Looking Back on 2020

Looking Back on 2020

2021 in the sand

I’ve been writing year-end retrospectives for seven years as a kind of exercise to help me process, but also as something to leave for posterity. I started at the end of 2013, which I characterized as a “good year.” It would be difficult to call 2020 a good year, but neither was it all bad.

StarQuest

At the end of last year, I had completed by first full year as CEO of SQPN and we’d really ramped up our shows and going full bore, but we knew we needed to reach financial break-even if were going to continue.

By the middle of the year, it didn’t look good and we only had a few months of cash left before we’d be out and we’d have to think about shutting down. But we reached out to our audience and they responded in a big way. We reached our financial goal with a couple of months and exceeded it by a bit, giving us some much needed financial margin to where we can now look toward and plan for the future.

Our shows are going great. Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World has reached top 50 in Apple Podcasts’ Documentary category, which is a huge feat given how much of the top 50 is dominated by large media organizations. Our other shows continue to do well, especially Secrets of Star Wars and American Catholic History. And we’re making plans for additions to the lineup. Plus, if we can put them pandemic behind us, I’d love to plan another Catholic New Media Celebration like we used to do.

Pandemic and Lockdown

Okay, here’s the obvious reflection on the biggest story of 2020. For the Bettinelli family, the pandemic wasn’t as big of a shakeup in our lives as it was for many others. I was already working from home full-time and we were already homeschooling our kids. But we still had some big disruptions.

For one thing, we were stuck at home more. Our homeschooling has always been supplemented by a lot of opportunities to go places: museums and zoos and the ocean and state parks and all the rest. We got out a few times, but only to the outdoor places. We went to Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary and the local town forest and other places like it, but otherwise we were at home most of the time like everyone else.

Thankfully, no one in my immediate family got COVID this year. I was most worried for my elderly parents as they are in the highest risk groups but, thank God, they’ve avoided it.

The inability to go to Mass for more than 3 months was a shock to the system, especially not being able to go to Mass on Easter. We watched live-streamed Masses from the cathedral and celebrated by Cardinal Seán from the lockdown in mid-March to Pentecost, I think it was and those were very good, as was the Holy Week daily retreats with him broadcast by CatholicTV. After that we watched the live-streamed Masses from our parish, which started out pretty rough, but eventually got better. Once parishes opened up in a limited way in June, we started going, but several of the kids (see below) had lingering anxiety issues such that Melanie and I had to switch off every week staying home with them while the other went to Mass with the others. We didn’t all get to Mass together as a family until December.

Likewise, family gatherings got put on hold. We didn’t see anyone at Easter, but we did see everyone socially-distanced for a celebratory parade for my nephew JohnPaul when he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. We also had some small gatherings with my family a few times over the summer, when it seemed life was getting better. But Thanksgiving and Christmas were a no-go for us.

In most years, Melanie’s mom, dad, and sister come to visit, usually separately, at some point. In 2019, they came in a successive wave throughout the fall.1 But nothing this year. It may have been the longest Melanie has gone without seeing her parents or sister in person, although she’s had a number of Zoom gatherings with them and her brothers, especially on holidays and birthdays.

Family Health

On the health front, we were much healthier overall in 2020. Some of the children overcame some mental health issues that were holding them back and frankly Telehealth may be a big reason why. I’m not sure their anxiety would have allowed them to go to a doctor’s office, but being able to do it through a screen from home was doable. By the end of the year, they were much less anxious and stressed and able to resume many of their former activities.

Lucia also has some positive health developments. She’s been living with multiple food allergies–including wheat (not just gluten), corn, dairy, eggs, and some nuts, including peanuts. The allergist had told us she could outgrow them and so at the end of the year she was finally able to get in for new testing and they determined that so far she’s now able to eat eggs and dairy and pecans. We have to wait a little longer to see if corn, wheat, and other nuts are back on the menu.

Wheat is a big one because she should be looking at her First Communion soon and having to receive only the Precious Blood while there are still restrictions at church will complicate things. It would be nice not to have to worry about that.

Melanie had some minor surgery this year for lingering effects from five pregnancies and C-sections, correcting what should have been corrected in a surgery a couple years ago. We’re hopeful that this will be the fix.

Scouting

As with everything else, Scouting took a big hit this year. At the beginning of the year, all the kids were involved in BSA either Cub Scouts and BSA Scouts, and in addition to being a Den Leader, I was also treasurer for the girls’ Troop and became a Merit Badge Counselor. The scouts had a lot of fun activities planned for the spring and summer, including camping trips and the like, and all that went out the window. For a long time, there was nothing happening. The Cubs started doing some Zoom meetings, but with little kids that was almost pointless. By the summer we could start to do some socially distanced activities outdoors. The older girls’ Troop started meeting again in the early Fall and by December they’d even had a couple of outdoor events, but no camping yet.

Ben moved from Webelos to Boy Scouts this fall and has really taken to it. He doesn’t even need me to stay at the meetings with him. He likes the feeling of being there on his own. It makes him feel more grown up.

