Historically the yearly predictions of the Fedibblety organization have been quite accurate, but few could have predicted the strange events of 2020. While there were a number of disappointments in the year, we were lucky enough to weather 2020 with good health and even managed to travel some in Europe during times in which travel restrictions were lifted.
The year began much as expected. Both kids enjoyed swim team practice twice per week, and were excited for their awards ceremony from the team championship. Meg got second place in her age group this year. Spencer got fourth place (though he was actually still recovering from a nasty cold during the competition).
February was once again dominated by birthdays. Although we enjoyed celebrating Carnival in 2019, this year we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and enjoyed a short trip to Berlin, along with representatives from a parent company, Dave and Ellen. We enjoyed seeing Frederick the Great’s favorite palace Sans Souci in Potsdam, learned about the history of the Berlin Wall at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, experienced modern day democracy with a tour of the Bundestag, and even enjoyed dinner at MacLaren’s pub, named after the pub from the tv show How I met your Mother which we had recently watched as a family.
As loyal readers of the annual report know, we like to include a figure each year. Sometimes we don’t decide the contents of the figure until late in the year; other times we plan the figure well in advance. This year we had a vision early on to quantify our travels across Europe by displaying the number of countries each of us had visited (and to increase the number throughout the year). We had learned from previous years that in order to get good deals on vacation we would need to book early. So in February we booked a number of trips – a long weekend on the Rhine in May, Portugal in June, and a cruise around the Balkans and Greece in October. Meg was also very excited for the opportunity to be the first family member to visit Slovenia on a two week long scout trip in July. Shortly thereafter, the global pandemic due to COVID-19 broke out, and all of those plans were cancelled. The planned visit from the Adams in March was cancelled, as was our visit to Colorado over Easter.
On March 15th, school here was cancelled. Suddenly a focus on learning cursive with fountain pens no longer seemed like a good idea, as it became clear that German schools were not prepared for digital learning. Meg’s school sent home packets of work by mail, which she diligently completed, often by Tuesday or Wednesday. Clare’s institute closed down for about 5 weeks. She did some work remotely, but largely helped the kids with their schoolwork. Spencer did not have much to do at first, but eventually his teachers got a digital learning platform setup, and he did learn some, though not as much as we would have hoped. We took the opportunity to encourage both kids to practice touch typing and learn some coding through code.org. Rob’s work remained mostly the same, though the stress level increased as his company laid off a number of people and simultaneously increased expectations from employees.
As we moved into the second quarter it became apparent that COVID-19 was not going away anytime soon, so we did our best to learn to live with it, and to try to keep ourselves from getting infected. Thanks to the kids’ interest in the tv show Project Runway back in the fall of 2018, we own a sewing machine. It had not gotten a lot of use, but suddenly it came in very handy when we suddenly wanted to wear masks, but they were difficult to find in stores. Clare did a fantastic job of sewing some home-made masks for us, for the few occasions in which we ventured to the grocery store.
We were lucky enough to have had a good supply of toilet paper, yeast, and flour before they became in short supply. Meg finally got the chance to try out the pizza recipe from her favorite cookbook from Grandma Felty. We were lucky enough to have a very pleasant spring, and took the opportunity to get outside as much as we could. We enjoyed having lunch as a family on the balcony most days, and started taking bike rides together as a family.
On the job front, Rob decided that it was time to move on from Cerence, and applied for a position at his previous company Automattic. This involved doing a trial project, which meant working several weekends and evenings in April, but it was worth it, as they offered him a position. In Germany it is pretty standard to give 3 months notice when you leave a company (the company must also give you 3 months notice if you get fired or laid off). So this meant Rob did not start at Automattic until September 1st. Three months of waiting to leave your job feels like a long time. There was also a bureaucratic issue as well, because Rob needed to get a different visa. Fortunately that worked out, but it was still a bit stressful at the time.
We celebrated Clare’s 42nd birthday and 15 years of marriage in May with our good friends Thomas and Ulli at their community garden house.
By June, the number of new COVID-19 infections had dropped substantially in Germany, and schools started opening again with a staggered schedule and increased hygiene restrictions. We had booked a long weekend in May to visit the Lorelei on the Rhine river, but that was cancelled. Fortunately in June hotels opened up again, and we decided to give it a try. The breakfast buffet was a bit strange, but overall the trip was fun and most people were doing a good job of wearing masks and maintaining distance. We waded in the river a bit, toured some of the numerous castle ruins, and enjoyed watching the ships go by.
