Our Year in Review 2021

I am writing this post in January of 2022, but I can’t help feeling like we are still in 2020. While much has happened during the last 2 years, the ups and downs of the pandemic has also made time come to a standstill sometimes, and right now with Omicron surging, it feels like we are suddenly being brought back to 2020, learning how to live in a pandemic-stricken, polarized world once again.

Perhaps, because the new COVID variant Omnicron has dominated headlines since the beginning of this year, causing immense fear and turmoil around the world, it has triggered a lot of unpleasant memories of the 2020 lockdowns, causing us to feel “stuck” again. Many, including our family, were very hopeful that 2022 would be the year that things transition back into normalcy, at least as far as gatherings and travel were concerned, but to start the year with record high COVID numbers quickly made our collective hopefulness dwindle. But, it is only January, so things could turnaround for the better as the year unfolds!

Despite the seemingly never-ending COVID situation, as I reflect upon 2021 for this post, I see so much to be grateful for. Even though it was undoubtedly one of the hardest years of my life, as I look back at everything that happened, I feel immensely thankful for the many, many ways that God showed up. In fact, in hindsight, which is often 20/20, I can see God’s hands in nearly every part of my life…the highs, the lows, and all the in betweens.

If 2020 was the Great Reset, then 2021 was the Great Surrender. Literally so much was completely out of my control I could do nothing but constantly pray for God’s guidance and direction. There were moments when I questioned whether God was listening, but what I have learned is that God is always listening. However, God’s timeline is almost always different than ours, and His ways are never what we envision. Part of the journey in growing my faith is also a journey to grow my patience (which has always been a problem!) because God wants us to wait for His perfect timing and plan, not ours.

And with that single most important lesson from 2021, here’s our recap of a remarkable year full of wonderful memories with loved ones, even amidst a global pandemic…

January 2021We rang in the New Year in Hong Kong with our family, and the huge blessing of all being together during a global pandemic was certainly not lost on us. We cherished every meal together as a group of 9, squeezed affectionately around Mimi and Brian’s dinner table, night after night…before Bridgette and I left Hong Kong a few days into the new year. Alan stayed behind, but Bridgette and I had important reasons to leave first. We went home to get our house ready to welcome the Chuangs, because their first stop before departing on their gap year was SFO! Since we knew we’d be reunited with the Chuangs in a week’s time, our farewells in Hong Kong were not as sad as previous times. When the Chuangs arrived to SFO, we hugged as if we did not just spent the last 6 weeks together in Hong Kong, but that was because we recognized how precious it is to get to be together once again! They spent only a week in the Bay Area and it was a leisurely week for all of us to get over our jetlag, but we did get to celebrate Mimi’s birthday together with her favorite tiramisu cake from Studio Cake. Brianne and Bridgette spent a lot of time in their room just playing music, Brady got to practice snorkeling in my bathtub, and Brian constantly surprised us with delicious baked goods from the kitchen! A week later, we sent the Chuangs off to Ecuador, and confirmed that Bridgette and I would meet them a couple weeks later after their time in the Galapagos. Little did they know that I had spent the last few months scheming up the most perfect surprise to meet them in the Galapagos! Our surprise went off pretty much without a hitch, which is saying something about my years of accumulated skill in this arena (haha), and we spent a wonderful week in the Galapagos Islands together touring the western islands. We even got to celebrate Brianne turning 14 while on our Galapagos cruise!

February 2021After our week in the Galapagos, we continued our trip in Ecuador through most of February. We visited our friend Kirk in Cuenca, moved onto Banos, and then spent an exciting few (and very hot) days in the Amazon Rainforest. Bridge and I ended our time in Ecuador after visiting our friend Ayaka in Quito, and then flew back to the Bay Area while the Chuangs remained for another two weeks. During our time in Ecuador this month, we got to celebrate my birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day! We enjoyed a sweet reunion with Alan once we arrived home, and because we had to self-quarantine after traveling, Bridgette spent a very quiet birthday with us at home…though I did get her an amazing cake from Butter& that had a beautiful gold map of the world. After self-quarantining, we eagerly reconnected with friends and family that we hadn’t seen for awhile.

March 2021Our home became a natural transit (and rest) stop for the Chuangs in between all the places they were going to hit for their gap year, so we happily welcomed them back again for a week this month. We had prayed so hard for the Chuangs’ annual visit to happen in the summer of 2020, but God said no. Instead, He had even better plans for us and blessed us with way more time than we asked for in 2021, both at our home in the Bay Area and in various countries around the world! Thank you Lord! We spent a good chunk of our March just enjoying home cooked meals, celebrating Alan’s birthday, and seeing the few friends and family that felt comfortable with small gatherings. The Chuangs then jetted off to their next destination–Alaska, and we joined them during their week skiing at Alyeska ski resort in Girdwood, Alaska! My cousin Jacqueline also brought along her daughter Maddie, and it was so cute to watch Maddie and Brady learn how to snowboard together. We had such a fun time, but boy, after skiing for like 5 consecutive days, I could barely feel my sore arms and legs anymore!

