It’s that time of the year for retrospection.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021, Top Ten Books of 2021, and Top Ten Hikes of 2021, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2021, it’s time to conclude my lists with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2021. Like the ministry moments I recalled yesterday, family life doesn’t fit neatly into a summary like this. Even so, there’s really something to be said for the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of life as it goes by. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect.
I don’t usually give out “Honorable Mention” awards in these lists, but there were so many good Family Moments this year that I wanted to at least mention the lovely trip that Marci and I got to take to the New River Gorge in West Virginia to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary… and the half-marathon I got to run with Cor in January… plus several lovely hikes with my family… as well as the time that our furnace died during one of the coldest weeks of the year… not to mention the time my kids got me a Tilley Hat for my birthday… These were all great memories that fell outside of the Top Ten, in my highly-subjective opinion. And I feel like a blessed man to have too many great memories to include in this year’s list.
But enough preamble. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2021, in ranked order:
- Fun in the Freeze (February)
- A Restful Hour on “Beach 2” in Olympic National Park (June)
- Santa Lucia Celebrations (December)
- Meeting Up for Handel’s Ice Cream after My Parents were Fully-Vaccinated against COVID-19 (April)
- Elliot Going Away to College (August)
- Going for a Run with All Three of My Siblings in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (July)
- Olivia’s Busy Holiday Season with the RHS Choirs (December)
- Reconnecting with My Roots in the Upper Midwest (June)
- Cor’s Breakout Performance in the JV Soccer Game versus Wadsworth (August)
- Serendipitous Apple Chucking Reunion at Beckwith Orchards (October)
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Serendipitous Apple Chucking Reunion at Beckwith Orchards (October)
Honestly, this was not a great year for apple chucking. Maybe something to do with the way that the apples ripened on the trees? I don’t know. I went out three or four times in October, and there just weren’t many apples on the ground. The ones that were on the ground were not easy to spear or chuck. And on the rare occasion when we got a successful chuck, the apples didn’t really explode all that much. Still, it felt super-special when Olivia, Cor, and I visited Beckwith Orchards in the last week of October — and it just so happened that Elliot was visiting with friends at the same time! We got to chuck a few apples together for old time’s sake. And even if the chucking wasn’t first-rate, the memory of that day in the orchards was.
#9 – Cor’s Breakout Performance in the JV Soccer Game versus Wadsworth (August)
In the same week as his 14th birthday, Cor and his High School (Junior Varsity) Soccer Team traveled to Wadsworth for a Saturday afternoon game. His Roosevelt Roughriders defeated Wadsworth 3-1. And Cor had an especially key role in the victory. He scored two goals, including a dramatic 80th minute Penalty Kick to pull ahead 2-1! And for the team’s third goal that day, he notched an assist to his close friend and teammate Carter. Cor had a really great soccer season. I’m really proud of the young man he is. (Note: the photo above is from later in the season, but it’s a far nicer picture than any of the ones I took in Wadsworth early in the season).
#8 – Reconnecting with My Roots in the Upper Midwest (June)
On our family’s big summer road trip to the Pacific Northwest, we made a deliberate decision to reconnect with family history in Minnesota and North Dakota. We stayed a night with my Aunt Jayne in the Twin Cities. We visited the graves of my grandparents in Long Prairie, Minnesota, and Jamestown, North Dakota. But we also ate in roadside diners and took pictures by the World’s Largest Buffalo. All sorts of things that feel connected to my family’s roots. It felt like a sort of pilgrimage, and I’m really glad we made it a priority to include these elements.
#7 – Olivia’s Busy Holiday Season with the RHS Choirs (December)
Now in her senior year of high school, Olivia plays a big role in the school’s choir system. She even got elected as president of the choir (which mostly seems to mean she does the announcement at the big concerts, but still)! Of all the ways that choir has become such a special part of her life, though, it felt like the biggest impact fell in the month of December. She and the other members of the ACEs Ensemble had so many gigs until a resurgence of COVID cut their singing season short. As a parent, I felt protective about the amount of time that the choir director asked of the students, but Olivia took it all in stride. I love her attitude, her voice, and her leadership. I love her.
