Welcome. Last week, my colleagues and I shared our best of 2021, the movies and music, pastimes and provocations that enriched our lives this year, both at home and away. (I am still marveling at the fact that Tonya Douraghy, the art director for this newsletter, has been growing sunflowers in her kitchen.)
This week, this liminal week between one year and the next, we’re featuring your favorites. Here’s what readers of the At Home and Away newsletter loved in 2021. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“The best advice I received this year was from my manager who told me to take care of myself first and that our work doesn’t have to be perfect. In a prolonged pandemic, I really needed to hear that.” —Cindy Chow, Mountain View, Calif.
“One of the highlights of 2021 was streaming the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones,’ by Terence Blanchard. The opera tells a poignant and profound story about a young man’s journey to overcome trauma and hardship. My husband and I were profoundly moved.” —Peggy Geary, Vancouver, British Columbia
“My favorite thing I did to pass the time, in early 2021, was learning to make stock, from scratch. My boyfriend and I had just moved in together in November 2020 — my first time living with a partner. It was a project we patiently undertook as a team, letting the simmering aromas from the stove fill our Brooklyn apartment for close to 15 hours, while I finished my grad school thesis at the kitchen table nearby. Cooking with our homemade stock afterward is great, but feeling close to him, at home, doing something fun together, is the greatest reward imaginable.” —Steph Katsias, Brooklyn
“We built a cabin using 18th-century construction techniques. It enabled the family to get together outside and do something rewarding.” —Christopher Pryer, Fayetteville, N.C.
“Best recipe: ratatouille. Despite the fact that I normally detest eggplant, this is the most comforting and delicious thing I made (five times) all year. It was also incredibly crowd-pleasing for my vegetarian family members at Thanksgiving.” —Katie Snyder, Kansas City, Mo.
“One of the best books: ‘The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People,’ by Rick Bragg, read by him (for the audiobook) in his gentle Southern voice. It’s about a dog and much more. Funny, sad, sweet — a lovely read.” —Teri Martine, Seattle
“My wife and I, after 18 months of isolation, took a 44-day road trip in September and October. We went by car and stayed in hotels or with family and friends. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but for us it was fabulous. Nine thousand miles. Sixteen states. Seven national parks. Sixteen relatives. About 20 friends. A wonderful 50th high school reunion. Breathtaking scenery. We are so lucky.” —Mark P. Proulx, Des Moines, Wash.
“I would be remiss if I did not nominate ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ as a best of 2021 TV show. Though the series was short, each episode was full of intrigue and fun. The cast is absolutely sensational, with long-time favorites such as Tony Hale and Kristen Schaal and a wonderful group of younger actors who clearly relished their roles. Watch out for Constance, expertly played by Marta Kessler; her lines were delivered with so much deadpan aplomb, she had us roaring with laughter.” —Kimberley Kitzmiller, Portland, Ore.
“‘Shetland’’s Jimmy Perez in Season 6: A tortured detective inspector at a torturous place in his personal and professional life. His face reflects every struggle. As good as Ann Cleeves’s mysteries are, this is a case of TV besting the books — due in large part to actors like Douglas Henshall (who plays Perez) and Alison O’Donnell (who plays Detective Sergeant Alison McIntosh). The moody music, gorgeous location shots of the windswept islands and lilting Scottish burr of the characters transport viewers into this world.” —Ellen Girardeau Kempler, Laguna Beach, Calif.
“Dresses with pockets. How else can I roam the house and walk the dogs comfortably while having a safe place for my phone, so I can listen to podcasts all day long?” —Mary Beth Cox, Richmond, Va.
“The full-length produced episodes of ‘Funny People Making Food’ (there are also livestreams) are hilarious and informative.” —Erica Wides, Brooklyn
“Use the two-minute timer on your electric toothbrush to improve your balance. While brushing, stand on your left foot for the first 30 seconds, switch to the right foot for the next 30 seconds and repeat. (This assumes you have the kind of electric toothbrush that alerts you every 30 seconds during the two-minute brushing time.)” —Christine Thornton, Topsham, Maine
“The piano music that plays when I solve the New York Times Mini Crossword. Pure validation.” —Rebecca Hodgkins, Greenwood Village, Colo.
In 1979, Michiko Kakutani profiled Joan Didion for The Times: “A gifted reporter with an eye for the telling detail — the frayed hem, the shaking hand — she is also a prescient witness, finding in her own experiences parallels of the times. The voice is always precise, the tone unsentimental, the view unabashedly subjective. She takes things personally,” Kakutani wrote. Didion died this month, at 87.
Darker days getting to be a drag? Use ShadeMap to get a sense of when your house will be visited by sunlight.
Here’s Amythyst Kiah performing “Wild Turkey” at the Egg in Albany, N.Y.
How are you spending the closing days of 2021? Write to us: [email protected]. Include your full name and location and we might include your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for leading a full and cultured life appear below. I’ll be back on Friday.