Another Hokie Let Loose on the World

Chinooks, Campaigns, and Kilimanjaro

You may notice our 2021 Christmas letter is running a bit late — a whole year late, actually, since it’s now 2022. As I was about to push send, my Dad was admitted to the hospital with COVID, and he passed away Christmas morning. It left a cloud over the holiday season, and I debated even sending out a letter. Dad had suffered with Alzheimer’s for several years, and despite the immense sadness of his death, especially from a virus that left him isolated in his final days, I’m hoping he is in a better place now. Life goes on for the rest of us, and since 2021 did leave us with some happy memories, I finally decided to hit the button on the letter I’d already written.

As 2021 comes to an end, Ryland, Liam and I each find ourselves in various stages of pandemic purgatory. Glimpses of normal life emerge but are repeatedly whacked on the nose by the new variant making the rounds. But we’re still here. Still kicking. Still living the ho-hum lives we always have.

After teleworking for most of 2020, Ry finally went back to the office in March of this year, once he was fully vaccinated and felt a slight lift from the existential dread of COVID. Away for so long, he returned to a reorganized office that left him in a windowless, padded-wall cube with an overhead buzzing fluorescent. And with no more online meetings and the loss of his mute button, he had to police his in person facial expressions and profanity. Combined with resuming his two-hour daily commute, he spent April grumpy.

He doesn’t fly in a Chinook often, but when he does, it’s with cute coworkers.

His work travel kicked back into gear as well with trips to Lexington, Philly, Nashville, and Phoenix, all on crowded, masked flights. But he managed a flight aboard an MH-47G Chinook helicopter. He’s served as its deputy product manager for 15 years and had never had the opportunity to ride on one. He was like a kid at Christmas. He didn’t get to repel out the back like the special forces because, sadly, he had left his rope at home.

Ry never worried much about his pandemic hair but did ask me to give him a trim to neaten things up before heading back to work. Realizing too late that his wife’s haircutting skills were nonexistent, he bought a trimmer and has cut it himself since. His hair remains mostly brown while his mustache and goatee have gone almost completely white. Somehow, he avoided the traditional mousy-gray transition period I’m currently stuck in.

No idea who this adult is, but my kid is somehow trapped in his grown up body.

Liam graduated summa cum laude from Virginia Tech with three degrees: Political Science, History, and Religion and Culture. Before you think he is a Liberal Arts God, there was an overlap in classes for those degrees, which made it easier to major in all three. He came home for a brief stay before he headed back to Blacksburg for a 3-month job with the Democratic Party of Virginia as the campaign coordinator for the Virginia Tech campus. He worked 70-hour weeks pounding the pavement, visiting classrooms, and getting students registered to vote. Alas, the democrats didn’t fair well in Virginia this year. Liam came home exhausted and rethinking his future in campaign work. He also came home looking quite adult-ish with a beard and moustache. This just made me feel old, since apparently gray hair, bad knees, and ringing ears hadn’t already convinced me.

Half gray, no foam, decaf Kelly

I remain teleworking until NASA opens again. Days spent talking to no one but myself have eaten away at my sanity and most, if not all, of my motivation. There have been days when getting out of bed and trekking 20 feet to my home office has felt nearly impossible. Makeup? No. Brushing my hair? Maybe, if the mood strikes. My biggest personal accomplishment in 2021 was getting my feral-length hair cut, a monumental task given the hair salon I’d been going to for 20 years closed during the pandemic and my top-secret hair color formula was lost to the ether. As a result, I made the agonizingly difficult decision to let my gray go viral (pun intended).

Titmice come with built-in attitude.

I kept the birdfeeder full, buying the continued affection of my only daytime visitors (titmice, chickadees, wrens, and cardinals), and in an attempt to avoid becoming permanently molded to my chair, I started walking around the block every day. I had help from an online company called the Conqueror Challenges. For about $30, I picked a challenge, logged my miles, and watched on my phone as my avatar moved along the Ring of Kerry in Ireland or up Mount Kilimanjaro. When I finished, I got a medal. Once I’m in the nursing home, I’ll probably believe I actually hiked to these places (bonus!). I’m currently slogging up Mt. Fuji, 17 miles into a 28-mile hike to the top. My rapid breathing is the result of my less than stellar physical health, but I like to pretend it’s the altitude changes and rarified air.

Ry’s lovely walnut frames.

Ry and I also delved into woodworking this year, once we finally cleaned out the garage and bought expensive tools we weren’t familiar with. We have a couple of things to show for it — he built some lovely walnut picture frames, and within his scraps I spotted a knot that looked like an eye, so I “crafted” a wood mosaic octopus. My inspiration did not equal my skill set, but my critter has eight arms and can be readily identified as an octopus. I count that as a win.

When inspiration strikes, you make an octopus.

That’s about it for us in 2021. Once we emerge fully from this pandemic hibernation, please come for a visit. We may look different with the gray hair and new beard, but we’re mostly the same as you remember. Stop on by. We’ll be here. Well, I might be walking the Great Wall of China, but if you shout loudly, I’ll probably hear you from the next street over.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!

Love, Ryland, Kelly, and Liam



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Kelly Barlow

Kelly Barlow

A writer for public relations, small town news and technical pubs. For 25 years I’ve written everyone else’s stories. Now it’s time to write my own.