What has been the biggest change in your life in 2021?
The biggest change in my life in 2021 was receiving my vaccine.
This enabled me to hug my family and friends and be indoors with them for the first time since the pandemic began.
What has been your biggest challenge in the last year?
The circumstances that COVID -19 created that were beyond my control.
What in 2021 has brought you the most joy?
In 2020 and the beginning of 2021, regular human contact was taking away from me. I have missed having social hobbies, social hour at church, and regular interpersonal interactions with others.
I have longed for the humanity of others.
However, I made new friends with whom I could interact freely: Plants! Remembering this friendship actually brought tears to my eyes. How do I explain? My most tender moments this year, my saddest moments, my happiest moments, my most connected moments have all been shared with plants. Thank you, plants; I love you!
This friendship started out with a flurry of yellowish-green in January!
On January 2, C and I discovered an odd fruit at the Arnold Arboretum (blog here). Scattered about the arboretum, I saw piles of yellow shreds that looked like cauliflower. After stealthy searching, C and I discovered that the shreds had come from a fruit called an Osage orange. The Osage orange looked like a soft-ball sized yellow brain. This wild fruit awakened my sense of curiosity, play, and excitement.
I could not wait to return to the Arnold Arboretum!
Between that visit and the next, Matt and I hiked the ice cliffs of Cliff Mountain (blog here). The adventure ended up with me experiencing a neck misalignment that left the tips of fingers numb. I also had intensive neck pain. After a lot of help from an amazing acupuncturist, my neck realigned, my sense of feeling return, and my pain stopped. Honestly, it was like a miracle.
For the first weeks, I didn’t know what had caused my injury. I initially thought that I had frost bite. Trying to prevent further injury, I confined myself to my house in order to reduce my cold exposure. I lacked regular movement, access to friends, fun, and daily variation. Even after the injury became clear, I wasn’t sure if I would heal.
I slipped into a world of greyness. Nothing gave me joy anymore … it all felt so pointless. Why bother puzzling, or exercising, or reading, or chatting with a friend? It did not move me from the grey ether that engulfed me.
During this time, I had a lot of time to notice my house surroundings, specifically my houseplants and cats. Since the pandemic began, Matthew and I had started taking better care of our houseplants; because of that, our jade plant finally grew. It thrilled me to see it come to life!
I also spent a lot of time with my cats. My cat Beesly gave me amazing cuddles and I was thankful for the ways that he would check up on me and spend time with me. I have a lot of cat selfies to show for this time. (Want to see the greatest hits? If you request this, I will dedicate a post to cute cat pictures!)
Finally, my acupuncturist cleared me for hiking. At last, I could return to the arboretum.
Still, I wasn’t excited about it. A fog of grey continued to numb me. Yet, I had promised my friend that I would meet him there on February 26, 2021.
I had low expectations; after all, an arboretum midwinter would look like I felt, right? Grey and white would cover the ground; all the color in the woods would be sapped away like a black-and-white movie.
Ah, well. There I was, walking with my friend, catching up.
The skies shone blue, and the wind blew cold.
As we turned one corner, a bright yellow color caught my eye.
Yellow blossoms bejeweled a bush.
Each blossom unfurled four bright yellow streamers, which blew like confetti against the cobalt blue sky and the snowy white ground.
I read the sign in front of the shrub: Chinese Witch-hazel.
A plant that blooms in late winter.
It’s loud yellow burst into my mental haze. Color! Beauty! Here and now! Excitement filled my soul. I took pictures to document the moment.
I didn’t think spring would come that year. I honestly didn’t. I also did not think humanity’s quarantine would ever end. I thought the trees, vines, and shrubs, which had already given up their leaves, would remain bare with us forever, reminding us daily of how austere our lives were.
But then that flash of yellow came. In February!
It captivated me.
Hungry, I hunted down signs of spring like a detective. That visit, I spied the red buds of the silver maple and the fuzzy buds of the Elizabeth magnolia. Hooked, I began to visit the arboretum weekly. On future trips, I spied rose-gold pussy willow catkins, baby maple leaves, snow drops, and mountain fire buds. (See the photo albums here.) My heart leapt; my heart pounded; what could be more beautiful than this? I had been going weekly for months by the time ‘Pink Parchment’ magnolia finally opened her blossoms. Her scent intoxicated me.
It was official by then.
I was in love with plants.
What achievement in 2021 are you most proud of?
My proudest achievement of 2021 has been taking care of mental health. I have successfully attended to my mental health by asking for help, therapy, friendship and companionship, walks, time in nature, removing my self from endless internet scrolling, reading more (thanks for the inspiration, J!), spending more time with plants indoors and outdoors, cooking, attending to my house and chores, writing for fun, and playing board games.
I also proud of the way that I have made decisions to care for the earth. Matthew has helped me with this. I prepared myself to begin a journey to eat vegan in 2022 (a success so far); we switched over to plastic-free toothpaste, compostable floss, and shampoo bars. We have eliminated paper napkins and one-use produce bags; I have also eliminated paper tissues (via handkerchiefs, actually very soft on the nose!). Additionally, I switched over to the Kindle from paper manuscripts for Sunday preaching. We may also upgrade to a bidet as a way to reduce toilet paper use. Did you know that the new toilet paper that you buy from the grocery store comes from virgin forests and requires 37 gallons of water per a roll? (Article here.)
In addition, I am trying to detach myself from social media and big corporations that I think are highly unethical. Last year the Facebook whistle blower revealed that the company engaged in highly unethical behavior that resulted in the death of others in foreign countries. (Read more here.) For instance, “The whistleblower complaint … criticized Facebook for not being aggressive enough in addressing evidence that the platform was being used by military officials in Myanmar to spread hate speech during mass killings of the minority Rohingya ethnic group. Investigations have found that hate speech flowed heavily on Facebook, and the company has acknowledged that it failed to act swiftly enough to prevent the platform from helping ‘incite offline violence’ in Myanmar.” (Read more here.) I recommend you research the Facebook Papers as well as the whistleblower complaints against Facebook.
Facebook (now Meta) also owns Whatsapp and Instagram. As a result, I deleted my Whatsapp and Instagram accounts. I recommend Signal as a good replacement messenger service. Signal encrypts your messages so that they are private and they are also a non-profit. A win-win! I also deleted my Facebook messenger app and am no longer using Facebook messenger. You can catch me on Signal, Google Hangouts, email, and text.
After the death of the Amazon workers during the tornado, I also became increasingly concerned about Amazon’s treatment of their workers. (Read more here.) Despite severe weather warnings, Amazon called in contractors and employees to work the holiday rush in Edwardsville, IL on December 10, 2021. Six people died when a tornado ripped through the distribution facilitity. I think it is no coincidence that the deaths happened during the busy holiday season; I believe that Amazon cares more about turning a profit during the holiday season than the welfare and even lives of their workers. For that reason, I finally – and at last – cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription, which I have had for over a decade. I still, however, have been buying my Kindle books and Audible books from Amazon. I have not yet looked into how I can switch over those products, but I am taking suggestions if you have ideas!
Additionally, I removed email from my phone, because I found myself replacing my scrolling impulse with frequent checking of my personal and work email. Not a healthy habit. I am so glad that I no longer have email on my phone!
I am also proud of the way that I have tried to embrace a minimalist life and reduce my purchasing and acquiring of goods. When I need something, I try to look for it first on Buy Nothing. I try to use all my in-person options to buy something before turning to an online option. I have asked people to refrain from giving me gifts of any kind unless they are edible (please take note!). My friend A and I also completed the minimalist challenge in early 2021, which helped me downgrade my amount of stuff. (Thanks, A!) (Read about the minimalist challenge here.)
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2021?
Amidst the pandemic, daily walks and regular movement are key to my mental and physical wellness.
What are you looking forward to the most in 2022?
I am dreaming again of yellow witch hazel and rose-gold catkins.
I can’t wait to see the arboretum bloom again this year!
I also hope to visit orchid exhibits, learn more about carnivorous plants, see the azaleas at the National Arboretum, create a small cactus garden for my house, and properly care for my houseplants.
I generally want to spend more time with plants while making choices that enhance their well-being!