It is January 29th and I’m finally feeling up for writing my year in review post for 2021. If that doesn’t say something about how tired and slow and behind I feel these days, I don’t know what does! 🤣
It’s hard to reflect on 2021 because it feels like such a blur, and because it was full of so many difficult emotions. Between the news, and the social isolation, and the lockdowns, and the political divisiveness, it’s been so hard to be a person in the world lately. I’ve felt so overwhelmed and alienated, by turns utterly hopeless and (very) cautiously optimistic. Put simply: this year has been exhausting. I am craving simplicity, for things to feel easier, to feel hopeful again.
And yet despite the emotional turbulence I’ve felt for most of the past two years, I have to admit that this year did bring a lot of positive changes to my personal circumstances. So while 2021 didn’t often feel good for me in my everyday life, I know I have so much to be grateful for. Isn’t that always the way? We need some perspective & space in order to see the forest. When we’re deep in the trees, we can’t see a way to go on.
So here we go, my 2021 in review. Be forewarned: this will probably read like a highlight reel, but trust me when I say that this year felt like anything but in the moment. Both things can be true: it was good, and it was hard.
I started the year by hosting my first-ever virtual business retreat, which went a lot better than I expected! My friend Sonja designed a beautiful menu that all the attendees recreated at home, and we made the most of the circumstances by being together virtually while apart physically. In January, I also celebrated one year of being with my partner Mike. We were in lockdown and it was one of the coldest days of the year, so we went for a very brisk walk, got some bread & pastries from the place we’d had our first date, and played board games at home. And that was basically…it. Business was slow that month and I was worried about money, I went for a lot of very cold walks with friends, I did some coaching calls, I took some bubble baths, I watched TV.
Out of the blue in February, I got invited to apply for an on-camera role with Shopify, and…I got the job! This was huge for me, a chance to grow my skills and also find a bit of financial stability in such an uncertain time. It has sometimes been challenging (ie. filming by myself, all alone in a super-hot studio without air-conditioning in the middle of a heat wave!) but has been such an amazing opportunity. Also in February, I started The Notorious Romance Book Group, (RBG for short 😉), a feminist romance novel book club with the coolest women that my friends & I knew. This online group has added so much joy this year and helped me make some new friends during such a tough time. Other than that: see above. A lot of cold walks, desperately searching for a new apartment, and trying to cheer myself up by getting the best doughnuts around.
In March, things started to feel a bit brighter. We finally moved out of the lockdown we’d been in since November, the days got longer, and some flowers finally started to poke their heads out from under the snow. But the most exciting thing that happened in March, without a doubt, was being selected out of tons of applicants for the apartment of my dreams. It’s in my favourite neighbourhood, on the top floor of an old house, with tons of windows, the perfect patio, and buckets of natural light. It has been a safe haven this year, holding (literal) space for me to cry, grieve, celebrate, worry, stress, smile and rest. Also in March I found my dream pink velvet couch for FREE on Kijiji which was a gigantic win.
On April 1st, I moved into the new place and spent a lot of time just lying with my face in sunbeams. I was so happy to get there right as the weather was warming up a bit (in that first week, we had shakshuka on the new patio! celebrated my birthday with my family outdoors in the sunshine! rented a bonfire pit at Ontario Place with views of the CN tower!), but it turned out to be perfect timing because within days of me moving in, Toronto was plunged BACK into lockdown. We had to cancel my birthday getaway and pivot to doing Covid-safe things instead, like exploring the abandoned Camp 30 and making cocktails at home, and I spent most of the rest of the month alone at home, settling into my new space. In April I also got asked to be the speaker at Creative Mornings Toronto which was such a special experience. So many of my friends and colleagues showed up to support me, and I was so proud of the talk I gave.
