2021 Year in Review

Well team, we made it. What a year. 

When we got to the end of 2020, I distinctly remember thinking that things couldn’t get any worse. But somehow this year was harder than the last. It was full of tears, stress, long separations from people I loved, cancelled or changed plans, dashed hopes, sleepless nights, emotional whiplash from a near-constant state of change, and a thread of exhaustion running through it all. I’m heading into the new year feeling spent, weary and burdened. How about you?

From this cheery starting place, I sat down to write my review of 2021. As I looked back over my photos and reminisced on life earlier in the year, I was surprised to note how much things have opened up. We’re reaching the end of year two of pandemic life, and it’s very easy to feel like nothing has changed and COVID is still ruining everything. But we are able to do so much more now than we used to be—we can go to church or the movies, see friends inside and travel outside the boundaries of our provincial health authority. As the Beatles once sang, “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time (it can’t get no worse).”

Part of why I write these posts every year is to help myself remember where I’ve come from, and what the Lord has brought me through. He’s brought me through a lot this year! There have been some bright moments, as you’ll read here, but there’s also been sorrow. Still, I’m hopeful that one day we’ll look back and realize how hard it all was, and how well we did.

For Auld Lang Syne’s sake here are the posts from 20102011201220132014, 2015201620172018, 2019, and 2020.

What did you do in 2021 that you’d never done before?

  • A HIIT workout
  • Went to clinical counselling
  • A virtual job interview
  • Got pulled over for a speeding ticket (Editor’s note: I’ve had lots of radar tickets but this was my first time actually getting pulled over)
  • Swung a sword
  • Got really into Premiere League soccer football
  • Purchased prescription sunglasses
  • Grew some grey hairs
  • Went to a metal concert
My brother Mike and sister in law Cheryl came to Vancouver to see his favourite metal band play in November. It was my first concert since COVID hit.

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

For the past few years I have been setting purposefully abstract new years resolutions, and have managed to stick to them. Take that SMART goals. 

Last year’s loosely-defined goals were to read at least 35 books, continue to build up my savings, reduce my screen time and “continue to be more active” (whatever that means). I Exceeded Expectations and read 41 books last year—a personal best. That’s more than three a month, if you’re counting. I’d like to try to hit that number again next year, but don’t plan to increase it. 

As for my savings, they’re bigger than last year and still not enough for a house (lol). I’ve met the financial goals I set out and will make more this year, but I’m not going to share the specifics on the internet because my parents taught me that it’s rude to talk about money. 

Since my fitness goal last year was so open-ended, I did technically meet it. I walked a lot of kilometres (270 according to Strava, but I think that’s lower than the actual #), including a hike with Colleen in Waterton that I probably couldn’t have done last year. I also did a lot of Apple Fitness+ videos from the comfort of my living room. Even though I’m stronger than I was starting out the year, I still don’t feel particularly healthy. 

I would like to set a goal of walking at least 400km next year (with a stretch goal of 500km). I think this is doable—I didn’t start using Strava to track my walks until May or June, so the 270 km I set this year is probably a bit low—and it will help me to be more consistent about getting outside to exercise. 

As for screen time, I’ve had more success cutting back on scrolling in the last half of this year. In the fall I put a time limit on Instagram and have managed to stick to it most days. I also removed the app from my home screen and suggestions, which helps cut back on mindlessly opening it. It’s been great, but now I need to do a better job with cutting back on Twitter.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Tiff had Teodora Jane in early February. Due to COVID restrictions, I didn’t get to hold her until she was almost six months old. She is one of the cutest babies you’ll ever see and she can beat absolutely anybody in a staring contest.

Super Teo!

My niece Selah Dawn made a dramatic entrance in early November, nearly a month before her due date. I think she just didn’t want to have her birthday in the same month as Christmas and who can blame her? I got to meet her for the first time when I was home for the holidays, but she probably won’t remember because she sleeps all the time. She is tiny, but healthy and beautiful with a full head of dark hair.

Kevin thinks she looks like me, and I can see it! But I also see some of Grandma Miller in there too, which makes me happy. 

Did anyone close to you die?

Mercifully, no. But I know a lot of people who lost dear friends and loved ones this year. It has been a year full of loss and grief in many forms. 

What countries did you visit?

I managed to leave the country for the first time in 18 months in November for a trip to Phoenix. My poor NEXUS card had been gathering dust, and even with all the vaccine verifications and COVID testing required to cross the border these days, it felt great to go somewhere. I very much enjoyed spending a week in +30 degree desert weather, visiting places that were familiar, and eating at my favourite Mexican restaurant.

