2021: Year in Review

2021: Year in Review

No matter who you ask, 2021 was a unique year. It was the first full year that the world has seen a pandemic of this scale in recent history. For many, it was a year of adjustment. For some, it was a year of great loss or great triumph, due to factors that have not been in play previously in our lifetimes, such as bountiful remote work opportunities.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I got to experience more of the world this year, and in general, more of what life has to offer in the realms of love, travel, housing, and beyond. This year flew by in a blink, and I feel that I ought to highlight the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly, before it is lost to time and accessible only via fuzzy memories.

Without further ado:

The Great

1. I got married!! <3

2021 OCT 30-394.jpg

I met Sam Martylewski on March 14, 2018, when we sent each other our first messages on Tinder. I was working 3 jobs on my college campus at the time, waiting for my chance to return for my final semester in the fall. I had just left a relationship of 3 1/2 years with someone I had been engaged to, only to realize my heart was no longer in it. This was to say I was in a fragile emotional place when Sam found me, but we had something special from the beginning. She stuck around in spite of the mess she found me in, and we nurtured each other's delicate hearts and grew our life together into something magical.

I finally proposed to her on September 5, 2020, at the Anderson Japanese Gardens (highly recommend!), and she said yes! We got married this year in Door County, and it was beautiful in every way. The date was October 31, 2021, and the weather was just perfect. Our families and friends showed up to help out and support us, and it's a day neither of us will soon forget.

2. Our honeymoon took us to Seattle and Las Vegas!

When Sam and I met, I don't think either of us thought we'd ever be able to afford a honeymoon, considering we both worked in low-paying service industry jobs. But our dreams came true this year on our luxurious trip to Seattle and Las Vegas! Between November 3 - 11, we had the privilege of staying in a Seattle hotel with a view of Mount Rainier (on a clear day), a cozy room in Caesar's Palace (there was no tiger in the bathroom, thank goodness), and experiencing an extravagant suite on the 30th floor of the Bellagio, with a view of the famous Bellagio fountain and all of its water shows.

In addition to the places we stayed, we went on all sorts of adventures. We saw the Space Needle, zoomed around on rideshare scooters in downtown Seattle, had some chowder from Pike Place Market, gambled at Caesar's Palace and the Bellagio, took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, rode on the High Roller, and so much more than I could possibly detail in a single post. Suffice to say it was an excellent introduction to the western half of the country, and a wonderful first experience flying together.

Here are a few highlights!

The view of Mount Rainier from the W in Seattle:


The view from the top of the Space Needle:


The view from the 30th floor of the Bellagio overlooking the fountain & Vegas strip:


The floor of the Grand Canyon, during our stop for lunch:


3. I was promoted to SDET!

My journey in tech started in 2017 when I started learning how to code on freeCodeCamp. Since then, I've been using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to make projects for fun or for boosting my chances of getting my first developer job. I traveled through the Support Team at Fetch Rewards to arrive at the QA team, and I spent a year learning the art of functional testing on mobile, web, and the back end. After that first year, I was promoted to the role of SDET on February 15, 2021, which was a major step for me!

SDETs are developers who write tests for an application that is worked on by feature developers. I've already learned a ton this year about what goes into writing end-to-end tests for mobile features and back-end workflows, as well as how to collaborate with other developers on a team in a remote environment.

4. We got a kitty!

Her name is Minnie! <3


She was part of the "Lonely Hearts Club" at the Dane County Humane Society, probably because she was an old lady! She's 16 1/2 years and a total sweetie. We're so lucky nobody else scooped her up first!

5. We moved to Sun Prairie!

Sam and I have wanted to live near Madison for years. Together, we made this dream a reality this year. In early January, we moved to Sun Prairie, which is only 20 minutes outside of Madison. It's got all the wonderful chain restaurants and retailers we love, without any of the traffic of downtown Madison. We're close enough to Madison that we can drive there for dates without an issue, and we're very close to the East Towne Mall.

The place we found has everything we wanted in an apartment and more! We could easily stay here for years until we decide to either upgrade apartments or move into a house. Our favorite features:

  • A deck, where we now have 2 hammocks for lounging in good weather
  • Island in the kitchen and tons of counter space
  • Laminate flooring, with cozy carpeting in the 3 bedrooms
  • 3 bedrooms, so we can each have an office for remote work
  • More than double the space we had in the old apartment (621 sq. ft. in the old apartment vs. 1430 in this one)

The Good

1. Got vaccinated & did not catch COVID!

Sam and I went to get vaccinated in April and May (1st and 2nd doses), because we wanted to ensure 2021 would not come with an increased risk of catching COVID. As far as we're concerned, it worked! Neither of us got sick this year.

2. Ran my first half marathon!

From May all the way through early October, I followed a training plan from the Marathon Handbook, which took me first from 5k to 10k, and then from 10k to Half Marathon. I never considered myself capable of traveling 13.1 miles, so this was awesome as a way to prove to myself that consistent effort does eventually pay off. I've always been impatient when it comes to working out, so this was good for me in that respect. That said, I started it because I hoped it would help me lose weight as a byproduct of completing something so physically challenging. As it turns out, cardio isn't the only ingredient in a weight loss plan (surprise, surprise, you can't outrun a bad diet).




My lovely wife-to-be took this photo of me at the event. My sister and her came out to support me, which honestly made the whole thing a lot more fun. I'm brimming with energy in this photo because I haven't started the race yet.

