The Not-Normal-Yet Winners of 2021

2021: This was the year that some of us learned that a pandemic doesn’t go away just because you pretend it’s over. Huh. Nevertheless, here are some things that made my 2021 better:


Recipe of the year: Melanie Shankle introduced me to Bon Appetit’s bolognese sauce. The first thing that I love about this recipe is that you mix it up early and let it mellow out for hours on the stove. The second thing that I love about this recipe is that somehow it feeds my entire family of seven adult-sized humans with one pound of ground beef and one box of pasta. I’m not saying that a special blessing of the Holy Spirit is on this recipe, but I just mean it’s a real loaves-and-fishes kind of situation.

Trader Joe’s Hold the Cone: Peppermint Joe Joe version. These tiny ice cream cones are so delightful, and when combined with our favorite cookie from TJ’s, they are nearly perfect. The only bad thing is that I can’t keep them in the house. As soon as they are here, they are gone.

Bits of Culture

Live music. It came back and it was wonderful. We saw The Arcadian Wild, Ellis Paul, Chosen Road, and Andrew Peterson (twice, of course). I think it was at The Arcadian Wild show when I realized we were in this very special moment in time when the artist is perhaps more excited to see the audience than the audience is to see the artist. The first time that artist and audience laid eyes on each other without a computer screen in between was a golden moment. I’m inches away from a soapbox here, but Spotify and music streaming have taken away an entire revenue stream for musicians. If you are able to do so, buy people’s music and go see them in person. Otherwise, they won’t be able to keep making music.

Seeing movies in the theater. The first one back for me was “In the Heights”; the first one for the whole family was “Black Widow.” If you can do so safely (ie you are vaccinated and abide by the masking rules of your local theater), please go back and support movies on the big screen! No up-to-the-minute living room experience can replicate a communal big screen film experience.

The Gray Havens Blue Flower album. The Gray Havens have always been inspired by CS Lewis, but here they went all-in on Narnia. Why aren’t more people talking about this one? There’s also a podcast that runs alongside.

Ted Lasso. My goodness, what a refreshing delight of a television show. For starters, it’s the first time I can remember hearing the words “I forgive you” from one secular TV character to another. Yes, there is a lot of swearing (but our kids watch a fair amount of British TV anyway, and um, the standards are different). Yes, there is an occasional scene that we fast-forward through. But the upsides to this series are so numerous that we’ve joined the numbers of parents who allow our teens to watch it. Here’s a bit that reminded me of so many holidays we’ve spent in Charlotte with displaced out-of-state students and expats around our table (note: the hometowns that Higgins recites here are the actual hometowns of the actors around the table!):

@sharonsaysso is my Instagram find of the year. This former government teacher lives in Minnesota and patiently teaches her followers about civics, the courts, and constitutional law. Some issues just aren’t partisan — they exist in the laws of our nation. Sharon is going to help you see this. Additionally, she does a huge fundraiser every Christmas where she helps people who are in need of money — they’re about to have their power shut off, or they can’t pay their medical bills, or they can’t buy gifts for the kids. She offers kindness to so many. (Weirdly, this account also exposes me to some of the crazy conspiracy thinking that exists out there, because people ask her questions like “Isn’t President Trump going to be back in office next month?” and I am left thinking, “PEOPLE REALLY THINK THAT?!” But she’s just so gull-durn NICE that people aren’t afraid to ask her these things. I should be more like her.)

Oddly, my favorite books of the year were the first two I read. Nonfiction’s winner is Alan Jacob’s How to Think. I wish this were required reading for Christians before they are allowed to interact or consume anything on the internet. Fiction’s winner was A Gentleman in Moscow, which reads more like a classic than a modern publication. I will definitely reread both of these books at some point. 

On a related note, David and I are part of a co-ed book club that has been a consistent joy through the past two years. We’ve patterned ourselves after the “promiscuous reading” suggestions put forth by Karen Swallow Prior in her book On Reading Well, with room for lots of others. Last month’s meeting was a dinner party where we ate gumbo and discussed Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back” and “Good Country People.” It was the second month we spent on Flannery because we couldn’t leave her alone after month one.

Other Scraps

Buying secondhand: Everyone in the house now wears adult-sized clothing, which means the budget for clothes is expanding rapidly. Thank goodness for Poshmark and ThredUp, two online consignment stores that have saved my life this year. ThredUp is where I get most of my clothing now, as well as Maddie’s. Poshmark has everything under the sun; I was even able to get two Premier League jerseys (Christmas presents) for about half the price!

Kut from the Kloth: I have long heard Sophie Hudson recommend this brand of women’s clothing, especially their jeans. It’s best said with Sophie’s deep Mississippi accent, but these jeans are “cut to fit a grown woman’s behind,” and she’s right. If you don’t like your current jeans and feel like you could do better, look on ThredUp or Poshmark for Kut from the Kloth (because they are pricey new!). You’ll be so happy.

Ever since I had a spot of skin cancer removed three years ago, I wear Elta Sunscreen daily. It does not feel heavy like sunscreen. It feels like a nice, light lotion. This year I started Maddie on wearing it every day, which I assume means she will never age. At her age, I was right on the cusp of laying out in the sun with baby oil on my legs. Thank you, 1990’s.

I think that’s it for now! I’d love to hear what your faves are from this year. Sound off in the comments.

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