For the second year in a row, I’m looking back on a calendar year with a lens of gratitude. 2021 had its fair share of challenges, but there are many things I’m thankful for. Here’s what I’m holding onto for the new year.
1. My second handmade sweater
About this time 12 months ago, I shared that I was knitting my first sweater, a striped, chunky, ugly thing I’d decided I’d probably never wear in public. Well, I finished that project in early 2021 and this past August, donated it to Arc Thrift Stores (who knows who’s wearing it now!), but that horrendous piece was not the end of my sweater knitting journey. This fall, I started another with my favorite purple yarn and a pattern I’d saved.
Despite yarn and dye lot misadventures, I finished it in about five weeks, and I now have the thickest, warmest, and hopefully not the itchiest wool-acrylic blend sweater that is really only appropriate for days like today when it’s 15 degrees outside.
This project lit a spark in me to learn new skills, specifically in knitting. I learned a new way to cast on (my cast-on method was part of why my first sweater turned out poorly), how to pick up underarm stitches in a way that makes armpit holes less likely, and … I think there was another skill but I can’t remember it at the moment. Since finishing the sweater, I’ve been practicing new stitch textures for a stashbuster blanket and I joined an Advent knitalong (that I’m way behind on) to practice colorwork knitting. More cozy knits to come!
2. Beets and beet greens
It’s always good to add more vegetables to your diet, and earlier this year, I found out beets can help alleviate menstrual symptoms, so I grabbed some yellow beets from the grocery store and tried them out. They are now one of my absolute favorites. I like them boiled or sautéed. They taste like a sweet carrot, except I don’t like carrots cooked. In the last month, I decided to see if the greens are good for anything and turns out — they are. The sources I’ve found online recommend cooking them, so I’ve sautéed them and scrambled a couple eggs with them. Way better than eggs and spinach.
3. New nerdy friends
Thanks to random Facebook groups and a church ladies ice cream social, I made two unexpected friends this year. One, Sarah, is a fellow freelancer who’s focusing on science journalism and audio stories. She recently had a story on America’s Test Kitchen’s “Proof” podcast about lobsters and marijuana and sentience. My other new friend, Teresa, is in the last stretch of pursuing her PhD in epidemiology. She bikes everywhere, hikes like it’s her job, eats whole carrots straight from the bag, and gives her friends superlatives: my most delightful friend, my most musical friend, etc. Sarah and I are now accountability buddies for pitching story ideas, and Teresa smoked me on an early morning Labor Day hike that left me sore for a week.
Stands for: Bible study.
Most weeks through the fall, Teresa would text me and a couple other women about “BS” at her place on Thursday evening. For the first time in my adult life, at age 29, I’m in a Bible study with peers and I am lov.ing.it. We started off with the book of Jonah (capstoned with VeggieTales Jonah, which we do not recommend) and now we’re in the book of Acts. Every week that we meet, I come away with new insights and varying levels of brain explosions about what we’ve learned and the connections we made. For example: Acts 2, Pentecost. Never before did I know that Pentecost was a Jewish festival. That’s why the apostles were all gathered together in a place where a bunch of other Jews from different places were and could see and hear them speaking in tongues. We took a BS break for the holidays but I can’t wait for our restart in January. This has been the highlight of the last three months.
5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
When my roommate took to the road this past April, I took to Hulu and started watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a sitcom from the 70s that follows Mary Richards, a single 30-something woman who works at a local TV news station and has, in my opinion, the absolute best TV apartment. Along with relating to the main character (I’m not 30 yet but I’ve been 35 at heart since I was about 15), I enjoy the humor of the show. The puns and banter and witty comebacks, the situational comedy, all puts to shame modern shows like New Girl or even Friends and Seinfeld. My favorite character is Rhoda, who disappears a few seasons in because her character apparently got married (classic), at which point the show spends more time at Mary’s workplace WJM-TV. One of the details that cracks me up: every season, Mary’s hairstyle changes. It starts off long in the first season, and every season after that it gets consistently shorter and fluffier. You can practically see the 80s on the horizon.
