Normally, at the end of the year, I take the time to reflect and set new goals/intentions for the new year. I did that, but what I wrote was pretty depressing and I think we could all use more light in our lives — so instead of that post, I offer you this: a list of things I started doing in earnest this year while the world was upside-down.
Think of it as a gratitude list and recommendations for your own life. There’s beauty and joy in the everyday and mundane. And the good things deserve more attention.
12 Things I’m Taking from 2020
1. Homemade masks with built-in jokes.
We’re all going to be wearing masks while we’re out and about for the foreseeable future. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I made a few of my own, including this one which I think is hilarious.
I had a pile of fabric on hand for embroidery projects and the social distancing / space joke occurred to me almost right away (notice the celestial bodies in the background). Some people get it; other people don’t and I’m convinced just judge me, but the times I’ve gotten cashiers to laugh or smile from beneath their own masks have been worthwhile. Even if no one else notices, I’m smirking most of the time I wear this one.
2. A quick way of making homemade scalloped potatoes for one person.
Over the last couple months, I’ve had some inspiration to try different things in the kitchen. I roasted a chicken in November and then used the carcass to make broth for a couple soups. I also, for the first time in my life, made homemade scalloped potatoes. I love scalloped potatoes, along with just about everything involving potatoes, milk, and cheese, but they always seemed too labor-intensive to make for one person. Wrong. After making them the traditional way (in the oven), I started making them a faster way on the stove. Here’s my made-up recipe if you want to try:
- Peel potato(es) and slice into thin ovals.
- Put in a pot with water and boil until soft.
- Drain water. Add milk to cover the bottom of the pot. Turn on low heat.
- Mix flour with water in a measuring cup (2:1) and add to pot with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Add shredded cheese and parmesan (if desired).
- Stir together, aiming to blend the sauce and cover the potatoes without breaking them apart. (Add more milk if needed.)
- Once the sauce has thickened and smells/tastes right, remove from heat and serve.
I usually do this recipe with one large potato. It’s enough for two servings (I just had some this week).
One time last winter, before coronavirus was on the radar, my roommate and I went snowshoeing together on a Saturday morning. It was cold and beautiful. I wore borrowed snowshoes and easily could have stayed out there until sunset.
Almost a year later, I crunched some numbers, rounded up my Christmas money, and ordered my own snowshoes so I can go again as much as I want (staying away from avalanche territory, of course). Bad news: My pair is backordered and probably won’t be restocked until the end of January. But they’ll arrive with plenty of winter left to get in some freezing cold, snow-sparkled walks in the woods.
Also, in case you didn’t know, I like winter. A lot.
If one thing from this year should get the award for Most Valuable Player, it’s embroidery. I decided at the beginning of 2020 that I wanted to make it my new hobby (I’ve actually wanted to embroider since I was a little kid), so in January, I went to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and stocked up on embroidery floss, hoops, and fabric. I also signed out a couple books from the library for a refresher course on the craft, as well as inspiration. All clocked in (not counting my mask), I’ve completed ten projects of varying difficulty. My biggest project to date is about halfway done.
5. Studying books of the Bible in their full context.
One of my Christmas gifts last year was Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, which is about how to study the Bible (and is as useful to men as it is to women). One of Wilkin’s key pieces of advice for studying scripture is to read whatever book you’re studying — say, Mark, Exodus, or the letter to the Galatians — in its entirety multiple times before going through it slower. The idea is if the book is a narrative, you’ll get a sense of its narrative arc/structure; if the book is a letter, you’ll see the progression of thought …. Regardless of genre, you’ll get a grasp of the book as a whole, and that will help you understand and interpret it better.
I’ve read single books of the Bible in one go before (in 2014 or 2015, I spent a Saturday afternoon reading all of Romans) and it’s true that they a) hold together and b) read differently — and, indeed, make more sense — when read as one complete piece rather than as random mashups of chapters and verses. At this point, I’m pretty much convinced the only way you can accurately interpret a New Testament letter is to read it all together. (This also has to do with the fact that I’m a writer and wouldn’t want someone to read one paragraph of my own work on its own, apart from the greater work, and then start making claims about what I think.)
Right now, I’m studying the gospel of Matthew with this approach. I read through the whole gospel three times before starting to go through more slowly — and I might do myself a favor and read through all of it again before picking up where I left off a few weeks ago during Advent. I’m also going to apply this approach on smaller scale to the teachings of Jesus, so when I get to the Sermon on the Mount in a few weeks, I’ll read all of it together several times before studying and dissecting the smaller sections.
