite—I love jumping them or having to dive under when a big one comes through.
We each took a night cooking at the house, and got into a nice little routine of coming off the beach, showering, doing happy hour, eating dinner, and then settling in for a movie night. On the last night of our trip, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in a neighboring town and discovered our love of fresh squeezed orange crushes in the summer—nothing beats them!
This was also the first time me and my sisters had rented bikes for a beach trip. It was something my cousins always did, and I am so glad they said we should do it! Cruising around the island after dinner was so much fun and a great way to catch some sunset views. It was also really fun to wave and shout at all the people lounging on their balconies after dinner.
This was the first time in five years I spent a whole week at the beach, and I definitely don’t want to go that long again. Most of the traveling I do are go-go-go trips, but spending a week relaxing by the ocean just puts you in a whole different mindset when you come home!
A DAY SPENT AT THE LAKE IN CLEMSON
July 4 is always one of my favorite holidays, but I don’t have any set traditions or plans. In 2019, I just went to a Soul Cycle class and then watched the fireworks on TV—it was fine, but I told myself in 2020, I really wanted to do something a little more special. Lindsey was down in Clemson for the summer doing clinicals, so Jennifer and I decided to road trip down for a long weekend and visit her. We went once before when Lindsey was a freshman and it was fun to return now that she is 21!
The road trip to Clemson is long—and it was even longer on the way back because we were hungover LOL—but it was worth the drive. We spent July 3 and July 4 on the lake and it was THE BEST. Lindsey’s friend lives in an apartment complex that has a really nice dock, so we had a place to put our things and a ladder to get in and out of the water. The Publix in Clemson all sell rafts and floats, so Lindsey picked us up some cheap tubes and we brought along ample snacks, Pub Subs, waters, and Truly Lemonades. We stayed on the water for five or six hours each day, just floating and enjoying the day. We tied all our rafts together, did jumps off the dock, and took turn holding each other’s drinks so we could swim under water for a second when we got too hot. There were also a lot of other really nice people at the dock—and it’s really easy to socially distance on a large lake!
To cap off our trip, Lindsey took us on a nice walk around Clemson and we ended at one of her favorite bars, Study Hall. They have a great rooftop and college bar pricing—I opened a tab and it was only like $25 for four people’s drinks, #blessed. Her favorite local Clemson singer was also at the bar that night and he played so many good covers of our favorite country songs. My only regret is drinking too many vodka pink lemonades.
A SUNSET CRUISE IN THE CHARLESTON HARBOR + DINNER AT FIG
In July, my best friend Emma and I went down to my favorite place in the world: Charleston, South Carolina! While I’ve been many times before, we explored a lot of new-to-me restaurants and activities on this trip, which was so much fun. We also stayed at the Zero George Hotel which was a bucket-list hotel for me! I had only ever had happy hour there before, but it was truly a treat to stay there—it was so luxurious and welcoming at the same time. We ate breakfast on our balcony, had happy hour on the front porch, and rode their cruisers around CHS—my first time exploring the peninsula via bike!
While Zero George was awesome, the moment I’m claiming from our Charleston trip for this list is the night we went on a BYOB sunset cruise through the Charleston Harbor and ended with dinner at FIG. This was my first time seeing The Battery and historic Charleston from the water and it was so cool to see things from a different angle. We also saw a ton of dolphins, enjoyed a beautiful golden hour, and sipped on a few cold ones while enjoying one of the best snacks there is—Goldfish!
After our cruise, we grabbed a pre-dinner drink at one of my favorite bars in town, The Lobby Bar at The Dewberry Hotel, and then went to dinner at FIG.
I am kicking myself for never visiting FIG on a past trip to Charleston—it was probably one of the best, if not the best, meal I had this year! I will definitely be going back on subsequent trips. It’s definitely more of a “splurge” meal, but it is so worth it. We started with an off-menu seasonal item that was basically their take on a caprese salad with buratta, an heirloom tomato cooked in a cast iron pan, and lettuce—definitely order it if they have it when you go! We also split the gnocchi bolognese and then I opted for the steak and Emma picked a fish entree, so we each got to steal bites.
We walked home that night to our hotel and I just remember thinking I had a full stomach and a full heart.
SEEING THE WORLD FAMOUS PEABODY DUCKS
Over Labor Day Weekend, Emma and I decided to take another road trip through the south—we loved the one we went on last year so much and round two was just as great. We started and ended our trip in Memphis and went down to Oxford, Mississippi for a couple of days in between.
We were able to get an amazing deal at The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis and jumped on the opportunity to stay at another bucket-list hotel. The hotel is architecturally stunning—it reminds me a lot of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond—but what really sets it apart, in my opinion, are the world-famous Peabody Ducks! When we checked in, I was so excited to see them just splashing around in the lobby fountain.