Even though April was full of good things, May was better for one simple reason: I got my first dose of the vaccine. It’s hard to express how relieved and hopeful I was as I stood in line at a community pop-up playing loud, joyful reggaeton music with daffodils blooming and kind volunteers helping out. It was an unbelievably good day. In May the flowers are in full bloom here in Toronto, and my camera roll is just chock-full of cherry blossoms, green grass, lilacs and magnolias from my walks. I took myself on a beach picnic for the first time all year (one of my fave activities), put up string lights on the patio, installed my beautiful rainbow shelves and saw more sunsets.
I loved June. I could finally go to the beach in a bathing suit, eat all my meals outside, get ice cream, and go to the drive-in movies. I went strawberry picking, went to the Toronto Islands (on the rainiest, windiest day, oops), hosted my friends & family for brunch and dinner on the patio, got some new outdoor plants (which slowly died throughout the summer) and got my second vaccine dose. I was nesting, spending lots of time outdoors, and finally feeling hopeful again. Oh, and I didn’t know it yet, but my future fur baby Bruno was born on June 27th.
In July, we hosted our second online business retreat, which was even more of a success since I was in a newer, brighter space and the food was so summery and fresh. I think I felt a bit restless, so I restarted my Steph Saturday Morning adventures to explore some new coffee shops and restaurants and get outside of my neighbourhood bubble. I also started swimming at the local pool, which was such a joy and delight every single time. Later in the month my boyfriend got some bad news and had to fly home to Romania, so my memories of July feel a bit heavy and tinged with sadness. I also remember being extremely tired because I was having a lot of trouble sleeping.
We started the month strong by heading back to a family-run campground we’d loved the year before up near Magnetawan, Ontario. We rented a tiny cabin and spent the week swimming under waterfalls, hiking in Algonquin Park, making friends with chipmunks, buying junk at garage sales, canoeing, eating, reading and talking. Those were very good days, some of my favourite memories from the whole year. Also among my best memories were the days that my friend Katie came to visit from New York. We hadn’t seen each other for almost TWO YEARS which was unfathomable, but it felt like yesterday. We spent a long weekend finding magic wherever we went: in vineyards, at swimming holes, on the Island, at my sister’s birthday party. Last but not least, in August we did “Wines of the World” in my family which was the funniest, most delicious event: we all had to bring a wine from a famous region and pair it with a specialty snack from the same country. It was a delight.
On September 1st, I brought home a puppy. This was both impulsive (it came together in a matter of days) and also an incredibly long time coming (I had started seriously applying for dogs in January 2020). Still, I was almost completely unprepared for how difficult this transition would be emotionally. The first month, despite the adorable photos I captured, was one of the hardest months of my life, if not the hardest. Taking care of a small animal who is totally disoriented, peeing in the house, requires constant vigilance, bites your feet and ankles constantly, barks in the most high-pitched tone, and can’t leave the front lawn while neighbours incessantly hype him up and ruin your training….well, it’s hard. Not to mention that Mike was still in peak wedding season which meant he couldn’t be around to help out very much in the first few weeks. There was a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears, and I barely left the house all month. I did manage to celebrate one year of my business community, The Profoundery, but to this day I have no idea how I got through the day with an 11-week old puppy in tow.
Things started to improve in October, although I was still the most exhausted I’ve ever been. Bruno got all his shots, so I was able to start taking him on walks, to some parks, to visit my Grandma, to puppy school, to play with my mom’s dog. My life was still very insular, and our routine was still a challenge, and I still fell into bed most nights without being able to do much if anything for myself, but things were better. Bruno is a smart cookie, so he was learning his tricks and commands and doing so well being exposed to new places.