Isabella was the first girl in her new troop to earn a merit badge and she’s well on her way up the ladder of advancement. Sophia is more content to just take part. She’s not driven my badges or ranks and just wants to experience it.

Anthony and Lucia continue through Cub scouts and in a year or so, Anthony should make his move up to Boy Scouts with Ben.

Vacation at the Lake

Melanie’s parents were supposed to come up last summer and join us at the lake house in Maine we’ve rented a couple times before, but no such luck. But we were able to go anyway. The state-line lockdown rules could have made things tricky. Maine was requiring all out-of-state visitors to take a COVID test within 72 hours of travel or to quarantine at their destination for two weeks. New Hampshire did not require either. While the vacation house we stayed at was technically in Maine, it was literally at the end of a street, the rest of which was in New Hampshire. So we technically quarantined while in Maine, and did all our shopping in New Hampshire. We did only go out to do masked shopping a few times that week and otherwise stayed at the house.

It was a great week and very relaxing. I’ve written before about how peaceful the house is, how beautiful the lake, especially during the week. We had use of a motorboat and canoes and kayaks. Ben started kayaking on his own and was very good at it very quickly. Lucia then started kayaking as did Anthony, although he wasn’t as enamored of it. We also started snorkeling, which I had a lot of fun doing. Ben did too until he swallowed some water and choked and he was done.

The Perseid meteor showers were due that week and so several nights we sat out on the dock under the stars to watch them. That was beautiful.

I love going to the lake house, although I also love going on vacation to places where you go out and see more stuff. The lake is about staying put.

I had wanted to do more camping in 2020, but all the campgrounds were closed. Instead, I set up the tent in the backyard for a few nights and we had campfire and cooked outdoors and that seemed to be enough to satisfy the kids.

Children

This year, I introduced the children to Dungeons & Dragons. Some of them are a bit young, but they all like playing games of make believe so they took to the roleplaying naturally. Some of the arcana of the rules have been tough to get through and getting them to think through the situations as a group has been tricky. The biggest sticky wicket has been finding the time to campaign regularly.

That’s because Sunday afternoons are the best time to play and those afternoons have been taken up with watching the animated series Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars. The kids don’t watch much TV and almost none at all during the week, except for The Mandalorian. But they do watch these shows on Sundays, especially so they can understand characters and events that have come up in Mando. Even Melanie has gotten into the shows. As 2020 ended, they had all finished Rebels and were now full bore on Clone Wars.

Bella’s been taking a number of online classes as she has started high school. She even took an English literature class with Joseph Pearce over the summer. She seems to enjoy the classes very much, as much for the interaction with her classmates as for the content.

Sadly, due to the virus, Ben and Bella haven’t been able to continue as altar servers at church and I don’t know if they ever will again. By the time normalcy returns they may no longer be interested or able.

Isabella is growing more mature by the day and is becoming a pleasant and intelligent young adult to talk with. Sophia has blossomed as an artist with the iPad and Apple Pencil I have passed down to her. She’s also a self-motivated learner and a morning lark, regularly rising before dawn (and the rest of the family) to do her schoolwork. She’s also got a wicked sense of humor that matches mine. Ben’s love of audiobooks continues, but his reading is also improving despite his learning disability. Anthony is a fierce and energetic young man whose reading is tearing through books almost faster than Melanie can find new ones for him to read. Lucia, as I said above, grows out of her allergies and is growing perceptibly taller, no longer the tiny girl. She’s also a quiet intelligence and a quick wit. She’s one to watch.

Tech

My newest tech purchase was a new MacBook Pro that I picked up in August. My old 2015 MacBook Pro had suddenly developed problems with its SSD hard drive right before our vacation and I was faced with the being without a computer. If something were to go wrong that required fixing, I would have to drive all the way back to Massachusetts to fix it at my desk on my iMac. Instead, I upgraded the laptop. (I wish I could have waited until December and the new M1 MacBooks but oh well.)

I did later replace the SSD in the old MacBook Pro and Ben is now using it to do his online math program. I expect him to inherit it at some point for more work.

Another interesting tech purchase was a Raspberry Pi, the very small and inexpensive Linux computer. I picked it up to run some smart home software but I’m barely using it’s potential. I would love to find more uses for it in 2021.

As for my iMac, it’s starting to feel long in the tooth at more than 3 years old. I tried to eke more speed out of it by setting it up with an external SSD connected to a Thunderbolt dock. I don’t know how much faster it is, but it’s also had some stability problems and kernel panics. I might need to upgrade the OS from Catalina to Big Sur earlier than I’d planned to see if that fixes it.

The other tech purchase I made was an Apple HomePod mini. The original HomePod was too expensive at $299, but the mini was only $99. I have Amazon Echos all over, but I was intrigued by the mini. Its best feature is how easy it is to have it play the sound from my iPhone. Just a tap on the top of the mini with my iPhone and it pairs and plays. That is much easier than with the Echo. I might have to get another one for the kitchen.

