The Best of 2021 Awards: Part III

by Just Juan
1487 views 10 min read

I’m rolling along with The Best of 2021. Parts I & II can be viewed here. Today is Part III…5 more randoms and moments from this calendar year of 2021.

BEST CHALLENGE. For Best Challenge of 2021, the qualifier is taking on something despite the odds being heavily skewed toward me failing. The nominees are:

  • Learning Spanish. In the lead-up to Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills, there were a number of people who told me that it would be difficult at my age. They cited my proficiency in grammar and of the English language as a limiting factor concerning a new language. The course was indeed tough. I was only 2 weeks into the 16-week course before I asked to be placed in a slower-paced class. It was an everyday battle. I honestly felt about 60/40 in favor of me doing enough to pass the third evaluation ahead of my meeting with my language supervisor. It was indeed a tough challenge. I acknowledged as much in this post. I started horribly but I finished masterfully to get the S-2/R-2.
  • The 365 Photography Project. Item 72 on my bucket list is to “complete a 365 Photography Project”. When I wrote the bucket list, I knew it would be one of the biggest tests of discipline I would face. Boy, was it ever. I was able to get through the first 134 days of 2021, mostly on the strength of the pictures required for my project in Photography II at Northern Virginia Community College in the spring. True to form, as I wrote it 8 years back, it was definitely heartbreaking to get that far in and fail. But I enjoyed the effort. I’ll do it again one day soon.
  • Running 100 miles in 100 hours. Mercedes and Ashton abandoned me a few days after the packout, leaving me to close out the DC era by myself. With my family gone and the townhouse down to the bare necessities I needed to survive for 25 days, I increased my physical fitness. I challenged myself to run 100 miles in 100 hours. With a really great running trail—that being Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge—in my immediate vicinity, I was cooking with grease. For 100 consecutive hours covering June 15-18, I made the attempt at accomplishing 100 miles of running. I tried the feat while trying to finish out Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills and Andean Republics & Southern Cone: Language Integrated. I woke up early and ran miles. I ran miles on my lunch breaks. I ran miles after class. I ran miles late at night. It was actually quite exhausting. When the clock expired on June 18, I was up to 57 miles run over the 100 hours. I failed but considering I was spending 6 hours a day in class and another 6 or so hours a night sleeping—not to mention all of the life stuff—I actually felt good about those miles.

And the Best Challenge of 2021 is…learning Spanish.

Featured Image: A screen grab of the word Spanish [Source: DFWChild]
Image: A 365 Photography Project [Source: Digital Photography School]
Image: Runners along the Prince William Parkway trail [Source: Active Prince William]


BEST NEW CLOTHING ITEM. For Best New Clothing Item of 2021, the qualifier is an article of clothing that was added to my wardrobe in 2021. The nominees are:

  • The O by Oscar de la Renta vest. On my birthday, I checked out No Time to Die for a 2nd time. I also spoiled myself a little bit, buying some new items for my wardrobe. I stopped in at the local Oscar de la Renta men’s store and I purchased 3 shirts. The best of the haul, however, was a burgundy puffer vest. I debuted it on November 2 with one of the shirts I copped out of that store. In the weeks since it’s been what I wear on Thursdays…something that will probably be routine for the remainder of my time in Bogotá. With there being no heating here, it’s definitely a clutch clothing item. I don’t have to sit on my hands to keep them warm at times during the day. I just slip them in those warm and comfortable pockets on the vest.
  • The Stacy Adams Altair Chelsea boots. In February, Mercedes presented me with a pair of black Chelsea boots. I guess that was her way of telling me that she wasn’t feeling the usage on my Timberland boots and my dress shoes. They are my first pair of Chelsea boots ever. As I was working virtually for most of the 1st half of 2021, there was really no need to wear them. I included them in the HHE shipment in June and reunited with them when the HHE arrived in October. I debuted them on October 26, when I went with the blue jeans/white dress shirt/white sweater vest combination. They felt good on my feet and they certainly complemented my swag.
  • The Embassy Bogotá cloth face mask. When I arrived here in Colombia, I had 2 masks: my red The Book of Juan mask and my black kaleidoscope pattern mask. In my early weeks around the Embassy, I saw many of my colleagues wearing navy blue masks with the Embassy Bogotá wordmark on one side and the Department of State seal on the other. I wanted to be part of the team so I asked around for one of them. A friend in the Property section of the General Services Office hooked me up. I debuted it on November 2 and now I wear it on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. It doesn’t feel any different than my other masks but it does allow me to feel like I’m representing.

And the Best New Clothing Item of 2021 is…the Embassy Bogotá face mask. 

