Summing Up: 2021

Finally. Here it is, the middle of December, and we’ve just had our first hard freeze. The last few days, we’ve been in the 80s at Meadow Knoll, and more 80s are predicted for the coming week.

But there are signs of winter. The winter birds–goldfinch, woodpeckers, blue jays, multitudinous sparrows–are showing up at the feeders, and a very late flight of sandhills flew over last week, their wild, warbling calls falling like a blessing. The cypress trees have dropped their bright orange needles, carpeting the banks of Pecan Creek, and the sun has almost reached the farthest point in its annual arc, where it slants through the west window of  my writing studio late in the workday–so dazzling that I must close the blind. It’s my favorite time of the year, although I could wish for a more seasonal cold.

Summing up. 2021 was a good year here, in spite of the ongoing pandemic and the national political distress created by the former president’s compulsion to stay in power. We rolled up our sleeves for our first vaccinations and our booster as soon as they were available, so we’ve stayed healthy. I have new eyes, thanks to the summer’s cataract surgeries. I retired from out-of-state book travel several years ago, so 2021 was another stay-at-home year for me–frankly, a great pleasure. A chronic back ailment makes travel difficult. And anyway, there’s nowhere else I would rather be. I am grateful that I can say that.

Family matters. Earlier this year, I wrote about the family mystery that has plagued my brother and me for decades: the identity of our real grandfather. Hoping to find an answer, John and I both subscribed to Ancestry and quickly saw that while there were plenty of DNA matches on our paternal grandmother’s side of the family, there were none at all from her husband. The man we knew as Granddad Fred was definitely not our grandfather. With some detective work that would have pleased China Bayles, we discovered the identity of our real grandfather and have been rewarded with an interesting (and more accurate) family tree and a growing list of distant cousins. DNA can be incredibly revealing.

From the writing desk. 2021 and the pandemic have brought many adjustments to the book world. I’m very happy to be publishing my own work, rather than being caught in what has become an increasingly difficult vortex. I published two books this year–The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily and Hemlocka Pecan Springs mystery–and completed another Dahlias mystery, The DDs and the Red Hot Poker (coming in May 2022).

I’m working now on a book about Georgia O’Keeffe, her fascinating friend Maria Chabot, and the life they shared in the 1940s. It’s been an exciting, revealing research project, with a deep dig into Maria’s unpublished letters and papers. Thanks to Paula Yost, my friend and research assistant, for her help with this project, and to the wonderful archive team at the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. After the first of the year, I’ll be posting a series of background pieces on this blog, so watch for that.

For our friends who experienced the weekend’s tornadoes, for those in the West who lived through the fires, and for those in the South, who braved the third most active hurricane season on record, we’re sending courage and strength. For all those who are living with the terrible aftermath of Covid-19, please know you are held in our hearts. For the rest of us, let’s be grateful for a good year, in spite of pandemic, the political chaos, and climate change–the difficult times in which we live. There is this, always:

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
― Mary Oliver


Update: Thank you for your many stories–I love to read them and even though I can’t comment on all, I’m delighted that you’re willing to share. To those who tell me that you don’t want to hear about my politics, I’ll repeat here what I wrote in reply to one comment below: “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I insert my politics into everything I write. I write from a strongly liberal/progressive point of view, encourage my characters to voice their beliefs, and trust my readers to choose what they want to read.” Uncivil and profane comments have been deleted; they do not contribute to the conversation.

49 comments on “Summing Up: 2021

  1. Cheryl, you cracked me up with that Methuselah comment! 😂 Priceless. I’m more on the liberal side, but please be assured that I know not all conservatives are not like what you’re describing. I very much admire Republicans like the late John McCain. He was an honorable man. Sadly, that concept is becoming obsolete.

  2. Susan, I, too, am frustrated with my state’s (KY) right wing slant. Doubly so because Sen.Mitch McConnell, re-elected last year, has been in that office since Methusalah was a pup and holds way more politcal clout than should be allowed! I hope the world knows that not everyone in the right leaning states think that way!

  3. Happy New Year, Susan.
    So wonderful to read your entries here and receive your newsletter, it is by far as pleasant to hear from you about your real life as it is to read your novels.