A very short hike walk at Cathedral mountain near Sedona.
Mom & I waited a loooong time to drink our favourite margs at El Encanto in Cave Creek, AZ.

My other (domestic) travels this year included a road trip to Edmonton in June, with a quick stop in Jasper on the way there and Banff on the way back. This trip was originally scheduled to be in May but I had to change it due to inter-provincial travel restrictions. Remember when we weren’t allowed to travel between provinces?

Harvesting rhubarb in my sister-in-law Micaela’s garden in June.
Made another stop at Moraine Lake on the way home from Edmonton in June.

We also made our annual family camping trip to Golden Ears over the August long weekend. This trip keeps expanding each year as more families join and have more kids—I believe the final head count was 20 adults and 16 kids. It was truly a miracle that we managed to get enough camping spots for everyone. This trip is always a yearly highlight, but it was especially life-giving this year after not being able to gather together in large groups for so long. All the adults were double-vaccinated by that point and we barely thought about COVID at all.

Arrival dinner at the Brennans’ campsite.

Later in August, I drove to Alberta again for a camping trip in Waterton Lakes with Colleen. She scored a prime camping spot and we had a few lovely (windy) days on the lake. I think I read four entire books on that trip! On the way back, I detoured through Radium Hot Springs for a few nights to revisit some of my favourite childhood vacation spots and get the full B.C. Interior Forest Fire experience. I will never forget the ash falling like snow in Vernon, or the flames up to the highway shoulder in some spots on the Coquihalla as I made my way home.

I forget what this waterfall was called, but we did a short hike there from our campsite in Waterton.
Hiking the Red Rock Canyon in Waterton with Colleen & Lynn.
Another waterfall in Waterton. A ton of the park burned down in a forest fire a few years ago so a lot of it looks like this.

I’m extra grateful for all my road trips this year because who knows when the highways will all be open again for a casual drive to Alberta?

I travelled a lot of miles and slept a lot of nights in my trusty ol’ honda this summer.

What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?

A trip overseas, a partner, an Oilers Stanley cup and/or a Chelsea FC Premier League title.

Side note: both of my teams got off to great starts this year and have struggled and dropped a lot of points in December. Am I the problem?!

What dates from 2021 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

  • May 14: The official start date of my new job
  • May 27: The day I got my first dose of COVID vaccine 
  • July 4: The first Sunday at church without COVID restrictions 
  • Nov 2: The day my niece was born
  • Nov 6: My first time leaving the country since COVID

What were your biggest achievements of the year?

In May I applied for and got a new job! It’s with the same company and even on the same (fantastic) team, but it’s a significant step up in responsibility. Between COVID, vaccinations, the forest fires, the floods and everything else, there was a lot going on at work this year and I had to dive into the new role with both feet. Seven months in, I feel like I’m still learning, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and have grown a ton professionally over the course of the year.

Signing on to a virtual job interview. It was very weird to dress up in my finest and prepare for an interview from my kitchen table.

Another thing I’m proud of is that I’ve managed to faithfully keep a handwritten journal for the first time in my life. Let me give you the backstory: my dad spent a good chunk of his pandemic time going through my Grandma’s old papers and photo albums. He found a treasure trove of photos and family history, including three journals that my Great Grandparents had kept together in the 1930s. I loved reading through them, because I got a sense of who they were as people, what life was like for them, and what my grandpa was like as a boy.

“C.M. Miller” is Constance Mary Miller – my Great Grandma.

Afterwards it struck me that I spend a lot of my time on entertainment—even if it’s on worthy pursuits like reading or playing music, it doesn’t leave anything that lasts. So I decided to take a page from their book (see what I did there?). 

On my birthday, I bought a new journal and have been writing in it at least a few times a week ever since. I’m excited at the idea of coming back to it in the future and remembering where I was, who I was spending time with, and what was important to me. And it’s also been good to give me an outlet to write outside of work.

What was your biggest struggle?

Longtime readers may notice that I’ve changed this question a bit—I can do that, it’s my blog post. It’s not that I didn’t fail this year, there were some definite misses both at work and in my personal life. But the overarching things that came to mind when I considered this question weren’t exactly failures but things that I had a hard time with. 

