My annual year-end recap is my favorite post to write each year, as it’s an excuse to exercise gratitude and take time to look back and document everything that happened in the past 12 months for prosperity. And there were truly so many 2022 highlights, I hardly know where to begin.
2022 in my career
My career has taken so many twists and turns over the past three years that I’ve learned just to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
I love the photography side of what we do, and it’s definitely a facet of our work we’ll continue to morph into something even bigger in 2023. Our portfolio in the last year alone included international brand photography, corporate headshots, political candidate mailers, tourism marketing imagery and so much more. We also completed a 10-county photography project for a state tourism grant.
Five years ago, I swore I would never do family photography, for a few reasons: It’s such a hustle, it’s something I love and didn’t want to spoil by making it part of my job, and it’s so. much. work. But as many friends and friends of friends and friends of my sister starting having kids, I started giving into requests.
In 2022 alone, I captured more than 400 individuals via family and studio shoots, not including events. That’s insane to me! A goal for next year is to figure out a way to build an actual photo studio in my home, which might require adding on.
I also started taking on more event gigs: Together, SVV and I shot all of the town of Bell Buckle’s banner events, while I personally photographed three separate Christmas / Breakfast with Santa events and several shindigs at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. (aka George Dickel).
Writing and editing
Gone are the days when I desired to write 10 articles a week (or even a month), but I did produce well over 75 stories for clients in 2022, many of which were through long-term writing contracts, including being a writer for Angi/Home Advisor. This gig lasted roughly a year, and you can read my portfolio of home renovation projects and tips here. I also took another contract with a fintech company, with whom I’ve worked over the past three years, to help flesh out content for their new millennial-esque brand Lantern.
In 2022, I continued my seventh year as the Tennessee writer for AAA Living and I also filed stories for Preferred Travel, Washington Post, Bourbon+ and several other consumer magazines. Additionally, I appeared on the cover of AAA Living, which was wild, as this publication goes out to millions of AAA members across the United States. I think I heard from more old acquaintances when I popped into their mailbox than I did the years I popped into their living room on the Travel Channel.
Professional speaking and conferences
After two years of conferences being canceled due to **you know what** it was great to be back on the lineup at several conferences I love. I was the dinner speaker at Blizzard produced by Hospitality Tennessee in Manchester in March, then I was on a panel at the third and final TravelCon in Memphis the following month.
I was the opening speaker in Huntsville at North Alabama’s annual meeting in September, and I attended other conferences I’ve spoken at in the past, including Rural Tourism Conference and Tennessee’s Governor’s Conference, as a representative for our nonprofit.
For 2023, I’ve already committed to speaking at three tourism and media conferences, as well as serve on the advisory committee for the Tennessee Governor’s Conference.
While it doesn’t seem (to me, at least) like I’ve blogged at all this past year, in the 17th year of Camels & Chocolate, I published 41 posts, a far cry from the eight to 12 I averaged monthly back in the good ol’ days. Blogging is a much different beast than it was a decade ago, and each post takes me at least three times longer when it comes down to fact-checking, photo-editing and coding, not to mention the distribution via email newsletter, Facebook, Twitter (RIP), LinkedIn, etc. Plus, my life is just significantly busier, and that’s OK.
Instead of spending all my allocated blogging time writing new posts, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of my most popular older posts—which mostly comprise Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Savannah content—and updating them as needed.
In 2023, I’d like to get back to a more consistent schedule of blogging one to two times a week if possible, but I also am not going to beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. “Acceptance” of reality and my personal bandwidth may just end up being my theme for this coming year.
Marketing is still my biggest love in what we do, because it fuses what I think are our collective strengths—storytelling, photography, distribution and communication skills—into one greater strategy to benefit the brands and DMOs that we work with.
Our 2022 highlights included some great tourism marketing projects, including starting as editorial directors for Experience Tennessee, the 13-county tourism arm for the region in which we live.
2022 in travels
Our 2022 highlights in travel kicked off with a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida with Emilie for our annual nonprofit board retreat. February we were home mostly, dealing with the aftermath of my dad’s death and working on pressing house projects.
In March, my mom and I went to Palm Springs for the annual Indian Wells tennis tournament, then SVV and I took that make-up trip to Holland that we had originally booked for spring 2020. We spent 10 days retracing the first year—we met living in Utrecht in 2005—and, more than anything, dodging the rain that didn’t abate until we left.
Our first week in April was spent abroad, then SVV started painting a massive commercial space in downtown Columbia while I went to Memphis for a tourism conference. May took us to Florida with my immediate family, cousins and best bud Katy, and we had a blast doing a lot of nothing but drinking bourbon and completing puzzles.
In June, we had our first family reunion in over a decade in the Smoky Mountains, hosted the Wailing Loons for their sixth Bonnaroo, then flew to our very favorite city Savannah the following week for a content project with the CVB.