    I’ve noticed over the last few decades that my reading patterns vary, and that during times of stress or family problems I’m less able to sit and read for any length of time. So my ability to read through all of your wonderful books is drawn out in an extremely long schedule.

    We have had to help my 84 year old mother relocate to a senior residence, as her big empty house had become unmanageable as well as sadly isolating for her during this pandemic.

    Now she has been in her new flat for several months, and we have just finally celebrated a delayed Christmas on New Year’s Day – she was very I’ll with bronchitis and was in the hospital for a few days. We are grateful to have such a rich community of online Allie’s and moral supports available toys, as this has been a very challenging year.

    Best to you and your husband, thank you for writing. And if you and your fans ever find the lack of book tours and interaction, consider doing some scheduled live YouTube video streams. It could be fun and give you back what has been made less possible due to health and the pandemic.

  4. Happy New Year to you and your husband! Keep up the good work! I enjoy your books, blogs and Facebook posts. And to those who don’t like what you post I say “Then follow someone else”. We all have a right to our opinions, no matter whether we’re authors, celebrities, butchers, bakers or candlestick makers!

    “How boring would this world be if everyone was the same?”
    ~Halima Aden~

  5. Then hopefully your home is an oasis that nurtures you and Bill in the midst of a social desert

  6. Not very well, I’m afraid, Veronica. I’m angry at people who impose their beliefs and political choices on others. I’m frustrated by the legislature’s actions. if I were able, I’d be active. As it is, I contribute where I think it might help.

  7. I also agree with your “politics,” or more accurately, views on social interaction and the need for civility. I wonder how you deal with the “Texas” mind-set about which we see so much news.

  8. Happy New Year to you and Bill! I am ever hopeful that it will bring us relief from this horrible virus and the other miseries we experienced last year. Congratulations on getting your eyes spiffed up. This has been a busy time for you. I have enjoyed everything you have written and am looking forward to the new books you have coming out. I’m so glad that you are vaxed, boosted and staying safe and healthy.

  9. Only way I know to inform you that January’s It’s About Thyme newsletter is actually the one you sent for December.

  10. I thoroughly enjoy your China Bayles series and its cast of characters! I always look forward to the next installment and feel like I’m catching up with old friends. I just finished Hemlock, another great read! I always learn something new after reading one of your stories which is always welcome. I will start on Darling Dahlia series in the new year. Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy 2022! Looking forward to the new stories in progress…

  11. Thank you so much for writing! I am happy you write from a strong liberal viewpoint. There is a lot to be grateful for definitely. Sorry to hear of your chronic back issue. I am sympathetic as I have a similar situation which makes traveling not so easy these days in my older years! Thank you for writing China Bayles and I love the darling dahlias! Happy holidays and cheers to the new year in 2022!!

  12. Eileen, if you enjoy NYT puzzles, you must have been happy with the Dec. 12 paper. A full section of puzzles. I haven’t tried any of them yet.

  13. I love all of your books! I’m really looking forward to more China Bayles,and more Darling Dahlias! This is the first time I’ve read your blog. I so very glad I found it. I’ve put it on my favorites list so I’ll be able to find it again. It’s a pleaasure reading about Meadow Knoll and your life there. Merry Christmas. Wishing you the very best of health and happiness in the coming year.

  14. Susan, you go, Girl! I feel our democracy is hanging by a thread! You encourage me!

  15. I agree with you completely, Susan. And thank you for your wonderful stories of your land (and your delightful books). I love spending time at our place in Kyle, Texas (working in the garden, watching the chickens, etc.). There truly is no place like home. Today I read Mary Irion’s touching essay on the joys of a ‘normal day’ and it encouraged me to always appreciate the everydayness of life. Many don’t have that luxury right now.

  16. Good morning from Maui! Both my husband – a retired professor – and I – an artist and author – have only recently found and are now enjoying your Darling Dahlias series, and look forward to reading your other books, too. Thank you for your political views (we agree) and all the yummy recipes with historical notes! Blessings for the New Year, Aloha!

  17. I enjoy your writing. When I first found your books I was tempted to read one after another. But then I found that reading them interspersed with other books gave me a homecoming feeling. I enjoy that feeling, so I read a bit randomly. It makes some of my friends a little nuts but maybe we all need a little randomness!