6. Reading massive biographies
I mentioned this in my books post, but this year, I read the first volume of a three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Along with learning a lot about ER, I also learned a lot about the times of her life. One observation: We’ve been having the same political arguments for 100 years. So much of today’s political turmoil and debates are a carbon copy of what was happening in the 1920s. You’d expect the racism, but also the arguments about universal healthcare and social security, housing and homelessness, the kneejerk labeling of things as “Marxist” or “socialist” or “communist” rather than actually engaging with the ideas. Biographies are interesting because they’re about people, you get to see how an individual interacted with the events and ideas of their time. These bigger picture insights are an interesting, and I’d say useful, bonus.
7. Solo summer vacations
This past July, I took my first weeklong summer vacation as a full-time freelancer. I went to western Colorado, stayed in Montrose a few days, visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison — a veritable jawdropper at every turn — and spent another few days in Paonia. It was a lot of alone time, but it was time I needed to rest and refresh and enjoy the outdoors. If you have any recommendations of where I should go this year, particularly of places within a day’s drive of Denver, let me know! (I highly recommend Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s amazing.)
8. Lateral and single-leg movements in workouts
Curtsy lunges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats. These movements have all become regular parts of my typical workouts, thanks to my knee injury of 2020 and my past hip/sacroiliac joint issues. In addition to strengthening every muscle from my feet to my hips, these movements have drastically improved my balance and stability when hiking, running, and walking. Bulgarian split squats are my absolute favorite, even though I tend to take them a little too far (case in point, I’m still sore from the 70 total reps I did on Monday of this week with 20-pound dumbbells in my hands).
9. Not one but TWO kettlebells
I didn’t rejoin the gym until mid-October, so most of 2021, my workouts were limited by what scant equipment I have at home. At some point, I think in the spring, I found a 35-pound kettlebell with free shipping — a huge save since shipping generally costs at least as much as the equipment weighs. Then, for my birthday, my former roommate got me another kettlebell of the same weight. I may end up selling one of them, but for now, it’s nice to have an extra in case a friend wants to join me for a workout.
FYI: A properly executed kettlebell swing is another good exercise for hip stability. Plus, it improves your posture.
10. Hot lunches
Shortly after rejoining the gym in October and ramping up my physical activity from maybe two workouts a week to maybe three or four workouts with lifting each week, my body started asking me for more food. I’d eat my typical turkey sandwich with a side of broccoli at lunch, but my body wanted more. Specifically: hot food. About five weeks ago, I decided I’d listen. I probably needed to eat more anyway. So I asked friends for meal suggestions and started planning to replace my daily turkey sandwich with a more substantive meal. I also looked up how much protein an active person my size should eat each day. Turns out, I was only about two-thirds of the way there. No wonder my cravings were so strong. Sundays are now my lunch prep day. I’ve had some successes (toasted burritos, or burrito-dillas as I like to call them) and some fails (one sheet pan meal with wayyyyy too many peppers), but overall it’s been a worthwhile experiment. And my body is satisfied.
11. Craigslist furniture hunting
My former roommate decided to embrace digital nomad life this summer, which meant two things: I needed to find a new roommate and I needed to refurnish the living room. So far, both have turned out well. The living room was my project for the last six months and it’s almost where I want it. My inner child who dreamed of being an interior designer got to play within the constraints of a small apartment and a small budget as I scoured Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for furniture. Now I never want to leave my living room. With the exception of a ladder shelf from Home Depot and a shag rug I got at a discount, everything was secondhand for $45 or less. This is the way to shop.
12. Folded Moravian stars
This December, homesickness collided with my desire to learn more skills, and the results were these folded Moravian stars.
My family ties to eastern Pennsylvania and the Moravian tradition in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, mean I saw stars like these throughout my childhood. My mom had a kit to make them with pastel colored strips of paper, but they always seemed impossible to me. Not so anymore.
The key is to use a material that will hold a crease, so paper or wire-edged ribbon. The last step, where you make the three-dimensional points, is the hardest but a pair of tweezers comes in handy to pull those last pieces through. I strung a piece of thread through each star to hang them on my Christmas tree. (You can learn how to make your own here.)
As we stare down a new year, I find gratitude practices like this helpful. It’s so easy to think of everything that was hard about a year — and 2021 is no exception — but there are also good things, however small, that are worth celebrating. What good things are you holding onto from 2021?