In November, my life started to feel slightly more like mine again. I went back to filming for Shopify after a hiatus, and it was so fun to be in a real studio with a videographer instead of filming alone. Mike and I did a little staycation on the East end of the city and actually went out for dinner, just us, without Bruno for the first time. Bruno graduated from puppy school and went to his first few dogs parks. We had a real scare when he accidentally ingested some marijuana, we assume at one of the aforementioned dog parks since neither of us imbibe, and his symptoms were terrifying for a new puppy owner who didn’t know what was happening. He was totally fine but: woof. But the best thing that happened in November was deciding last-minute to fly to New York City for Katie & P’s wedding in Manhattan. They got married in a sweet little city garden in the rain surrounded by their families and took a sunset boat cruise to the Statue of Liberty, and I was so grateful to be there for such an important occasion.
I felt the seasonal affective disorder coming on STRONG in December, so I leaned hard into the holiday season. I decorated my whole apartment, made an advent calendar with Mike, sewed a Christmas quilt and got us matching pyjamas. Myself and a few friends were lucky enough to go up to a cottage for the weekend which was so peaceful and quiet. My sisters and I had a festive brunch and got pedicures together in lieu of gifts. And best of all, we actually got to celebrate Christmas together this year, even with some precautions because of a few Covid scares. Still, a huge improvement over the lonely year before. Even though I felt very stressed & anxious over the holidays because of Omicron and a new lockdown order and a Covid exposure and cancelling plans to drive to upstate New York for NYE, we tried our best to make the most of a challenging situation.
Firsts of 2021
- First time becoming a (dog) parent
- First time speaking in front of such a large audience (Creative Mornings)
- First time filming a video in a real production studio
- First time visiting Algonquin Park
- First time hosting a virtual retreat
- First time having an apartment with outdoor space
- First time renting a bonfire pit at Ontario Place
- First time assisting at an engagement shoot
- First time installing bookshelves
- First time being on-camera “talent” for a commercial shoot
- First time getting a matching loungewear set
- First time picking someone up from the airport by myself
- First time swimming at the Elora Gorge
- First time at puppy school
- First time trying Firehouse Subs
2021 By The numbers
- 75 books read
- 13 videos filmed
- 5 hours & 23 minutes of meditation
favourite books read
- Red Rising by Pierce Brown
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova
- Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibberd
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weird
- Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
- From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle
- Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
- It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
- Wintering by Katherine May
My word of the year: Soften
Ironically but unsurprisingly, I actually feel like I got harder this year, more rigid and uncompromising, especially after getting Bruno. I was hard on myself (and continue to be) for the ways I felt I was failing, and hard on Mike during a time when I had very little patience or energy. I can’t count the times (even before becoming a dog parent) where I found myself saying “this is so hard”, because this year was so hard.
And yet I do think I softened a little. I softened in my anxious attachment and settled into feeling loved and safe in my relationship. I tried hard to soften my expectations for every experience needing to be The Best Experience Possible Under the Circumstances. I got soft serve ice cream more than a few times. I got a very soft velvet couch and an even softer puppy. The puppy forced me to spend time every day just sitting on the floor playing and cuddling.
So all in all, it was a good word, a good teacher. As usual, I think I’ll probably see the payoff of this word this year, in 2022, a lot more than I did in 2021. I certainly hope so anyways. The world continues to get louder and sharper around the edges, and I want to be soft, compassionate, calm.
That’s it from me for now. Little reminder to future Steph: don’t put off writing these reviews. In the process, you always get more perspective, more joy, more gratitude for the life you’re fortunate enough to lead. That doesn’t diminish the feelings of despair or hopelessness, those are always hard and painful and challenging. But writing, reminiscing, processing, remembering, documenting: these things give you hope. These things bring you joy.
And if you’re reading this and thinking your year sucked compared to mine, please know that I feel that daily in comparison to other people. I encourage you to ‘romanticize your life’, as the kids say on TikTok, by writing a review of your own, by documenting the good and the bad for your future self to look back on. For me, it makes all the difference.
Sending you so much love and lightness and a loosening of expectations and a lessening of stress, and a languorous stretch in the sunshine, the kind Bruno takes daily. Here’s hoping 2022 holds many beautiful things for us all.
PS. If you’re curious, you can see more of my year-end reviews here: