20 things I liked in 2020

2020 has been a no good, very bad year. In no particular order, here are some things that I enjoyed in the midst of it.

James Edward Dillard
7 min readDec 31, 2020
Hiking above the Engadin Valley in Switzerland, one of my favorite places I visited in 2020


Things I read

The Browser. A daily digest of five recommended articles, a podcast, and a video on… basically anything, as long as it’s interesting. Consistently introduces me to things I love learning about. Some of my favorite discoveries from it include:

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. A book about the mental aspect of playing tennis. It’s one thing to say that you should quiet your mind for peak performance, but this book actually talks you through how to do it. Applicable for me personally and professionally despite having not played tennis in a decade. I plan on rereading it in 2021.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. A Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist’s story of finding meaning in the worst circumstances imaginable. It gets its credibility from the author’s story. Frankl states definitively that purpose is what gives us the ability to endure suffering and that the ability to chose how we respond to situations, to live well in the face of unavoidable suffering, can give our lives meaning. Worth reading and struggling with, especially if you disagree.

The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter by Jason Kottke. I’ve come back to this post many times over the course of the pandemic. Sparked by an article in Fast Company about why people in Nordic countries don’t experience seasonal depression as often as might be expected, he talks about his experience learning to view winter as something to be enjoyed rather than endured and the benefits that has brought him. I enjoy winter, so the concept of appreciating the cold and dark season because of what is unique about it clicked for me, and I’ve been able to apply it to other situations. Most seasons in life are a mixture of good and bad and to the extent you can focus on what makes them uniquely good, you are the one that benefits.

Things I listened to

ChinaTalk by Jordan Schneider. A weekly English language conversation about China with amazing guests and an even better host. Because China touches so many parts of modern life, it doubles as an interesting conversation about just about anything. The host is an excellent interviewer and incredibly well prepared for every episode. Some of my favorite episodes include:

Wild Things by Scott Carney and Laura Krantz. A podcast fro 2018, but new to me this year. Think Serial season one but for Big Foot. All I’ll say is, I’m no longer willing to say with that Big Foot doesn’t exist.

Flying Coach by Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll. Inspired by the time off due to the pandemic, the championship winning coaches did a limited series on coaching, analytics, draft strategies, and race relations. In contrast with a lot of other media, there is so much genuine positivity that is a part of Coach Kerr and Carroll’s personalities, and this comes across in the show — they’re always talking about how to get better, to be more prepared or more resilient. This was a major part of my athletic experience growing up, but it was something that I had left behind. No longer!

Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting. A podcast about the 1990s fight over protecting the old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. A story about environmentalism, industry, and politics. After a lot of wreckage along the way, the story ends on a legitimately hopeful note as the people who represent the different interests involved find a way to talk to each other, compromise, and make progress.

Things I watched

The Last Dance, the story of Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. It was so good to have MJ back in my life again. I fell in love with the NBA during the second threepeat and it was great to relive it. I was too young for his early career and the first threepeat and it was amazing to see just how dynamic he was.

Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent), the story of a talent agency in the French film industry. Think Entourage in Paris. If you found yourself watching Emily in Paris for the scenery but cringing at the story, this is a great replacement. In French, which is part of it’s charm. I watched with subtitles but still loved hearing the language, despite my inability to understand it.

Soul. The story of a musician who unexpectedly finds himself in the afterlife on the day of his big break. The rare movie that everyone says is great and actually lives up to it.


Marco Polo: If FaceTime is a video phone call, then Marco Polo is a video voicemail. In the year that invented Zoom fatigue, it’s been an easy way to share life. My mom and I share a message almost every day.

Duolingo: Not exactly a new discovery, but a new depth of enjoyment. This year I really committed do doing a German lesson every day and more often than not, made it happen. I found that this discipline was something that made everything else more manageable — und ich habe viel Deutsch gelernt!

Things I ate

Hühnersuppe (Chicken Soup) (recipe in German): A Swiss recipe for chicken soup that starts with a Suppenhuhn — a scraggly, older chicken that wouldn’t be good as a roasted chicken, but is perfect for soup. I’m not sure if you can buy these in the US, but I loved this recipe. Make it on the weekend and have it for lunch all week.

Gnocchi with Mushrooms: Definitely our break out recipe of 2020. Great as described at the link, but we now transform it pretty substantially. We fry some sausage on the stove top and add it, along with some frozen spinach, keeping the rest of the recipe the same. Hearty and delicious.

Swiss Things

2020 was my second year living abroad in Zürich, Switzerland. Here are some of my favorite things I learned about my host country.

In Switzerland, the walk to school is a part of the education. American children typically get sent to the school closest to their house, but Swiss children get sent to a school at least so far away from their home so they can learn how to get there, how to be on time. This starts really young — like elementary school. I learned this from an expat colleague who was befuddled when his daughter wasn’t sent to the school a five minute walk down the hill from his house.

Swiss hospital food is legitimately good, like restaurant quality. This is one of those common knowledge things that Swiss people just know. I’d heard this before, but experienced it first hand when my daughter was born. The food was easily nice restaurant quality. I don’t know why this is, but I hope to find out.

The Swiss Recycling system was born out of a desire to be self reliant. The Swiss Recycling system is one of the most effective in the world — 94% of cans and glass bottles are recycled. How did this come to be? Switzerland’s neighbors stopped accepting waste from the country and it decided that it needed to become self reliant, thus adopting a policy where anything that can’t be recycled is incinerated and pushing much more efficient recycling policies.

Places I went

Engadin Valley, Switzerland (pictured above). We stayed in Celerina, rather than the more famous St. Moritz or Pontresina. Recommended for summer time hiking. A typically Swiss area where towns alternate between speaking Italian, Romansh, and German.

Pompeii, Italy. We went in February, right before the pandemic ended travel for the year. Pairs well with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. After seeing it in person, I’d consider it to be on the must-see list of historical sites. Perfect during the off season when it wasn’t crowded or hot.

Honorable mentions

Finding Van Gogh by the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. About the hunt for Van Gogh’s last painting, a portrait of Dr. Gachet. The rare mystery podcast that reaches something like a conclusion and an enjoyable journey even if you have only a basic understanding of Van Gogh and his art.

Oven Roasted Whole Chicken: One of my 2020 goals was to master roasting a whole chicken in the oven. I tried a bunch different recipes, but this was my favorite. Cutting the legs (step 5 at the link) makes it easy to see when it’s done. I cook it over cubed potatoes and cover it in olive oil instead of butter.

Beaune, France. The center of the Burgundy wine region in France and an excellent jumping off point for the region’s wine villages, which you can walk or bike between. Relaxing, medival city that has (mostly) turned it’s old medieval wall into a walking path.