For those of you unfamiliar, The Peabody is known for their ducks—yes, real, live, mallard ducks—that live at the hotel and hang out each day from 11am to 5pm in the hotel lobby fountain. Every day at 11am, the Duck Master takes the five ducks in the elevator down from their Duck Palace on the roof to the lobby fountain via their own red carpet, and everyday at 5pm, the ducks run back up their red carpet, into the elevator, to be taken back to the Duck Palace. There’s a ceremony twice a day to accompany the running of the ducks, and even if you aren’t a hotel guest, I’d recommend going to The Peabody to watch—it’s really neat.
We watched the 5pm ceremonial running of the ducks and got to the lobby around 4:40pm. By that point, the last table had been taken—as a COVID-precaution, the bar will only serve you if you are seated. So my advice would be if you want to get a seat, get there on the earlier side—I’d say at least half an hour before. Our mis-timing actually turned out to be serendipitous, though, because we got a great spot right near the elevator that the ducks run down their red carpet into, so we had a perfect view of the whole thing. The other piece of advice I’ll give is that the Duck Master starts his programming around 4:45pm and gives a great overview of the hotel and the history of the ducks—and then the ducks run to the elevator right at 5pm and the show is pretty much over. So this is definitely something you do not want to be late for!
After the running of the ducks, the lobby bar really clears out, so we were able to grab a table and enjoy the hotel’s cocktail in honor of the ducks—which comes complete with a small rubber ducky for you to take home. Regardless of what cocktail you order, make sure you check out the cocktail stirrers—they have ducks on top and webbed feet on the bottom. We loved the lobby bar so much—it’s anchored by a beautiful marble fountain that was hand-carved in Italy in the 1920s—we went back for a night cap.
If you haven’t caught on yet—The Peabody loves its ducks, and they are a motif used throughout the hotel. Our room itself was so clean and comfortable—despite being an old hotel, it’s got all the modern amenities and luxuries—and there were ducks embroidered on the bedding and bath towels.
The other thing at The Peabody we absolutely loved was the sunset happy hour on the roof. They’ve got a bar up there and plenty of tables that are spaced out so you can take in the stunning views of the city skyline, the mighty Mississippi, and the hotel’s famous sign. The Duck Palace is up there, too, so you can also go say goodnight to the ducks. We caught one of the best sunsets of the summer!
I can’t wait to return to The Peabody one day—definitely jump on the chance to go if you ever get one.
MOVING OUT OF DC AND BACK TO ARLINGTON
After months of working in a 350SF apartment and having very little separation between work and home life, I decided it was time to move back across the river to take advantage of more space for less money. Pre-pandemic, I never missed not having a car—but when everything shut down and Ubers and the Metro weren’t as much as an option, especially in those early days of quarantine, I knew I wanted the freedom my own four wheels offered. Moving to Arlington also freed up enough of my budget that I was able to lease a Mazda CX-5.
I wrote a little bit more about my move here—but now that I’ve lived here for a couple of months, let me just say I have no regrets about my choice! I loved Dupont Circle and am so glad I lived in DC proper for a couple of years; I think I would have always wondered about/regretted it if I didn’t make that choice. But I am a Virginian at heart and really love being back closer to my family—Jennifer and Kara Marie live down the street—and just enjoying a slightly easier life here in Arlington. (If only getting a new license was as easy as the move…)
It’s also been really fun to have more space and a new apartment to decorate— you can see some things I’ve done to the place here, and I have some more apartment updates coming to the blog soon!
In November, I turned 30! While it didn’t include a beach in Mexico like I wished for at the start of the year, it was still the most magical birthday. The day before my birthday, I spent the best afternoon at Walsh Family Wines with Jennifer, Kara Marie, and three of my closest friends, and then we went home that night and ordered Chinese food to enjoy while watching Home Alone. On my actual birthday, my coworkers sent me Mimosas and I went to dinner at my parents’ house for my favorite home-cooked meal. I felt so loved the entire weekend—it was the best.
I think with milestone birthdays, it is always easy to focus on what you don’t have or what’s left to accomplish. (For instance, in this next decade I’d love to get married, buy a house, and start a family.) But I am glad for this milestone, in the midst of a pandemic no less, I chose to focus instead on how far I’ve come and celebrate that instead.
Oh, and if anyone asks—I’m 29 ;).
If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is promised about tomorrow. I have no idea what 2021 will hold. I hope that I can take the bright spots and lessons of 2020 with me. I hope that we all can get back to normal—whatever that might look like—but for me, I hope that means seeing my friends, returning to the office, and sitting at an airport bar. (Or hell, any bar.) I hope things are more certain. I hope there are less tears. I hope for health and happiness.
next year all our troubles will be
once again as in olden days
happy golden days of yore
faithful friends who are dear to us
will be near to us once more
someday soon, we all will be together
if the fates allow
until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
Happy, HAPPY New Year! x