2021: Our Year in Review

Here we are again – at the end of another year. Another crazy and challenging year, not just for our family, but everyone all over the world. A year ago, we were optimistic about a fresh start, a new year full of firsts and lasts. Hoping for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping for opportunities to travel and visit loved ones. There is no way around it – the pandemic was still very much alive in 2021. Let’s look back at the past year.

2021 - Garies Girl

Happy New Year – Welcome 2021!

We all made it through 2020 without catching the dreaded virus. We were under one roof again, even though it meant Pieter had to take a temporary job and join the masses looking for a new career in his spare time. We were together as a family and welcomed 2021 after a fun night of playing Uno and laughter. My parents were able to visit us for the Holidays and I was so thankful to have that time together. As an expat, family time is just the most special of all.

New Years Celebrations in Hilton Head Island, SC

Once back from our weekend away, we jumped into my first 2021 project – updating and reorganizing the garage. Everyone was involved. First, we cleaned out all the shelves and removed everything from the back wall of the garage. This is where we wanted a new, bigger and better storage solution. Before that was installed, I gave the back wall a new coat of paint. The new shelving unit was constructed out of three separate sections and carefully planned to fit my existing storage bins and allow enough space for the tools and items we wanted to store. My dad was in charge of organizing our tools on pegboards while my mom and I organized the shelving unit. Once everything was packed away, my dad got started on building a small workbench using all the leftover material from our old shelving unit. My parents travelled back to South Africa soon after, and I completed the rest of the garage updates by myself. Garage Cleanup and Organization – Part 1.

Garage Project - Unpack - Garies Girl
Garage Project – During

Garage Project - After - Garies Girl
Garage Project – After

Before my parents left though, we still celebrated Simon’s 19th birthday together. Nothing beats a steak dinner at Bare Bones!

Bare Bones Dinner for Simon’s Birthday

Both kids enrolled for another digital school semester and quickly got into their new routine. This was Simon’s last semester of high school and while not ideal, a safe option considering the ongoing virus threat. His lacrosse season started and they were able to train and play most of their scheduled games. I’m very grateful that he had the chance to play a final season. I enjoy going to the games and did not mind the new touchless ticket options and separated seating at the events themselves. Happily wore my mask as well. It actually helped to keep out the cold 🙂

Lacrosse Senior Night

Overall, we were still healthy till now, but towards the end of February, Pieter had some trouble with his heart again. This time, we took him to the Emergency Room hoping for some immediate relief. His heart went out of rhythm and since it was over the weekend, the answer was “wait and see” till Monday. At least they kept him in hospital and monitored his heart constantly. That Monday he was able to see a cardiologist and they did another cardioversion to get his heart back in rhythm. It was clear that we will need to see more doctors this year to find a permanent solution.


It was a mild enough winter, with just one snow afternoon/evening (on our anniversary) and soon we started prepping the garden for Spring. Out came the pressure washer and our walkways and driveway got a quick clean. I love working in the garden this time of the year since it is not that hot yet and bugs and mosquitos are not too bad. We trimmed some of the bushes/trees around our house and added some newly potted plants for color. Biggest job this year was to create new flowerbeds around the back deck and get everything mulched. Who needs a gym when you have yard work!

Deck Siding Flower Bed During - Garies Girl
New Flowerbeds

I have a very small vegetable garden that includes a blueberry bush, and this was prepped and planted. I think I planted some items too soon, but overall, the garden did well. Besides blueberries, I had plenty of tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos and even some strawberries.

Spring is also a great time to clean our deck. We use our pressure washer to clean it and every other year we seal the wood. This year, I focused on adding some plants and flowers to make the deck fun and inviting. I restained the deck railing and we also refinished our outdoor table (three times, now that we know some sealants are not meant for outside!!). Here is my list of items I normally do each year: Get the Garden Ready for Spring and Get Your Deck Ready for Summer.

Plants and Flowers - Garies Girl
Deck Preparation

Spring to me is also a perfect time to prep our RV (also called a travel trailer around these parts) for camping. We rent an outside storage spot for it, so it needs a good clean right about now. This year, we did some research and found the best cleaning solution to use on our RV. Both Pieter and I worked in small sections to clean the whole RV – top to bottom. I also played around with some videos and you are more than welcome to hop over to YouTube for our RV series: RV Life – We have Videos!

RV Life – Getting the Outside Clean

As for health news, Pieter had to get another (!) cardioversion. Three cardioversions in 13 months are way too many. He was seen by a new cardiologist and a heart operation was scheduled for March. Some new medicine has been helping him, but it was a short term solution at best. Of course, as soon as we had a firm date, our Health Insurance company and the hospital chain got into a billing conflict and all of a sudden our hospital chain was “out of network”. The only option at this point was to wait it out. The stress must have gotten to me since I ended up with a case of shingles. Luckily not too bad, but still, not a fun experience.


Soon the end of May arrived and we were getting ready for Simon’s High School Graduation. The end of his school career came so fast – one minute he was a Chattahoochee Elementary student and here he was graduating from Peachtree Ridge High School. Again his class was very fortunate to have an in-person graduation ceremony. More spaced out than pre-COVID times, but we were just so happy for him to fully enjoy this milestone event.

