2018 tore through like a tornado; we never saw it coming, and now that it’s gone, I’m a bit like: what just happened? Was that even real?
It was a weird year. It was an awesome year. It was a terrible year. It was a challenging year. It was a fulfilling year. I’m not one to ever say, “I wish to just forget this year,” so in Camels & Chocolate-style, I’m looking back at what was weird and awesome and terrible and challenging and fulfilling about the past 12 months.
As many of you know, SVV and I now own a few (three) companies together, aside from my work as a freelance journalist/sole proprietor and past startups we’ve since shuttered. Nearly three years ago, we decided we wanted Odinn Media to be the majority of our focus so we’ve been leaning heavily into our varied skillset in the marketing sphere. With Odinn Media, we primarily tackle tourism marketing for destinations, CVBs, state DMOs and chambers of commerce, but we also do all manner of different services: consulting, project management, photography, copywriting, strategic development, long-tail strategy and, now, videography, too. This year was a great year for Odinn Media. We learned so much. We made mistakes. We know warning signs to look for moving forward in clients that just aren’t a good fit.
We worked with a whole lot of destinations we love (and one we grew to loathe, ugh). But I’m focusing on those that we love, cities like Oklahoma City and Bloomington and Murfreesboro and Savannah. We had such a rewarding year doing destination marketing, and we’re currently firming up contracts for a number of different entities for 2019 in which we are doing a lot more consulting and less deliverable-based projects—because there’s only two of us and so many hours in the day. I miss having the time to blog two to three times a week on the regular, and I’m hoping our move to consulting more than anything allows me to get back to blogging just for the love of it.
One of the big downers of the year is that our Opry contract ended after two years when new management came in and slashed budgets. While this bummed us out temporarily as we love the team there and left on the best of terms, the truth is that it was a huge stress-reliever because it was very time-intensive and the discontinuation of our program freed us up for other long-term projects. I will always have nothing but love in my heart for the Grand Ole Opry and am grateful for the time we got to work with this iconic venue.
We’ve worked with the state of Tennessee for nearly seven years now on various projects, and in 2018, we worked on the Tennessee Vacation Guide through their publisher Journal Communications and also taught a couple of workshops for their tourism partners. If I were to have it my way, I’d love to offer more workshops in the new year; I find nothing more fulfilling than helping tourism professionals learn to do their jobs better, especially in my home state which I could not love more.
We also taught a workshop in Portugal with a photographer Kristin Sweeting to a handful of enterprising entrepreneurs, and not only did we have an awesome time sharing the knowledge and battle scars we’ve accumulated over the past two decades, but we made several lifelong friends through it. The Portugal workshop was, no doubt, one of the greatest highlights of our year, and I’m grateful to Kristin for asking us to team up with her on that.
I also spoke at the inaugural TravelCon with my girl Angie on brand ambassadorships, as well as at MTSU and at a couple other local organizations. I’m also on the lineup at TravelCon 2019 for those of you planning to head to Boston!
Somewhere along the way, our passion for murals, which you’ve seen me talk about for years now on the blog, became a public-benefit corporation when we launched DMA-events, held a car show, a luau, an art festival and installed four murals in six months. We had no idea this was in our future, but our community is devoid of public art, free family-friendly events and points of pride for residents, so we saw that as our calling. And DMA-events was born.
We have SO many big plans for DMA for 2019. Alas, they all require money, so we’re currently in the midst of fundraising and grant applications and talking to private donors. But I’ll be writing a lot more about public art in the coming months, so buckle up!
Oh, and let’s never forget that 2018 was the year of the Land Shark. I’ve never had so much fun photographing and filming a marketing campaign before! And let’s just say that SVV found his calling as a character actor.
This year in travel took us all over the South and beyond. We headed just over the border to Alabama four times: three to Huntsville and one to the Shoals. I’m a huge fan of Northern Alabama, and it was really fun to (finally!) explore it from a tourism perspective.
My first flight of the year, however, was to Canada when Jade and I took our moms to Alberta. Funny that 2019 is also kicking off with the first flight of the year into Western Canada—only with SVV and Jade, instead of Jeanie this time around!
Shortly after our inaugural visit to Texas for the year, I flew to Utah solo for my fourth trip to Zion National Park. I just love this corner of the Southwest and could visit St. George a dozen times and never get tired of that red rock scenery.
In March, we took an actual vacation to California, no work, no requirements, nothing—though I still blogged about it, because this is me we’re talking about. It was lovely getting to hang out on the drizzly Pacific Coast, see SVV’s family—including our sweet niece Kiva, who turned FIFTEEN this week—and catch up with so many of our old San Francisco pals.
Later that month, we went to the Smokies for my first of two trips to Dollywood for the year, the second of which I took with San Francisco friends when we planned a Dolly Parton-themed weekend in Pigeon Forge.
The following month, we visited Bloomington, Indiana for the first time ever in the spring, then again later in the fall. And surprising absolutely nobody, this progressive college town turned out to totally be our jam!
Then, it was back to coastal Virginia, where SVV separated from the Navy nearly 20 years ago and a place I’d only visited in the dead of winter during a pretty serious storm. Luckily, our spring weekend in Virginia Beach completely delivered the good weather this time!
SVV and I fell in love with South Dakota on our first trip there in 2011, then again on our visit to Sioux Falls in 2016, so I was a pretty awful wife agreeing to go on a work project to Rapid City without him in 2018. I was rewarded with drizzly weather that barely allowed us to see the Badlands, but it was an awesome weekend nonetheless.
Later in May, we headed to Minnesota for 48 hours with our dear friend Emilie—side note but can we talk about how much I adore Minneapolis? seriously, one of the most underrated cities in the United States—then SVV flew back home to produce a car show and I continued on to North Dakota for a weekend with Lemon, her husband and their niece.
Summer saw us going to Blue Ridge, Georgia, which we loved so much we’d return to later in the year for Christmas with my parents. We also returned to the Peach State in the fall to spend a long weekend exploring new Savannah activities in one of our favorite cities on Earth.
We went back to Austin right after Oklahoma, then were home for SVV’s birthday, which he happens to share with America, before going to Columbus, Ohio for a weekend.
After that work trip, we had a week to prepare for 12 days in Portugal, eight of which we spent in Lisbon discovering murals, then a long weekend in Azores, which I’ve not yet written about but will (someday…).
We had a couple weeks home in Tennessee after Europe, during which we taught classes and workshops and tackled some local photography gigs, before we jetted off to Boise, Idaho for a long weekend and drank a whole lot of beer.
September had me booked with speaking engagements across the South, but we did squeeze in a long weekend in North Carolina to celebrate my sister and brother-in-law’s 30th birthdays with his family and ours.
And then, just like that, it was the holidays, and we only had return trips to Savannah and Oklahoma City before we wrapped up our work travel for the year. In 2018, we also traveled to various places in Tennessee for projects, like Burgess Falls and Center Hill Lake, as well as took actual weekends away with friends to areas like Jamestown on the border of a national recreation area.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it; my autoimmune disease has been out of control these past six months, and I’ve been borderline miserable for days at a time. In reality, this is mostly my own fault for eating like crap and not working out daily like I’ve done much of my life—basically, ever since I broke my big toe in July, my workout routine the past six months has just been one to two days of yoga a week, mostly acro which I still LOVE, and that’s it. That changes now.
The weather in Tennessee for the past two months has been absolute shite, so running has been out of the question, but the first day it isn’t sopping wet, I’ll be hitting the greenway again and building my mileage back up. I’ve also gotten into a skincare routine (finally!), tempered my anxiety with an antidepressant and am about to start a probiotic again. 2019 is all about my own personal wellness. AND I’ve learned the joys of midday naps; anytime I feel a migraine coming on or on the brink of a panic attack, I implement a mandatory half-hour rest period, and it’s been clutch. For so many years, I’ve worked long 14- to 16-hour days every weekday and weekend without breaks, but now that changes; it’s time to worry about me first and everyone (and thing) else second.
I mean, you probably have garnered I’m a wee bit obsessed with my sweet niece Charlotte Rose by now, eh? She turns 10 months this weekend and is an absolute joy to be around. I find myself making excuses to go to Tullahoma almost every day when I’m not traveling simply to drop in and see her. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to go on trips with me!
As for the rest of us, everyone is healthy and happy. My dad, almost three years post-stroke, is still getting new words every day, though his progress has more or less plateaued. He’s started playing darts with his friends every Sunday afternoon, so we got him a dart board for his 67th birthday last month.
Other than that, he’s more than content to hang out all day every day at home with the dogs and Charlotte.
In August 2017, we bought Myrtle, a 1,700-square-foot house built in the 1940s that we have since pretty much gutted. The first four months of the year were dedicated to Myrtle, as SVV ripped out all the wiring and pipes and completely redid the electrical and plumbing. Together, we also knocked down a few walls, took the bathroom virtually down to the studs and installed a kitchenette—plus, encountered a whole lot of IKEA drama, a story I still need to relay here eventually—plus painted every ceiling and wall in two to three coats given that there was nicotine seep from the previous tenant. It was a lot of work, but it paid out as we had a pretty lucrative summer rental. That has passed, and we’re now thinking of converting Myrtle to a commercial rental despite it being outfitted as a home because it’s in a commercial zone where rental space is hard to come by.