Image: The collective nominees for Best New Clothing Item


BEST NEW MUSIC TRACK. For Best New Music Track of 2021, the qualifier is a music track I heard for the first time in 2021. It does not mean that the music track was released in 2021. The nominees are:

  • “All I Ever Wanted” by Incognito featuring Maysa, from In Search of Better Days. Way back on January 19th, I came across the unmistakable voice of the great Maysa Leak with this track. Thinking it was new music from her, it was actually my first listen at an Incognito track. Interestingly enough, it was the first time I heard from the famed British acid jazz band since I rocked hard to Tales from the Beach with The Bodacious Brit back in 2009. The track certainly did not disappoint. The lyrics and the music were spectacular. The Maysa ad lib at the end endeared the track to me in a way similar to what Corrine Bailey Rae did in the last 15 seconds on “Breathless”.
  • “Where Do You Want To Go” by Lindsey Webster, from Back To Your Heart. My discovery of this track came while listening to SiriusXM Watercolors on New Year’s Day and it’s been a mainstay all year. I’m no stranger to Webster as her Love Inside hit, “A Love Before”, was a frequent play on jazz stations all across the United States last year. With “Where Do You Want To Go”, I was particularly drawn in by the piano play that complemented the percussions and guitars. It’s definitely a great song to listen to in live concert.
  • “No Time to Die” by Billie Eilish, from No Time to Die: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Of course, the theme from the Best New Film of 2021 makes the cut as a Best New Music Track nominee. Much like Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” captivated me in 2015, Billie Eilish moved me with “No Time to Die”. I was just a very casual fan of hers before this…now I’m a whole damn air conditioner. The lyrics are so appropriate for the plot of the film. Even more, they were appropriate for part of my own life. It applies to a couple of past relationships. It also applies to my strained experiences in the National Capital Region, which were much closer to death than they were to paradise.
  • “Wait” by Alex Isley & Jack Dine, from Wilton. In the wee hours of June 30, I was in an Uber making the trip from the Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Downtown to the Indianapolis International Airport. The driver had the R&B music flowing in her ride and that’s when I discovered this Alex Isley & Jack Dine collaboration. I was really feeling the way the track opened with the Isley melodies over Dine’s piano. The speed of the lyrics against the percussions was really, really good. But the way the beat dropped around 50 seconds in made the track a superstar in my book. It cemented its spot amongst the nominees from that point forward.

And the Best New Music Track of 2021 is…”All I Ever Wanted”.


BEST SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOW. For Best Social Media Follow in 2021, the qualifier is that it’s a human being with a presence on a major social media platforms that I’m part of—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit. The nominees are:

  • @tonybaker via Instagram. I’ve been following the Los Angeles-based comedian for 5 years now and he’s as funny as they come. His animal voiceovers are the stuff of legends. I especially love the Chris Wagner & Buddy Tubbs commentaries…the whole “oh you gotdamn right, Chris” and the “Kirkpatrick” gets me every time. He really endeared himself to me as the ultimate professional when he suffered a tremendous personal tragedy with the loss of his son in a horrific car accident. When the expectation of the world would’ve been for him to shut it down for a few months—kind of like Jennifer Hudson did when members of her family were killed—but Tony kept the show going.
  • @GhettoBasquiat via Twitter. This is one of my good friends on Twitter. He’s based out of Detroit and I really like how he keeps it real on the timelines. He’s as straight a shooter as they come. He’s quick to fire off tweets about self-deprecating humor and taboo subjects but he’s well-regarded for his Saturday night questionnaires.
  • @UnsuckDCMetro via Twitter. I’ve been following this Northern Virginia-based tweeter since 2016 when I moved back to the National Capital Region and discovered that the Washington Metro did indeed suck donkey balls. It’s a largely anonymous account and he takes WMATA to task over their incompetence quite often. I actually think he got famed labor activist Jackie Jeter to “retire”. He’s one of the few people that truly understands what perfect rail transit looks like because, like me, he lived in Japan at one time as well.
  • @PersnicketyK via Twitter. Hailing out of Atlanta, she is probably one of the nicest, most brutal tweeters on the platform. She’s definitely the queen of comebacks that will leave you momentarily stunned. She usually doesn’t spare feelings and she’s often armed with a “this is nut s***” retort and the GIF of Gary puking in Team America: World Police if she comes across something she feels is out of line.
  • Dedra Miller via Facebook. My former colleague from the Domino’s Pizza days and the author of this contribution in the first installment of “A Mother’s Love”. She doesn’t know it but she actually keeps me up-to-date on all things Birmingham with her sharing of major news in the city. We sometimes have rather spirited disagreements on the feed…mostly over politics as I believe she’s heart of the ocean 🔵 and I, of course, am politically neutral though I lean 🔴 on some of the things we disagree on. All in all, she’s great peeps. It’s always love with her…and that goes back all the way to 2001.

And the Best Social Media Follow of 2021 is…@GhettoBasquiat.

Image: The @GhettoBasquiat Twitter avatar [Source: @GhettoBasquiat via Twitter]
Image: The @UnsuckDCMetro Twitter avatar [Source: @UnsuckDCMetro via Twitter]
Image: The @tonybaker Instagram avatar [Source: @tonybaker via Instagram]
Image: The @PersnicketyK Twitter avatar [Source: @PersnicketyK via Twitter]
Image: The Dedra Miller profile picture [Source: Dedra Miller via Facebook]


BEST CHARITABLE MOMENT. For Best Charitable Moment of 2021, the qualifier is a specific moment in which I gave away something valuable for absolutely free to someone who would probably have otherwise not received it. The nominees are:

  • The Leftover Household Stuff Giveaway. We didn’t bring everything with us to Bogotá. There were some things left behind after the packout in June. I didn’t want to fool around with trying to sell it on Facebook Marketplace and the Salvation Army was straight up trippin’ when they said they could send someone to pick it up at their next available date in September. So I joined one of those Buy Nothing Project groups for my neighborhood in Woodbridge. I took pictures of all of the stuff and posted it. All of the others in the group basically gave away their stuff on a first contact, first get it basis. I felt that may put people who probably need the free items more at a disadvantage because some prowler who had nothing better to do than hoard stuff contacted first. So I made it into a contest. I did “guess a number I’m thinking” or “guess the Olympic city I’m thinking” and revealed the winner that way. It leveled the playing field. It ended up being a good thing because a really serviceable 3-piece dresser, chest, and nightstand set that I gave away ended up with a pleasant Paraguayan family that was amongst the last to respond to the contest. They were quite thankful that I gave away the items the way I did because they would have otherwise missed out…likely to the community hoarder who entered multiple answers and tried to rig the contest.
  • The Katana Giveaway. One thing the packers forgot to send to Bogotá was the katana I had custom-made during my time in Japan. I didn’t realize this until I was doing a walkthrough with the landlord a week before I was to return possession of the townhouse. There was no way I could take it with me on the plane and I didn’t have space in the Jeep to take it to Birmingham. I certainly couldn’t send it through USPS to the diplomatic post office box and they would’ve laughed at me if I tried to send it through the diplomatic pouch. I was resigned to the fact that I would have to part ways with it. That sword was way too special to give away in the Buy Nothing group and I don’t think Goodwill would have taken it as it’s technically a weapon that could kill somebody. So I decided to give it to my barber. I figured he could add it to the ambiance of his shop. He was excited to have it and I felt good knowing that one of my most prized possessions would live on in great hands.
  • The PlayStation 3 Giveaway. The prevailing thought ahead of the move, for me, was that I would acquire a PlayStation 5 here, in Colombia. Knowing that almost half of the country lives in poverty and that very few of the other half possess the leisure finances to waste on a game console, I figured I’d just buy here. I made the decision to donate the Sony PlayStation 3, which I had possessed since January 2008. I was going to simply leave it in the Goodwill after-hours bin but as I stopped at a Wawa a couple of blocks away, I saw a mother and her son walking out of the store. I took a chance and asked if the young boy had a gaming console. The mother said he did not…that he just had the computer he got from school. Immediately, in my head, I kinda thought this was a family of need. So I offered the PS3 and my collection of games. The mother was taken by surprise. She kept asking if I was serious…and I kept saying I was. She accepted and the young boy seemed very happy. I hope that turned out well for them.

And the Best Charitable Moment of 2021 is…the PlayStation 3 giveaway.


We are halfway through The Best of 2021. Tune in tomorrow for Part IV.

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Cynthia | What A Girl Eats December 29, 2021 - 9:48 am

What an interesting list Juan. I love that you’re pushing yourself and learning new things. I’m trying to learn Italian this year. Love your list of music! Happy new year!

Thena Franssen December 29, 2021 - 10:40 am

This was great to read. A lot of these are new to me but just means I have to do some research and dig deeper!

Marysa December 29, 2021 - 10:42 am

What a fun list. I enjoyed seeing what made the cut this year! I’ll have to check out some of these things.

Catherine December 29, 2021 - 1:25 pm

Well, congrats to all the nominees! What a great way to end the year off on…thanks for highlighting these great and impactful accounts!

Stephanie December 30, 2021 - 9:45 am

I’ve been doing Project365 with photos for a few years now! You can get an app that reminds you at a specific time to take a photo. I do a general one then a photo of both my kids for every day. There’s also one called “One Second Everyday” or 1SE which is 1 second of video for every day. I love doing that one, too!

Just Juan December 31, 2021 - 4:37 pm

Thanks for the comment. I’ll definitely look into a reminder app. I may try again as early as New Year’s Day.


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