Books

This year, not only did I meet my Goodreads challenge of 35 books, but I vastly exceeded it by reading 43 books, 17,492 pages to last year’s 11,861. That was greatly helped by reading nearly all of the Dresden Files, a series of 17 books. There were two more books in the series that came out this fall, but I haven’t read those yet.

In addition, I read two more American Revolution books by Nathaniel Philbrick, both excellent: Valiant Ambition and In the Hurricane’s Eye. There were also several Star Wars books, a Tom Clancy, and two more in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. One of my unexpected favorite books this year was Beneath A Scarlet Sky, based on a true story about an Italian young man’s experiences under Nazi occupation in WWII as part of the resistance. It was fantastic.

I’m setting my goal at 35 books again and looking forward to next year.

Movies and TV

There wasn’t as much TV in 2020 because of the lockdown preventing shows from coming back after summer break, but for the stuff that had already been completed there were bright spots. Star Trek: Picard was pretty good because Patrick Stewart is always a delight. The first season of the show was mostly good, although I didn’t care for the ending. That contrasts with Star Trek: Discovery whose third season has been mostly mediocre with a few bright spots, which is a shame after their very good second season.

The Mandalorian‘s second season continued to impress and was, in fact, even better than the first, going from good to better to incredible by the end. The only flaw is I wanted more! Our whole family made it must-watch TV and we gathered every Friday morning to watch it together.

A surprise hit for me was Ted Lasso on AppleTV. What a great show! I can’t say that I love the cussing and sexual content that showed up, but the character of Ted was such a refreshing, uncynical pleasure to see on TV, especially in 2020 and I can’t for more of the same. It hearkens back to an earlier age when the good guy could just be the uncomplicated good guy who doesn’t have to be morally compromised or ambiguous and makes everyone around him better.

Everybody seemed to watch The Queen’s Gambit and they were right to. It was an excellent miniseries and made me want to play chess again. But the human story was fantastic as well.

The movie situation was worse than the TV situation as most of the new movies set for 2020 got pushed back to 2021. Greyhound was supposed to be in theaters, but ended up on AppleTV+ and it was a great WWII movie. Tom Hanks nows how to pick great movies and his depiction of the convoy escort captain in the North Atlantic was amazing. I eventually watched the live-action Mulan on Disney+–waiting until it was free to subscribers and not $30 extra–and I found it okay. I’m glad I didn’t pay extra for it.

I did get to see 1917 in the theatre with Fr. Chip before the lockdown and that was excellent. Really a fantastic film.

I watched a bunch of other movies on streaming too, but not much sticks out at the moment to note.

Podcasts and YouTube

This year I pared down some of my podcasts, especially any I felt got too focused on the pandemic or politics or Church politics. One great addition was How Music Does That, by Dale McGowan which does an amazingly effective job at providing a music education that is entertaining and tells a compelling story.

On YouTube, I added a few new subscriptions, including Cowboy Kent Rollins (a cowboy chef), The Smugglers Room (Star Wars maker and builder), and Technology Connections (explaining how everyday technology works).

Home and Home Improvement

Around the house, as I predicted last year, there were some more home improvements that needed to be done, including replacing some appliances, namely the dishwasher and the dryer. We’re still planning to replace the small chest freezer with a standup version to make it easier to actually find stuff in there.

We also built a new raised garden bed in the backyard and grew a bunch of vegetables this summer, including lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes, as well as some lettuce, peppers, eggplant, snap peas and green beans. The green beans were too tough to be edible and something liked to eat the eggplant. I mean some wild animal. And the peppers didn’t make any fruit until nearly too late. We’re thinking of expanding the garden to a second bed in 2021 and growing even more.

Looking Ahead

After 2020, it’s hard to imagine what 2021 will be like. We’ve hardly dared to plan for anything because while there is a vaccine, there’s no knowing when we’ll get it and even once we do, whether that means the restrictions will be lifted.

My hope is that next summer we’ll be able to go on vacation somewhere. Perhaps even camping. Maybe the older kids will be able to go to Scout camp. I also hope Melanie’s family will be able to visit.

My health and weight have been better this year, but not great. I’ve kind of plateaued and need to work on that some more. My spiritual life seems similar as well.

There’s lots of work that needs to be done around the house, mainly small repair jobs, fixing holes and trim and doing some painting. A bunch of our furniture is reaching the end of its usable life and needs replacing as well. Another round or two of stimulus checks might help with that.

Last year, I said that it’s better to keep my annual plans simple and to just plan and adapt to whatever comes along because whatever happens, you just have to deal with it. 2020 certainly proved that. My hope is for a good year. My expectation is that there will good times and bad. I hope to roll with it.

See my previous entries in this series: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013
  1. I called it the Fall of the House of Scotts.

Image Credit

  • dreamstime_m_202369990.921df5b9b75942ecad934e75592e5417: Dreamstime | Copyright by owner. Used with permission.
Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
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