Simon - Garies Girl
High School Graduation

Being 2021, we were not that surprised when a clogged sewer pipe lead to a small flood in our guest bathroom which spread down to the basement. The flood damaged the bathroom floor, downstairs furnace, basement ceiling tiles and all the basement carpets. And on the outside, we were “pleasantly” surprised to learn we have a septic tank and for access, we would have to dig up part of our stone patio. As for the inside damage, we’ve dealt with a small flood before, so knew what we had to do. Since this wasn’t clean water, we had to file our first insurance claim to get everything cleaned up and sanitary again.

Patio Redo

Simon has been talking about an overseas trip for some time, and now that we were all vaccinated and with low COVID numbers in Europe, it seemed safe enough for him to travel. He and his best friend (and future college roommate) booked flights, prepped their backpacks, got train tickets and at the end of June, flew to Paris to start a month-long travel adventure.

Simon & Will Eurotrip

The three of us started talking about taking a small trip ourselves and ended up on a weeklong adventure in Nevada and California. We flew into Las Vegas and hired a rental car to drive to Palm Springs via the Mojave National Preserve. The trip was absolutely beautiful with lovely roads and interesting stops along the way. From there, we drove to Newport Beach, then up the coast to Los Angeles and Burbank. We got our “behind the scenes” look on a Warner Bros. Studio tour and visited the Friends couch and Gilmore Girls set. From here, we travelled back to Las Vegas where we stayed for four nights. It was fun showing Sidney the sights, including a day trip to Hoover Dam and the glass skywalk over the Grand Canyon. Too soon we had to return our rental car and catch our return flight. USA West Coast Road Trip – Part 1

Warner Bors. Studio Tour – Friends Couch

Healthwise, we have been very fortunate and have been able to steer clear of the COVID virus. We were still waiting for the hospital/health insurance issue to resolve, but we were hopeful it will happen soon. It helped a bit to know we were not the only ones affected by this contract standoff.


Fall arrived and we had to get ready for Simon’s move to Statesboro, GA and Georgia Southern College. We started prepping early and a week after he returned from Europe, we loaded up the cars and made the three and a half-hour drive. We visited Statesboro once before, but this gave us an opportunity to look around and get a feel for the town itself before move in day. Move in day was a well-organized event and only included one emergency shopping trip to Walmart. Life in the States – He is Off to College!

College Move In Day

Returning home was a bit of an adjustment. We were now a family of three and had to get used to this new way of life. I was still cooking for four and needed to retrain myself in this area. The house did feel empty and even more quiet, not that Simon made a lot of noise when he was still living here full-time.

Also in August, the hospital and medical insurance resolved their contract issues and it was finally time to schedule Pieter’s heart surgery. I dropped him off early in the morning and went back home to wait for news. The operation itself would take about four hours. It ended up taking longer, but was a success and overall he was in good shape. Nothing some rest at home couldn’t fix. He had to take it easy for a bit, to make sure his heart healed properly.

By the beginning of October, I was ready for some fun and it was time to decorate the house for Halloween. I just love this time of the year and enjoy the planning and organizing around the event. This was not a year for spending money on additional decorations, so I used what I had. I do believe we had the most Trick-or-Treaters ever this year. Everyone was friendly and definitely out to have some fun. Halloween 2021 covers our decorations this year. Of course, what goes up has to come down. I have some tips on how to Undecorate Halloween: 5 Tips for Undecorating Halloween.

Undecorating Halloween - Garies Girl
Halloween 2021


It was back to serious business and regular work. On the side, I kept busy with some small projects and created a list of paper projects and a list of fabric projects that will keep you busy too. Both are easy and cost-effective materials to use when decorating your house or creating DIY artwork. Did you miss those posts? Not to worry, here are the handy links: DIY Projects with Paper and DIY Projects with Fabric.

Fabric over Wooden Frame - Garies Girl
Fabric Art

I was definitely running out of steam and energy. While work continued, as usual, we were still not as social as we were before COVID. Even fully vaccinated, it is still smarter to maybe stay home more and avoid crowded areas. Visits with friends were happening again, but our groups were definitely smaller than before.

Simon came home for Thanksgiving break and we spent some quality time together as a family. Our good friends invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner and as always, served the best turkey! It was a fun evening and even better to have all the three grown-up kids together again and listen to their future plans.

Thanksgiving Kids - Garies Girl

December and Christmas

By the time December 1st rolled around, my house was already mostly decorated for Christmas. I was taking my time this year and kept adding and moving things around. I started early (the week of Thanksgiving) but probably only added the final decoration on the 5th of December. I’ll do better next year. I used what I have accumulated over the years, and what didn’t fit in with my color scheme, was donated early on. I did not create or buy any new decorations but made sure to add some decorations to all the rooms on the main floor.

We celebrated Sidney’s birthday with dinner out with family. She also wanted a “Sunday meal” to share with a small group of friends. I prepped the dining room with additional birthday decorations and set the table in white and silver, with a touch of Christmas. I cooked up a proper South African Sunday meal and left them to it.

We reconnected with some South African friends earlier this year who since moved to North Carolina, and invited them to spend Christmas and New Year with us in Atlanta. They drove down the day before Christmas and we had a lovely Christmas dinner together with David and Ilse. I have to say, not a whole lot of English was spoken (sorry David!). It has been great to hear all the kids having fun together and see them relaxing around board games and card games. They’ve been to the tennis courts, the movies and even went ice skating together. The unseasonably warm weather turned rainy and we’ve been staying indoors most of the time.

Tonight, we will go see an Atlanta Gladiator Ice Hockey game and then of course have a New Year’s feast with our guests. It is almost time to welcome 2022.

Happy New Year friends!

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