3. Visited 2 out of the world's 6 Starbucks Reserve Roastery locations

We traveled to Chicago a few times this year for work, and while we were there, we wanted to make the most of it! So, we made a point to go see the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and see all 4 floors. We are well-known by our friends and family as Starbucks fanatics, so this was really fun for us.


Initially, our honeymoon was going to be in Spain, but since I was a dummy and forgot to keep my passport somewhere safe, we ended up needing a new plan! So, we thought about places we'd wanted to visit for a long time, and Seattle came up. Among other reasons, we knew Starbucks had its origins there. So while we were there, we made it a point to go see the city's Starbucks Reserve Roastery.



This salmon & cream cheese croissant is too good to pass up. I had it at both the Chicago and Seattle roasteries. I'm going to make it a point to have one at every roastery I visit going forward.

4. Traveling & Exploring

We went to some cool places and tried some new things together this year! Here's a short list:

  • Door County: Newport Beach State Park and Sister Bay
  • Mall of America: Axe throwing, laser tag, Nickelodeon World, Rainforest Cafe
  • House on the Rock
  • Henry Vilas Zoo 5K
  • Our first Christmas photoshoot (for Christmas cards)!
  • Couples photoshoot at a sunflower field

5. Started rock climbing!

I've always had my eye on 2 disciplines ever since I got into parkour, just because they're always in my favorite action movies and they have some philosophical similarities with parkour: rock climbing and kung fu.

Well, this year, after moving to Sun Prairie, I noticed there was a rock climbing gym only 12 minutes away by car. This is the closest I've ever lived to a rock climbing facility, so I just went for it. I got in with a day pass to try it out with a buddy from work who had some rock climbing experience, and I totally loved it! I got a full membership, went and got some rock climbing shoes from REI, and recently I bought this Elmo chalk bag I've been eyeing ever since I started going. The gym's called Boulders Climbing Gym if you felt like checking it out, too, assuming you're in the area.

I'm still not very good, and I've got a lot of finger strength left to build, but I'm excited to go there more often in 2022 now that I'm not running 4 days a week for 40 minutes to an hour, and may have some more energy to lend to it.



1. Gained 15 pounds

I started the year with a goal of shedding some pounds of fat so I could return to my optimal weight of 200 pounds from my college days. I weighed 230 pounds most of the year, up until the honeymoon, where I gained 15 pounds of what I can confidently say isn't muscle, but more likely the delicious carbs and alcohol we enjoyed on our travels.

While I wouldn't dream of taking back the honeymoon or my food choices, I consider this a bit of a loss and I hope I can make it to 200 pounds in 2022.

2. Lost my passport

I had thought my passport was safe all year in a specific secure place in my office closet. I was wrong, and to make matters worse, I only found out 3 weeks before our trip was supposed to happen. I did my darnedest to try to secure a new one in time for the trip, but it became far too stressful for both of us with a minimal chance of a payoff. Eventually, we rescheduled the trip to April 2022, and opted for Seattle & Vegas as an alternate honeymoon plan.

In retrospect, now that I've gotten my new passport paperwork submitted, I know that even going to the Chicago Passport Agency to get my passport same-day would have been a mistake, because I had to make 3 total trips to the Post Office due to problems with my paperwork that were found the first 2 times I tried to submit it. As it turns out, things happened exactly the way they would have anyway.

On the plus side, my new passport will say that I'm married and it'll have an up-to-date picture and address! The last time I renewed it was 2016, which was practically a lifetime ago.

3. Did not get my COVID booster

I only say this now because in retrospect, if I had known that Europe was going to start requiring the booster to travel to Spain, I'd have gotten it immediately once it became available. I've already set up my appointment for January, but it'd have been nice to have all of that behind me in 2021. I hate shots.


1. We lost Poopie in September (or Lily, as she was originally named)

The timing couldn't have been worse, but I doubt we'd ever have been ready for this. It was right before the wedding, which we had planned for her to be a part of as our Dog of Honor (we had an embroidered bandana and everything). September 1 was the best and most heartbreaking day of Poopie's life. We took her on the biggest adventure of her lifetime, to Devil's Lake, to the waterfall at Pewits Nest, the big pink elephant in DeForest, and we gave her some tasty food we knew she loved. She got a puppucino at Starbucks, some chicken wings, and a crab rangoon. We spent time with her on the hammocks, on the couch, and rolled her around in a stroller wherever we went, because her back legs were not working well anymore.

When we had to take her to get put down, it was the hardest decision either of us has ever had to make. The vet had informed us that she had only a week to live just the day before, and we had already planned to spend the weekend in Door County. It was Wednesday, and our plan was to leave on Friday, so there was a chance she'd pass away at a boarding facility while we were out of town. We wanted to be there for her last moments, so we made the hard choice to have our favorite vet do the difficult thing. Our vet even wrote us a sweet card to express her condolences and all the love she felt for our little Poopie. Everywhere that pup went, people fell in love with her.

We still have her ashes in safe storage as a reminder of her, and our favorite picture of her on our fridge. This is that photo:


Cheers to 2021, let's go 2022!

For all the bad stuff that happened, my wife, Sam, and I feel enormously blessed for the good stuff. Happy or sad, joyous or regretful, all the moments of 2021 have brought she and I closer together and we're so excited to have our first year as a married couple and as cat parents. It's gonna be a year to remember, we can just feel it!