6. My book idea (!!!).
If we’re friends, I’ve probably already told you about this. If we’re not, it’s too early to share. Let’s just say: I have a nonfiction book idea that’s big and kind of complicated and involves something that’s really important to me and that I think more women should embrace. Right now, I’m doing broad reading on different topic areas that relate to it, with the plan of drafting a book proposal midway through 2021. I have a lot of reading to do.
7. Browsing Little Free Libraries.
My neighborhood has a Little Free Library on every other block, it seems. The first few months of the pandemic, while Denver Public Library was completely shut down, I turned to these for reading material (despite the fact that I haven’t read more than half of the books on my own shelf). A couple unexpected faves: A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki, The Invisible Garden by Dorothy Sucher, Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, and An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina.
8. This Is Us.
A couple years ago, a previous roommate introduced me to this show. I’m not a big TV show person because I prefer entertainment with deep characters, meaningful story arcs, and resolution — but This Is Us seemed to have at least two of those three characteristics. When I found out that the show is on Hulu, I decided to get the lowest level of subscription so I could start watching it. I’m currently in the middle of season two.
One downside of this show: I’m already super analytical about people and relationships, and This Is Us just might make me more analytical. I need to keep an eye on that.
9. New friends.
Last winter, and last year, really, was one of the loneliest seasons of my life. I haven’t written much about it because some of the things it brought up, honestly, scare me, but since then, I’ve seen God provide in tangible ways — namely, through new friendships I couldn’t have picked better myself. I made a friend the weekend before Denver shut down, and that friend is now one of a few consistent people in my life whom I hardly knew before the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, I was just coming out of the darkness of an isolated season, and somehow, I ended up having more meaningful time with friends (virtually, over phone calls, outdoors) during stay-at-home orders and since, than I did in the probably eight or nine months before the pandemic arrived.
10. Walks around my neighborhood.
My normal pre-pandemic weekday routine consisted of working from home in the morning, then driving to the library and working from there in the afternoon, then driving to the gym and working out, coming home for dinner, staying up another couple of hours, and going to bed. As much as I miss the gym and the library and being able to work somewhere other than my apartment, the inability to go to those places and the physical need to get out and about on my feet sent me on walks (and until I hurt my knee, runs) around my neighborhood.
I stumbled upon tiny fairy gardens that I haven’t been able to find again; funny houses with shrubs on the front walk that are so overgrown, they just chopped a doorway through the middle. Random, rundown shacks far back from the street that look ready to be demolished — on the same block as overgrown monstrosities with more room than my 11-child family of origin ever had.
Houses and front lawns with personality spark my imagination. I’m not necessarily interested in talking to the people inside, but I want to imagine them and what they’re up to, why they purchased gargoyles for their front porch and decided to dress them up as elves for Christmas.
11. My first (unfinished) knitted sweater.
This fall, the slow, slow process of embroidering made knitting a sweater seem more doable, so October 30, I sat down and knit some swatches of yarn I’ve had since I lived in Indiana. I found a pattern for knitting a topdown sweater online and got to work.
I’m still working on it, or rather, avoiding working on it because I’m convinced I’ll run out of yarn and I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the same colors/weight/material. I’m maybe halfway done with the torso (maybe a little less), but I still have the sleeves to do. It’s three colors, striped, and pretty hideous — but if I ever finish it (which I should), it’ll be really soft and cozy and the pride of my knitting needles. And then I’ll be able to knit a sweater that I actually like.
12. Video calls with my family.
Pre-pandemic, my whole family rarely spent time together outside of holidays and college graduations, which only a few of us could make, and weddings. But when everyone was under stay-at-home orders or pandemic restrictions of some sort, someone smart (not me, but I don’t remember who) suggested we do a video call and for a few months, every Monday evening, the siblings would get on another call.
I’ve talked to my siblings more in this one year than I think I had in the previous three (maybe more). With that has come more tension at certain points, but it’s also been really good. Being one of eleven kids is hard. It’s impossible to stay in touch with everyone one-on-one, which is my preferred mode, so having a more frequent touchpoint (to put it in weird marketing terms) has been good.
The calls have become more infrequent now, especially during the holiday season, but now we know that’s an option for everyone. And, I mean, what else do you have to do on a Monday night?
So there you go. 2020 wasn’t a waste. Parts have definitely felt like a dumpster fire, but there are things to salvage from the ashes. What will you take with you into 2021?
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8