April 2021We spent the whole month of April back at home, and continued making up for lost time with family and friends. Our friend Kirk came to visit from Ecuador and we had a lot of fun taking him around town to indulge in all kinds of Asian food. Bridge even introduced Kirk to his very first boba drink! The Chuangs returned to our home from Alaska for an extended stay this time, and our uncle James also visited from Puerto Rico. We celebrated Brian’s birthday with a wonderful 2 night stay at the Autocamp in Yosemite where we hiked, swam, and played an exciting round of Truth or Dare around the evening fire. Lastly, to close the month out, Mimi planned our annual girls’ trip down to San Luis Obispo where we got to eat our favorite clam chowder at Pismo Beach!

May 2021This was definitely one of my favorite months of the whole entire year. My parents returned from Hong Kong, giving us precious time together as a family before the Chuangs headed to their next destination. Much time was spent cooking in our kitchen and gathering around our dinner table for meals, games, and endless laughter (mostly from Brady’s silliness!). We hosted a lovely backyard brunch for Mother’s Day and a super fun cousin’s BBQ to pre-celebrate Brady’s 5th birthday! I really cherished every single one of these gatherings with family and friends, always reminding myself to never take these moments for granted again.

June 2021It was especially sad to send the Chuangs off again at the beginning of this month, because their plans were to hit the next 2 countries consecutively, and then fly straight back to their home in Hong Kong since they would need to quarantine for 21 days upon arrival there. We had gotten so use to having a full house and a crowded dinner table day after day, and were not quite ready to let them go yet. Alas, sadly, we still had to bid farewell. After they left, we continued to maximize our time with family and friends (who knew when the next lockdown would be?!) before Bridgette and I flew off to Kenya to meet up with the Chuangs there. It was a loooong flight, though Bridge and I did get to enjoy an afternoon tea at Harrod’s when we transited in Doha, Qatar, and that was pretty cool. We arrived to Nairobi, Kenya after midnight and enjoyed another sweet reunion with the Chuangs the following morning. Our time in Kenya together was absolutely magical, and dare I say that it was the most memorable trip we’ve taken?! We spent time in Nairobi, Maasai Mara, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and Laikipia County, and while each place was vastly different in terms of wildlife and habitat, what impacted us most were the people that we met along the way.

July 2021Saying goodbye to the Chuangs in Kenya was much harder than we anticipated, only because we knew it could be quite long before our next reunion since they were returning to Hong Kong for their 21 day quarantine and we were going back to the States. Let’s just say the tears overflowed like never before during our farewell this time. Once back home, we spent the first two weeks of July reuniting with friends and family as we always do in between our travels, and then we packed our bags once again to fly out to San Juan, Puerto Rico! This trip was particularly special to Bridgette because we brought along one of her besties, Anita, to join us! We spent about 2 weeks in Puerto Rico where Bridgette and Anita had their very first summer job working for Bridgette’s granduncle who owns a souvenir shop there. Since my parents were also visiting, I got to spend a lot of quality time with them, along with our extended family that lives in PR, while the girls were busy working every day. Alan joined for the last few days of our trip, but sadly, Bridgette suffered a bad food poisoning episode that had us all house bound for those days.

August 2021After we returned from Puerto Rico, I was ready to slow down a bit while Bridgette kicked off her first project as a high schooler. She began planning a “surprise” trip for her and I, to anywhere in the world for however long she wanted, all within a budget she worked on with Alan. I was to know nothing about it, not even our departure date! She only gave me a short packing list and suggested that I have my luggage packed and ready to go anytime.Anytime” turned out to be August 19th…so much for “slowing down” this month! We spent the last 2 weeks of August in Paris, Ljubliana (Slovenia), and Budapest (Hungary)! It felt like the Amazing Race because I had no idea where we’d land each time, and how long we’d be staying. At first, it was hard for me to let go of the reins, but I quickly adjusted to being in the backseat and it was actually a lot of fun!

September 2021We continued our adventures in Europe for most of September, traveling in Slovakia, Austria, and the South of France. Bridgette planned some incredible experiences for us, and took me to places I didn’t even know existed. I really got use to the rhythm of just following along without any knowledge of her plans, which required me to constantly pack up on a whim! She even surprised me while we were in France, by arranging for us to meet with our friends, 2 other Worldschooling families we had met in Bali several years ago!

October 2021After spending 6 extraordinarily memorable weeks in Europe, we finally returned home at the end of September. Life did not slow down, however. We packed up our home of 10 years and moved a mile away in the same neighborhood. The process of purging, packing, moving and unpacking was not daunting as those who know me can attest to my love of purging and minimizing “things” around our home. But, it was physically exhausting, especially after coming back from a 6 week European adventure! It was also emotionally draining, having to say good bye to a home that held so many memories for us during Bridgette’s most formative years. We reminded ourselves that God’s plans are always better than ours, and that we needed to trust Him in all circumstances. We settled into our new home in record time, with Alan being a total rockstar in executing all the home improvement/decorating projects that I wanted to do. Bridgette even got to host a couple gatherings with her friends and celebrate her favorite holiday–Halloween!