We haven’t done a lot on the Victorian this year because of Myrtle, but also our travel schedule and the sheer volume of work we’d had, but we have some pretty big fixes we’re planning for the first quarter of 2019, including: fixing rotting wood, patching all the exterior paint that failed just two years after we painted the whole thing (ugh), painting the cabinets and floor in the kitchen, and a dozen other small tasks. Fun stuff! (Not really.)
On the side, SVV also has been helping my parents fix up a property they’ve owned for several years that was completely destroyed by the previous tenant (after squatting for years and never paying rent, then them finally taking him to court to get him out of the place, he literally moved out and took everything—including the kitchen sink). Here, you can see him at said property installing Metroflor luxury vinyl tile, a new-to-us product that was super fun for to learn and also quite easy, and which we may use on an upcoming spring project, too. Before we finish Myrtle and the Victorian, he’s aiming to finish this entire house so my parents can put it on the market this spring.
- A saga with our local government. Not only did a couple of mayor-appointed commissioners try to have us arrested for beautifying the community with murals, the local tourism board is 10 months delinquent on paying us for a major project.
- Work-life balance. It’s no big surprise that one thing we have yet to master is traveling for fun or being home and not working—we’re always on the clock. This year, that really caught up to us, and in 2019, I want to figure out how to actually take days off at a time, whether a Sunday or a Tuesday or a Friday. Learning to take naps (even if I rarely slept) were a small step.
- People, in general, seem abnormally brittle. Is it just us or are people more prickly, more brittle, more quick to lash out than they used to be? There’s no comity, there’s little compassion, everyone is quick to attack everyone else on line (or point fingers and attribute a flaw to a political party). It’s straight-up exhausting. Can we agree to be kinder to one another in 2019? Please?
- Ella is feeling neglected. It sounds crazy, but one of our big goals for 2019 is to spend more time with our firstborn. We were gone so much this past year, and thank God Ella has grandparents nearby who take in her homeless soul whenever her awful parents ditch her yet again. Hoping for less mandatory travel in 2019 and more mandatory time with our only child.
- I had a couple huge magazine pieces come out this year. Though I’m not focusing so much on freelance writing anymore, when a good opportunity falls into my inbox, I take it. This past year, there were several; among my favorites, were a 50,000-word project for Conde Nast Traveler that I worked on for months and this 13-page spread on Nashville for Airbnb magazine. I’m also well into my second year of writing all the Tennessee content for AAA’s magazine, and I really love getting to cover all corners of my state in-depth.
- We installed four murals. I still can’t believe we managed to pull all of that off in six months! Whaaaaaat.
- I have a secret, but it’s really fun! There’s one Big Thing that happened right at the tail-end of 2018, and it’s pretty huge! I can’t wait to share more in the coming months. (Sorry not sorry to be vague for now.)
2018 by the Numbers
- Blog posts written: I only wrote 67 posts this year compared to last year’s 102. I attribute this to the fact that we’ve upped our photography game and added video, meaning that each post takes about triple the time it used to. Plus, many of our blog posts are so detailed now and are upward of 3,000 words.
- Countries visited: 2, not including the United States. Other than jetsetting all over America, we only stepped foot in Portugal this year as a pair, and I also went to Canada with my mom. Our travel style has definitely evolved since 10 years ago when I was out of the country every other week, and I’m OK with it. I love exploring new countries, but I also happen to think one could spend the a lifetime traversing America and only just scratch the surface.
- States visited: 16, not counting airport stopovers
- Flights flown: 51
- Road trips taken: 12
- National parks, forests and monuments visited: 8
- Tennessee state parks visited: 8
- Broken toes sustained: 1
- Books read: 19
All in all, there’s nothing I would change about this year. Sure, it came with plenty of challenges, but those challenges will only equip me to be a stronger entrepreneur in the future when faced with adversity. Sure, there were “friends” we realized weren’t actually friends to begin with and who were merely opportunistic in using our skillset and eagerness to help them out to their benefit, then ghosted when we needed the favor returned, but I’ll be quicker to identify phonies the next time around.
And I happen to have the best business (and life) partner a girl could ask for, so where I am weak, he is strong; when I’m left bereft of words and energy to handle a situation, he steps in and resolves it with grace and professionalism; when I want to quit, he propels me forward. He strengthens me in all facets of life, builds me up when I’m feeling low, and cheers me on every step of the way. I wake up so many days wondering just how I got so lucky! For all the uncertainties there have been in our life this past year, he’s the one thing I’m 10000 percent certain of.