#6 – Going for a Run with All Three of My Siblings in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (July)
We had something of a Post-COVID Family Reunion in July. My brothers came to Ohio from Texas and Minnesota, respectively, after everyone had been vaccinated. And it felt so freeing to gather together again, and share meals together again, and all that good stuff. Of all the things that happened in northeast Ohio that week, I think my favorite experience was going for a run together with my siblings: Jay, Anna, and Alex. We met in Peninsula (about half-way between my house and my sister’s house), and we just did a little out-and-back on the Towpath Trail. But it felt special to be just the four of us again, for a little bit. I’m very thankful for all the different levels of my family and the way we uniquely interact with each other, depending on the groupings.
#5 – Elliot Going Away to College (August)
Don’t get me wrong: I love having Elliot around. Still, it’s good for his life to continue growing in independence. And since his first year of college was so heavily overshadowed by COVID-19, it felt especially meaningful to help him move into an apartment near campus with some college friends. He’s doing really well in this more “pure college” environment: almost always socially-engaged, staying up until 3AM and sleeping until noon, playing intramural sports, and keeping up with his school work. But it’s fun to see that he’s also discovered a love of baking, keeping his apartment tidy (we never would have guessed that one, from the way he acts around us), and pursuing spiritual growth at Kent State University.
#4 – Meeting Up for Handel’s Ice Cream after My Parents were Fully-Vaccinated against COVID-19 (April)
The COVID-19 Pandemic created many distinct family moments. We had a round of sickness in March. Then we all got vaccinated in April, May, and June (punctuated by Cor getting his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Seattle). And we ended the year with another round of sickness in December. But one of the more hopeful, happy pandemic moments for our family was the 15th day after my Dad and Mom got their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19. We celebrated by meeting up for ice cream at Handel’s in Stow — and it felt so good to hug and hang out again, after so long of being so careful. My parents have been one of the primary lenses through which I’ve experienced the pandemic, so it felt like a very significant celebration to get to that point.
#3 – Santa Lucia Celebrations (December)
Our family packs as much holiday cheer as possible into the month of December. We celebrate a sort of Dutch Christmas on December 5th, a sort of Norwegian Christmas on December 24th, and a classic American Christmas on December 25th. But it’s a sort of Swedish Christmas on December 13th that’s become especially significant to us. My mother-in-law helped to revive her family’s Swedish connections when Marci and her siblings were growing up. And the tradition has stuck with our family, as well. We prepare special treats and listen to special music. And we wake up early to open “stocking stuffer” presents together. It’s fun, and it feels like it’s “all ours.” Nobody else we know in Ohio celebrates Santa Lucia. And with all of the COVID disruptions we’ve experienced later in December, the weekend when Elliot came home and we celebrated Santa Lucia together feels extra-special.
#2 – A Restful Hour on “Beach 2” in Olympic National Park (June)
Back in the summer, I wrote about My Favorite Hour in the Pacific Northwest. And actually, I feel like my memory of that hour has only expanded over time. To take up a space in my heart as wide as the Pacific Ocean. Because it was simple. Spontaneous. And together as a family. This episode of our epic summer vacation may ultimately settle into family lore as “The Sea Otter Story” because at one point while napping on the beach, I woke up and looked out in the surf just in time to see a sea otter. So I signaled to the rest of the family and — miraculously — got them all to look in the same direction at the same time. We all got to see the sea otter! And it just felt like a lovely little exclamation point on a lovely little hour in the Pacific Northwest.
#1 – Fun in the Freeze (February)
We had a super-cold snap from the end of January through the middle of February. Consequently, all of the area lakes, ponds, and bogs froze much more deeply than they usually do. Fortunately, our family has a full set of ice skates. So we got to do a lot of ice skating! I have fond memories of a skating session with Olivia and Cor at West Branch State Park and a solo skate at Trail Lake Park. But the best memories might be two separate skating sessions at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we met others to skate together. The one time was with our friends, AJ and Jana, at the end of our annual “Laugh in the Face of Winter” adventures. The other was with my sister and her kids as heavy snow fell to cover the ice. It made for a memorable winter!