My mental health was much worse this year than last year, even though I started seeing a counsellor. The cumulative effect of two years of pandemic life and an extended period of work stress took their toll on me. There was a four month period where I was juggling two roles at work and when I finally handed one of them off I was hit with a wave of imposter syndrome and delayed stress that filled me with anxiety and made it very hard to sleep at night. I had been white-knuckling my way through and once everything settled down to a more normal pace, my emotions quite frankly exploded. One big delayed reaction full of grief, sadness, anger, fear, bewilderment… 

I share this for a couple of reasons: one, to be transparent because it’s very easy to present yourself like you’ve got everything together on the internet. Let me reassure you, dear reader, that I do not have it all together. Two, I hope I can encourage you to see a counsellor if you think you might need help. I resisted counselling for a long time because I was afraid. I also told myself that my problems weren’t that bad—they weren’t, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t need help! And somehow along the way I’d picked up the mistaken idea that all I needed was Jesus and I’d be fine. I still believe that Jesus can and will redeem everything that’s broken or messed up in me, but seeing a counsellor has given me valuable insight that I couldn’t have got on my own. It’s given me tools to process and actually deal with my emotions instead of trying to rationalize or logic my way out of them, and it’s helped me to face things I was afraid of.

In summary, mental health was my biggest area of struggle this year, but thanks to counselling it was also the area where I saw the most growth.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

No. Amazingly I have managed to live through two years of a pandemic without getting sick at all (that I know of). I had the world’s mildest stuffed up nose for a few days last week, and it might have been omicron but who knows because it’s impossible to get a test in B.C. right now.

What was the best thing you bought?

I didn’t make any big ticket purchases this year, but I’m pretty jazzed about the Kindle I got on Black Friday. I already have more $1.99 kindle deal books loaded onto it than I’ll ever be able to read in a year. 

I’m also very pleased to report that after searching high and low, I found and purchased a fake Christmas tree with a box small enough to fit in my extremely limited storage space. I’m firmly on Team Fake Tree—you can keep it up as long as you want because it never dies, and there’s no pine needles left in your house.

Team fake tree.

Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Look, I think we can all give ourselves a round of applause for making it through the past year. It was hard! I have yet to talk to anyone who hasn’t had a tough year and faced trials of various kinds. But the person I would like to give a special shout-out to is my friend Tiff. She became a Mom for the first time in 2021, and managed everything with a brand new baby in the middle of a pandemic when very few people could come over to help or just be with her. 

Over the past year I’ve watched Tiff learn how to be a Mom, which is an amazing feat all by itself, but she’s also grown so much in her faith. I’ve seen her draw closer to the Lord as she faced, forgave and moved on from some past hurts. She tackled her anxieties and trials with a lot of prayer and increasing trust in the Lord. From the start of this year to the end, she has become a more peaceful person. I love her and I’m proud of her and also I hope to learn from her example!

Who needed a time out?

Everyone on social media—including me sometimes. Collectively as a society we need to relearn how to mind our own business, and that old schoolroom lesson: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

* Editor’s note: I changed this question too.

Where did most of your money go?

Savings. What a boring, grown up, responsible answer. Boo! I also bought a lot of clothes online that I probably didn’t need.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

  • Getting vaccinated
  • Obtaining a campsite reservation at Golden Ears over the August long weekend
  • Seeing my family again after nine months of covid separation
  • The Euro Cup final 
  • Stocking up on taco sauce and salsa verde at Trader Joe’s in Phoenix
  • Being able to gather indoors with my friends
  • Meeting my niece
After my first dose in May.
Bedtime stories at Golden Ears.

What songs will always remind you of 2021?

Favourite albums?

Favourite podcasts?

Compared to this time last year are you:

  • Happier or sadder? Definitely sadder. 
  • Thinner or fatter? Considerably fatter! The COVID-19 pounds amiright?
  • Richer or poorer? Richer, but I still can’t afford a house in Vancouver and likely never will.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Spending time with Jesus, exercising outside, being still, seeing my friends in person.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Eating my feelings. Doomscrolling. Worrying. Agonizing over emails before hitting send. Hanging out with my friends outdoors, six feet apart in the cold. Online shopping. 

How did you spend Christmas?

I got to have two Christmases this year. We kicked things off with an early Miller family Christmas in Edmonton. Being able to get together was a huge blessing because last year we had to do a zoom Christmas and it was the worst. Highlights from Edmonton Christmas included meeting my niece for the first time, going to see Dune with my brothers, sewing some presents with my Mom and watching an Oilers game and Chelsea match with my Dad.

Three generations of Oilers fans.

Back in Vancouver, I spent Christmas with my friend family. On Christmas Eve we had a nice brunch together in the morning and then most of us headed to church for sound check and a run through of the Christmas Eve service. After not being able to have a gathering last year (covid), this year was extra special. There was a beautiful moment at the end of the service where we all sang Silent Night by candlelight and I was overcome with joy and thankfulness. What a simple but profound gift to get to stand together with the people you love most in the world and sing Christmas carols. 

I spent a (relatively) quiet Christmas Day with the Willertons. We went tobogganing, watched Home Alone 2 with the boys (“Wow, what a hole!”), had tourtiere for dinner and then watched old Christmas episodes of Would I Lie to You after the kids had gone to bed. This is the second year in a row we’ve spent Christmas together and we’ve developed some Millerton Christmas traditions!

Enjoying a rare White Christmas in Vancouver.
Immediately after this photo I was informed I was not going fast enough.

Did you fall in love in 2021?

No. I hope and pray that one of these years I’ll be able to answer yes to this question!

What was your favourite TV program?

What were the best books you read?

For those interested, here’s the full list of 42 books I read this year.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Ringo Starr is the most patient man/drummer on earth and the real glue guy of the Beatles. Also while we’re on the subject, the Beatles break up was at least 65% George Harrison’s fault.

What did you want and get?

A new job. A trip to Phoenix. And for Christmas, this Chelsea hoodie (thanks, Mom!).

The Red Rocks just outside Sedona, AZ.

What did you want and not get?

New sheets from Target. An end to the pandemic. An Oilers victory in the playoffs.

What were your favourite films of this year?

  • Belfast – I absolutely loved this movie. An uplifting story about family in the middle of a community tearing itself apart. Also the kid was adorable. 
  • Cruella – I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this movie because I generally don’t love when Americans try to do British accents and also 101 Dalmatians is one of my favourite classic Disney movies. But the music, costumes, ans performances were all great. 
  • Dune – Really enjoyed this but perhaps not as much as my brothers, who gave me a run down of every subtle detail or plot point the movie missed (that the book did a better job of explaining) on the way home from the theatre. 
  • West Side Story –  I liked it more than the original (!). 

Worth noting: In the Heights was my first movie back in the theatre.

What did you do on your birthday?

To be perfectly honest, I was dreading my birthday this year. I’m not a big birthday person in general, but after two years of pandemic time started to lose meaning, and a birthday is a concrete reminder that it’s still marching on whether we can sense it or not. A year full of stress and mild pandemic-induced depression brought the arrival of my first-ever grey hairs (oh the humanity!) and the beginning of wrinkles that decidedly weren’t there at the start of this pandemic. I started to feel older this year, and until very recently, I’d never considered aging to be something that would happen to me personally.

Despite all these complicated feelings swirling around, my birthday ended up being wonderful. I had decided not to take the day off this year so I was working (from home), but my friends went above and beyond to make sure it was still a nice day. Marc and the boys recorded a performance of the Beatles birthday song for me, and I got to go over to their house for lunch. Ollie and Elliot used up all the purple construction paper in the house to spell out Happy Birthday in giant letters which they posted around the entire kitchen. Chars made me a Saskatoon berry pie (my all-time fav) and Ollie made me a special pop up birthday card.

It was actually saskatoon-rhubarb pie, Chars used some of the rhubarb I brought back from Micaela’s garden.

In the evening Tiff and Chars took me out for an excellent pasta dinner at Nook. We had fancy cocktails, burrata with freshly baked focaccia (a favourite) and delicious pasta and sat outside on the patio in the rain. It was a treat to eat out at a restaurant—something I haven’t done much of in the past year. I felt very loved and cared for, which is the best birthday gift anyone could hope for! 

At the end of the day, a birthday is just a day. And another year is just another year. I do not wish I could go back to being younger, other than to tell myself, “it will be ok and you look great!” I’m trying to see aging as a gift, to embrace whatever phase of life I’m in, and to be thankful for the years as they pass, and the grey hairs as they grow. Not everyone gets to be old! 

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?

The What-Still-Fits-Me? Olympics

What kept you sane?

First of all, “sane” has become a moving target, hasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody who’s had a great year mental-health-wise. I’ve already mentioned counselling and how helpful it’s been for me. Consistently getting outside for walks and deep breaths of fresh air—no matter the weather—helped me cope. I made sure to take intentional breaks from the news whenever I could. And of course as always, I got by with a little help from my friends. They listened to me vent, prayed with me and for me, sat with me while I cried and (maybe most importantly of all) made me laugh.

With my friends on an outing to London Drugs.
On a quick trip to the Sunshine Coast at the end of July.
Celebrating Chars’ birthday outdoors in June.

Which celebrity or public figure did you fancy the most?

James Acaster, Leon Draisaitl, and Mason Mount/Declan Rice*.

*Not sure if I actually fancied them or if I was just brainwashed by all the ridiculous football memes Lindsay Pulsifer sent me.

What issue stirred you the most?

Climate change. Experiencing the parade of severe weather events this year—heat dome, forest fires, atmospheric river, arctic outflow—has given me a new sense of urgency around doing my part to take care of our planet.

Driving on the Coquihalla this summer as forest fires raged on either side of me. Hours after I passed through, they closed the highway.

Side note: is it just me or are storm events doing an unusually fantastic job of brand name recognition these days? It’s not like a regular storm – it’s an atmospheric river

And one more thought while we’re on this topic—may I politely request that we task some scientist/inventor types with making an environmentally-friendly alternative to drinking straws that is NOT paper?

Who did you miss?

My family. It is so hard to live far away from your family. Mine are just one province over and it often feels like it may as well be the moon. I know some of you reading this have gone for a year or two now without being able to see your family and my heart aches for you. At the end of every visit this year, I was hit with an intense mix of both wanting desperately to get back home to Vancouver and also feeling so sad to be leaving. On my first drive back from Edmonton in June, I cried from the time I left my parents’ house until I reached Wetaskiwin. Vancouver is home for me now, and I love the life I’ve built here on the west coast, but my heart is still divided between two places. It probably always will be.

Micah performing for my parents on a visit to Vancouver in July.

Who was the best new person you met?

My niece! And Teo. I didn’t meet too many new adults this year because, pandemic. But thankfully my loved ones keep having new babies so I’ve always got someone to list here.

Snuggles with Selah.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021?

At the end of 2020, I remember looking towards the new year and feeling cautiously optimistic that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Over the past twelve months, I’ve lost count of how many times I tearfully said to my loved ones (or counsellor): “I’m over it. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I’m so done.” or variations on that theme. How long O Lord? 

We’re very quick to gloss over pain and suffering in our western culture. We want to move on from it as soon as possible. Happiness is the goal, right? Focus on the positive! Be grateful! Or, my personal favourite—whatever you’re going through isn’t that bad because these people over here are really suffering. In my experience, this is even more pronounced in Christian circles. You’ve always got to tack on, ‘but I know God is good…” whenever you’re talking about something difficult. And you know what? He is! God is always good, and he never leaves us or forsakes us. He is near to the broken hearted, he binds up our wounds. But Jesus also wept. 

I’ve done a lot of weeping this year, have you? I’m slowly learning to give myself time to process grief and sadness, rather than trying to move on from them as soon as possible. I’m learning to be honest with others and with myself when things are hard. I’m learning how to lament. Pain and grief are parts of life and suffering produces perseverance, character and hope.

I’m very tempted to try to wrap up this life lesson with a little bow, but the truth is that I’m still working it all out. Life doesn’t neatly fit into the beginning and end dates of each year on a calendar. I guess the lesson is that I’m learning to embrace the mess as it comes. 

And ok, I do believe that God is good. He is also kind, faithful, loving and patient. I believe that despite everything, his light still shines in the darkness. There have been a lot of times when I haven’t been able to see or feel it, but all of those things are still true. I continue to cling to the hope that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. And in the meantime, I know that Jesus has been with me in my suffering this year, full of compassion and steadfast love.  

So I will head into this next year with my eyes lifted to the hills, where my help comes from, knowing that the Lord will keep my life, and my going out and coming in, for now and for 2022 (and forevermore).

3 Replies to “2021 Year in Review”

  1. I love reading your tear end blog! And I love even more that I get to be part of your life(in every year so far– my record is unbroken!). God is good. He is faithful. His love never fails. I am so glad he is your God and my God, and we are doing life together in Him. Blessings for 2022.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your year, Sarah!
    I was also in Edmonton at Christmas time and I also enjoyed the movie “Dune”.
    That looked like a really fun family camping trip. Thank you for being so vulnerable about your struggles. You are such a beautiful person. To God be the glory for all He has done in your life in 2021!

  3. What a lovely way to reflect on the year and remember how God has been at work. Great questions to consider! (I can definitely see your comms background shining through😉) Thank you for your openness & honesty, Sarah. Also grateful for those camping weekends together!

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