I don’t think it was hard to make 2023 a better year than its predecessor, but regardless, I have very few regrets from this past year and a lifetime’s worth of new memories. It was a banner year from a professional standpoint, not to mention some life-changing travels and plenty of quality time spent with my family and friends.
Here’s how 2023 shook out for us.
2023 in travel
There’s never been a year-end recap where travel wasn’t a main focus, and 2023 was no different. I didn’t take as many flights as years’ past, logging just 29 including connections. But several of those flights were very long indeed as our big trip for the year was 17 days in Africa, split between Cape Town and Namibia. The best part of that trip, aside from exploring new cultures and landscapes, was doing so with six people who mean the world to me. I highly recommend traveling with your friends on epic adventures like this one.
SVV and I also went to Maui for 11 days for my 40th birthday in February, a perk of learning how to hack the credit card points game. I learned long ago to book a sunny vacation during winter months to escape the seasonal depression, and our 2024 one—also thanks to points—is coming up very soon to a pair of countries new to both of us!
Namibia aside, the new places I went in 2023 were to Tucson with SVV and Emilie for our annual board retreat and to Madison, Wisconsin, where I attended a PRSA conference. I didn’t get a ton of time outside of the Madison event to explore, but I liked what I did see and would love to go back. And of course, Arizona always has my heart—and I was thrilled to check off a new national park, Saguaro NP.
I went to New Orleans with my sister for another friend’s 40th celebration, and SVV and I found ourselves in California twice: in San Francisco in July to attend a friend’s wedding, and in Sacramento in November for a quick visit with his parents. While on the West Coast, we flew up to Portland, Oregon for four days—a destination we had never visited together. He was born in Portland but last visited in 1997, while I haven’t been since 2003, so it essentially was a novelty for both of us.
I also took three trips with my friend Kelly: one to her parents’ home on Lake Keowee in South Carolina, one to the Smoky Mountains in fall and one to see our friend Emily in Louisville in the summer. We saw a pair of concerts together: Beyoncé and Taylor, who I was lucky enough to catch on the Eras tour twice … so far.
I went back to Kentucky the month after our girls’ trip to Louisville and spent a whole week in the Cincinnati area: the first half on a content project with Northern Kentucky, the second half to go to the Cincy Open (Western & Southern) tennis tournament with my mom. We’re big tennis fans, and after Indian Wells a couple years ago, we vowed to visit a new tournament each year going forward. In 2024, that will be Roland Garros!
We went to Mississippi twice for conferences—Tupelo in the spring, Cleveland in the fall—and bopped back and forth to Alabama several times for both fun and work, like a recent birding project we’re wrapping up. I put a good 20,000 miles on my car as so much of our work travel was in the Southern region, many places remote and extremely rural.
I traveled to Memphis three times to see my cousins where the routine is always “pool, bourbon, puzzles,” and we also made several visits to Knoxville, for Governor’s Conference meetings, for actual Governor’s Conference, to see my extended family and for a content project with Visit Knoxville.
2023 in writing
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many freelance pieces I wrote this year. Some of my favorites were for Washington Post—about paint, aging in place, framing, pet photography, secret rooms—and Garden & Gun (this story on small Smokies towns even made it onto the list of their top travel pieces of the year). I also finished a huge content project for Travel + Leisure and Food + Wine recently recently and wrote several articles on Nashville and Tupelo for Southern Living, as well as wrote features for hotel magazines and other specialty pubs like Bourbon+.
I hardly pitched anything this year simply due to bandwidth and existing contract gigs that were top priority, and if I did it was to an editor with whom I already had a relationship. This year was my seventh year writing the Tennessee section for AAA Living—which translates to working on more than 40 print issues in addition to being on the cover last year—and after hearing they were folding the print issue back in the summer, I was elated to hear from the team a month later that they were hiring for contributors back to work on the digital section and really beef it up.
One big sacrifice I’ve had to make over the past few years as our photography and tourism work load has boomed is taking a step back from my volume of blogging. I have such a backlog of trips I want to share—Arizona! Portland! more Iceland! more Namibia—and I’m really hoping the bandwidth presents itself in the future. Blog posts take 10 times the amount of time they did when I started this space in 2007, and a lot of the time I do have to put into this blog is spent updating some of my most popular older posts to make sure that the information is always accurate for the people using it to plan their trips.
I’m also trying to find a better flow this year of adding new content and not breaking my back while doing it and also implementing more affiliates to trips I’ve taken so they’re easily bookable (and also to help cover the cost of running this blog, which is not cheap!). I’ve found small hacks like voice-texting my posts over Bluetooth while I’m driving and in a clear headspace or typing them out in my phone notepad before I go to bed at night and then emailing them to myself has helped somewhat. And due to substantial rising costs of the software we use (ahem, Mailchimp), I’ll be transitioning the RSS feedback newsletter to a new platform next week. I hope you’ll stick with me as I iron out the kinks!
2023 in tourism work
We had a lot of fun tourism projects this year, a few in Alabama, one in Kentucky and the majority in Tennessee. We worked with our friends in Bell Buckle to capture all their annual events, and I even got to be their spokesperson on a regional commercial. Apologies to all the people who may have visited the Chamber website only to be greeted with this 😉
Speaking of Tennessee, we will be exploring even more of it as we visit all the rural counties in the state for a marketing contract with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development over the next 18 months. We’ve been slowly working on the processes for this project over the past few months and are finally in the research phase and starting to visit all these communities beginning this month. I’m hoping by the end of the project, I will have visited all of Tennessee’s 95 counties and 57 state parks!
I also really loved being on the TNHTA Governor’s Conference Advisory Committee this past year and helping sculpt the new direction of my favorite annual event, and I’m looking forward to getting going on that again for the 2024 conference in Chattanooga.
In 2023, by way of public speaking, I did a couple of TV appearances (both in studio and via Zoom) and gave an hour-long presentation “Small Budget, Big Impact” at the 2023 GovCon in Knoxville, as well as was on the “Pitching to Win PR: How to Gain Earned Media and Cultivate Connections” panel for the Mississippi Tourism Association’s spring meeting. I also plan to return to the Rural Tourism Conference in October for a fourth straight time, which will be back in Tennessee this year up in Union City, but beyond that I have no other conferences on the docket just yet.
I love speaking as a presenter or panelist, so if you need a tourism marketing pro or photography or someone to wax poetic about earned and paid media, I’m your gal!
2023 in photography
If I thought 2022 was a huge uptick in the photo work we did, it didn’t hold a candle to 2023. In the last 12 months alone, I took 171 kids’ portraits, 79 of which were studio B&Ws. SVV and I shot a couple dozen corporate headshot sessions for our friends at Jack Daniel’s Distillery, George Dickel and other local businesses. I photographed at least 20 families, and that’s all while being on the road for more than 100 days and trying to have some semblance of work–life balance.
I will probably scale back my portraiture offerings this year—or rather, decrease the number of days open for shoots and possibly add more mini sessions—because of how busy our corporate brand work and travel photography schedule already is for this first six months. I love doing the Bell Buckle events, the Montessori School photos each fall, Governor’s Conference and the Breakfast at Santa portraits so I will keep those events in rotation for as long as they’ll all have me! And I already have a few senior sessions on the books, plus a waitlist for my next B&W sessions, which is TBD but likely slated for early spring.
One big goal for 2024 is to open a print shop of some of our best wildlife and nature photography work. We did this for a hot minute several years ago, but I didn’t have the organization and system in place for all of our files to make this attainable long-term. We’ve shored up our file-keeping over the past year thanks to a NAS tower, upgrading to a Mac Studio and hardwiring my computer, and I think we’re finally ready to explore options.
2023 in entrepreneurship
One thing I don’t talk a lot about is our real estate investments. We kept the Victorian we lived in for eight years and now rent it out to a healthcare company. They are in year four of using the space and great tenants! We do have some serious repairs we need to make on that old house in the next few months—like painting the exterior (again!) and adding gutters—and I’m dreading that part of being a landlord.
We also have a couple of mid-term rentals up in Nashville that we’ve had for a decade. We co-own them with my family, but SVV and I property-manage those, too, meaning we have to be on call pretty much always should the internet go down (in Nashville? almost weekly) or God forbid an HVAC unit go out (which of course happened the hottest day of the year on a holiday weekend last summer).
But perhaps the biggest thing we did in 2023 was buy a commercial property with two of our friends and open a co-working space. It’s been somewhat of a slow roll out because we didn’t decide to use it for this purpose until last summer, then had a good bit of work to do on the place before we could accommodate both shared working space and private offices. But CoWork Tullahoma is open for business and about half full, and we are thrilled with all the interest we’ve gotten!
2023 in public art
Our nonprofit oversaw the creation of eight original murals this year: two in Madisonville, one in Tracy City, two interior murals for an elementary school in Nashville, one interior mural in Tullahoma at Beechcraft Heritage Museum, and two exterior murals in Tullahoma, thanks to the support of funding agencies like Tennessee Arts Commission and patrons such as Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.
Tennessee murals by Megan Lingerfelt, Folek, Sophi Odling and Kris Kanaly
We implemented many grant-funded projects and have several more going for the current fiscal year. Since we don’t have a staff, every project is heavily managed by SVV or me (or often both), and it’s common in addition to building prep, we also paint the whole space before the muralist comes in. We’ve got some shiny, new murals coming up this spring I can’t wait to share!
mural by Nathan Brown
2023: the Greatest Hits
Some other things that are notable from the year:
- Flights flown: 29
- Countries visited: 3 — four fewer than last year.
- States visited: 15 — six more than last year.
- Miles driven: 19,000 — about 2,000 more than last year.
- Number of books completed: 50; same as last year.
- Best book I read: A Man Called Ove or Remarkably Bright Creatures. Here’s my full reading list, plus audiobooks.
- Best tour I saw: not Shania, that’s for sure — but you know, it was Taylor!
One of the best things I ever did, other than marry SVV of course, was buy a house close to my family. We are less than a mile as the crow flies from my sister, and about the same distance from my mom, and it was such a smart move. I get to see Charlotte (5) and Mac (3) all the time, and they’re both at such fun ages (most of the time). Charlotte and I had a lot of slumber parties in 2023, and maybe this year will be the year Mac starts sleeping past 5am so he can join the fun.
It’s hard to believe we’ve owned the Cedar House for five years this month! Our dog Ella and three cats—Whiskey, Rye and Molly—seem to approve. We’ve made some minor upgrades to the house throughout the past year—mostly tweaks to the bathrooms, repainting the deck, adding a full pantry and closet systems in four different rooms and continuing to work on the landscaping. When you own a house made out of wood that’s had nine owners in 25 years, there’s always something to fix or maintain.
One of the big highlights of the year was my 40th birthday when my sister and mom assembled some of my nearest and dearest friends with several driving or flying into surprise me. As someone whose love language is quality time, this was the best gift of all.
As are all of you! Whether you read this blog every time it hits your inbox or simply stop by for a visit every month or two, I really appreciate you being here. I know I’ve said it before, but I did not expect to still be running this blog 17 years(!) after launching. She’ll be off to college soon and giving me grandbabies before I know it.
I hope this season of your life was equally as full and fulfilling as mine was. Happy 2024, y’all!