We went back to Europe the following month, this time with our 18-year-old niece Kiva in tow. She had not traveled much out of California, let alone left the country, so our trip started with four days in New York City, then a few in Lake Como, followed by 10 days in Switzerland. It was an absolute dream.
August had me at home all month with a brief visit from Emilie, and SVV went back in California to see his family. In September, we flew up to Albany to see our friend Nicole in the Catskills, then we took a train to D.C. to see our foreign service friends off to their next overseas posts.
In November, we went to rural Alabama for a conference, then turned around and flew to Turks and Caicos for my best friend Katy’s birthday. That month, I also went to the Blue Ridge Mountains with my mom and sister to visit my mom’s lifelong best friend Melissa.
The year ended with a third trip to Memphis, which feels like a second home at this point, to spend the holidays with my cousins. This is pretty much what those four days looked like.
2022 in public art
This year, we made a calculated decision in that we cut off our deadline for managing nonprofit projects for the year back in May. That meant any projects that cities reached out to us about that weren’t already contracted had to be kicked back to the following year. This helps us be a more productive nonprofit and affords our artists the respect of giving them more time to plan.
Our year in public art kicked off with an installation in Lawrenceburg by Megan Lingerfelt that was part of an 18-month project funded by the NEA. Then, when Manchester backed out of our Walls for Women program, we painted the entire alley and put Daria Hammond’s work up in Tullahoma instead.
The year ended with pair of murals in Sweetwater that were funded by the city and the Tennessee Arts Commission: Hurrah! by Jenny Ustick and QuackWalk by Atalie Gagnet and Chase Melendez. And hopefully, this is only the start—four murals in 18 months—of many more to come for the sweetest city in Tennessee.
We’re already working on a half-dozen other public art projects for spring and early summer—next up: Tracy City and Madisonville—and I can’t wait to share more about them down the line! It’s also hard to believe that the fifth year of running a nonprofit is quickly coming to a close and we’ll soon be starting our sixth year of doing this community improvement work (at least, officially).
2022, for me personally
So much of 2022 was colored by my dad’s death, which took place just three weeks into the year. The rest of my life will forever be marked by “before 2022” and “after Dad’s death.” Last year’s recap ironically read “I’m grateful everyone is still alive,” and I had the wind knocked out of me just now rereading that line and realizing how much can change in 12 short months.
I wasn’t alone in suffering a major loss this year, as many friends went through similar, and each blow, it felt like a new splinter drove a wedge into my heart. Is it just me or did 2022 seem to top 2020 in tragedy? I’m excited to get beyond the first anniversary on Jan. 25 and no longer think of everything in terms of “this is the first [Christmas/birthday/family vacation] without Dad.”
SVV and I have been married for 13 years and are in our 18th year of being together as a couple, which is impossible as I barely feel older than 21 most days.
Charlotte (4) and Mac (2) are my two favorite people in the world beyond my husband, and I have the best time hanging out with them regularly. I’m a bit in denial that Charlotte will be starting kindergarten this year, but hopefully, she still thinks I’m cool for another year or two at least!
2022 in real estate
The oddest thing that happened this year was selling my very first house on the day my dad died. It had obviously been in the works for some time, but we left the hospital to go to the closing of Myrtle, the investment property we’d tinkered on for four years.
We still own our Nashville rental properties and the Queen Anne Victorian in Manchester that we bought 11 years ago. Our commercial tenants just renewed their lease for another three years, and we’ll be back over that way this year to repaint the exterior and do some other necessary maintenance. Owning a 124-year-old house always seems to require something!
The Cedar House kitchen remodel is finally finished, and we did some other big (or rather, expensive) projects like the closet builds, designing a more robust home security system and installing studio lighting.
Next year will probably be more of the same, including a second coat of the pine-tar finish we applied last year to seal in the 30-year-old cedar that had previously been left untreated prior to us purchasing the house four years ago.
Speaking of, four years! It’s been four years since we bought the Cedar House and moved back to my hometown. We love this home, and I’m hoping SVV will let me stay here a good, long while to truly enjoy all the time and sweat equity we’ve invested in fixing this neglected beauty up.
2022: the Greatest Hits
Some other things that are notable from the year:
- Books read: 50. I’m aiming for 75 this year, and am already on book nine. Here’s my full reading list.
- Paint used: 90 gallons
- Countries visited: 7
- States visited: 9
- Miles driven: 17,000, a bit more than our 14,000-mile average, but we had a lot of work in the South this year.
- Flights flown: 15, not including connections, a significant decline (and welcome change) from the years I flew weekly!
- Photos taken: more than 30,000…
In summary when reviewing my 2022 highlights, I’ll simply quote George Bailey and say, it really is a wonderful life. Thanks for sticking around yet another year!