With one successful weekend getaway behind us, we decided that as soon as school officially ended on June 29th, we would make a second attempt at making a great figure for this year. As you can see from Figure 2, we were successful. Normally we would have opted for the train to travel around Europe, but with COVID-19 still lurking, we decided that we would instead drive, and thus undertook the 2020 socially distanced road trip, which spanned 7 countries in 15 days.
We celebrated the independence of the USA with the German office of the Gallagher family in Dachau. Then we continued on to Austria, where we hiked the wild waters. From there we headed to Bled, Slovenia, which turned out to be our favorite spot. The water was crystal clear, and the lake has no motorized boats, which was very relaxing. We enjoyed swimming to the island in the middle of the lake (Spencer did it several times), we tried out stand-up paddleboards for the first time, and also got to try out a reconstructed Gutenberg printing press at the Bled castle.
On our way out of Slovenia we stopped by some of the largest caves in Europe in Postojna, and the only cave with a train in it. It was well worth the visit. Even though the borders re-opened for travel on June 15th, we were still worried that we might have troubles along the way with our American passports. The only place that was actually checking passports was at the border between Croatia and Slovenia, which was a several hours long wait in the hot sun. But once we got to Pula, Croatia, we thoroughly enjoyed swimming in the clear water of the Adriatic, and touring the 2000 year old Roman coliseum.
After our big road trip, we still had several more weeks of school vacation. Meg’s scout trip to Slovenia had been cancelled, but they decided it would be safe to do a trip within Germany instead, so she spent a week hiking with 5 boys about 20 miles in Swabia, between Kempten and Memmingen. She came back exhausted and smelly, but much more independent. We are really proud of her. We had signed up Spencer for an overnight science camp for the same week as Meg’s scout trip, but that was cancelled, so we had to settle for a soccer daycamp instead, which was still helpful.
School started again in mostly normal fashion. Both kids were back in their classrooms, though they had to wear a mask, and a number of extra precautions were put into place to try to restrict contact between classes, to try to limit exposure, should someone become infected with COVID-19. Meg was elected class speaker, and also a “recess angel”; she has taken both jobs very seriously. Swimming and soccer were both in full swing again, and Rob finally started his job at Automattic on September 1st.
The highlight of the fourth quarter was without a doubt the company retreat to Greece in October. This marked the third annual October retreat, and we can all agree that each one has gotten better (and older), thanks to the planning from Clare. By older, I mean the age of the artifacts we could marvel at. In 2018 we saw an aqueduct in Segovia Spain that was 1900 years old. In 2019 we saw the 1950 year old ruins of Pompeii in Italy. These sites now seem new compared to the 3700 year old ruins at Akrotiri on the island of Santorini. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we were quite concerned that the trip would not happen due to COVID-19, but with the exception of a few itinerary changes, it all went quite smooth, and we were extremely lucky to have much of the usually busy tourist areas mostly to ourselves.
While we were enjoying Greece, Meg’s best friend’s family all contracted Corona. Had we stayed home, we would have likely contracted it as well, so we feel extra fortunate about that. Unfortunately the peacefulness of the Greece trip soon faded away, as the number of new Corona infections began to rise rapidly in late October and November in Germany, which resulted in a “lockdown lite”. Fortunately we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving virtually with the Goold organization.
By mid December, it was clear that “lockdown lite” was not sufficient to bring the numbers down, and Germany is now in a stricter lockdown for the next several weeks, perhaps months, depending on how effective it is in curbing the infection rates. We are doing our best to limit contacts as much as we can. While there were no Christmas markets to enjoy this year, we managed to enjoy the season as much as we could, including celebrating Rob’s birthday by enjoying some mulled wine by the fire at Thomas and Ulli’s garden hut, and making the traditional Felty christmas cookies. We also enjoyed checking out the holly and mistletoe in the area. Meg strategically placed some mistletoe right near the dinner table, which yielded even more kisses from her than usual
The forecast for 2021 seems more difficult than usual to make. It seems that we still have a long hard winter ahead of us, but that there is hope that by the end of 2021 Corona will once again refer to a mediocre beer served with a lime instead of a global pandemic. The Fedibblety organization foresees a cleaner headquarters thanks to the purchase of a vacuum/steam mop, and we look forward to seeing friends and family in Colorado and Michigan in July, assuming that travel is possible again.
Wishing you a safe and healthy 2021,
Rob, Clare, Spencer, and Meg