  18. Thank you for sharing your life and ideas with us! May 2022 hold even greater accomplishments and joy!

  19. Greetings from Oregon where it’s raining in the valley and the mountains are starting to see some much needed snow. I can’t believe 2021 is almost gone, but since my retirement in May 2020 the days and weeks just seem to fly by.

    I recently got back into reading the China Bayles series and am desperately trying to get caught up so I can read the latest book. I really appreciate reading about your projects and the happenings at Meadow Knoll. Best to all in 2022. Judy

  20. THANK you for this year end writing Susan! All good blessings to you and yours in the coming year. Looking forward to your new writings!

  21. Merry Christmas, Susan! Your creek is lovely. Here in north Texas it is still too warm for this time of year, although we did finally have a freeze last night. Blessings and good wishes to all this holiday season!!

  22. I share your political opinions and enjoy your books. Wishing you Happy Holidays and a great new year.

  23. I appreciated your summary of 2021 and pray that 2022 will be a healthier, safer year for all humanity. Please keep sharing with us your adventures and observations about life and the rapidly changing world. So glad to learn that you and yours are vaccinated and boosted against demon COVID as am I.
    Wishing you continued good health and happiness in the New Year, and the merriest Christmas!

  24. To believe one party has all the answers is foolish. Don’t want to hear your personal political opinions either.

  25. I enjoy your newsletters and want to wish you and your family a blessed holiday and a better new year for us all.

  26. I always enjoy your posts from Meadow Knoll and wish you continued health and happiness. I left the US many years ago and watch with dismay what is happening there. I try to remember that the news doesn’t reflect everything. (Most of) your readers give me hope.

  27. Susan, this post is the equivalent of a rich blessing this Sunday. With family scattered across the southeastern states, we’re fortunate to say that all are safe in the tornado area. We have our health at the end of 2021 which hasn’t changed drastically, and we’re both fully vaccinated and boostered. Wish I could say that about our son and his family. I understand the travel difficulties with a chronic back issue. I’ve lived with back woes for the last three decades. Always stay true to your opinions. Never have you offended in any of your writing and anyone who reads your work and knows you from that work knows you never will. Your calming voice in your writing, books and posts, is always a welcome treat.

  28. Susan, Thanks so much for blessing my Sunday! I love reading about Meadow Knoll. We feed the birds also, and I love looking for the ones that are only here in the winter. Please keep writing and encouraging.

  29. I love the Darling Dahlias. I have every one of the books and wait, not so patiently, for the next one.

  30. I agree with Jeff please do not insert your political beliefs. I stopped buying and reading Marcia Muller because of this. I cannot afford to lose another author.

  31. What a beautiful Sunday morning post! I feel as if I’ve started the week with beauty, knowledge, and, yes, a sense of humor. The words of Mary Oliver are always inspiring, too. I have written a few verses of prose and poetry this year. It has been a healthy distraction and exercise in expressing the ups and downs of cancer treatments for most of this year. I am grateful for the inspiration you have provided for your readers. Dianne

  32. Bravo! I appreciate your writings here and your books and look forward to reading more. Wishing you the best.

  33. Well said Susan! I’m looking forward to anything you write! Thank you for keeping on and best wishes for an even better 2022. I have aging issues as well but then that’s to be expected when we are lucky enough to reach our 70’s as I have. Many don’t. I count my blessings every day!
    Thank you for helping to make life interesting. Love from Georgetown Texas.

  34. I recently discovered my great grandfather even though I knew his name and where he lived before that. Subscribed to Ancestry for years but recently subscribed to Thus, we got great grandfather’s obituary , a lengthy one. He was born in the US but taken to Ireland as an infant. We also found an infant sister of my. Grandfather that no one knew existed. This answered many questions.

  35. Maybe you haven’t noticed, Jeff, but I insert my politics into everything I write. I write from a strongly liberal/progressive point of view, encourage my characters to voice their beliefs, and trust my readers to choose what they want to read.

  36. So glad that I saw you twice at my library before you gave up out of state book travel.
    I love reading about your own property as much as I love reading about Your book characters.

  37. A much nicer start to the morning than even the NYT puzzles! This is my favorite time of year as well: clear cold mornings, brilliant Texas sunshine, and holiday lights harkening back to ancient solstice traditions. Most important, re-knitting ties to family and friends.

    I’m amazed at the similar events I share with you and your readers—cataract surgery, a beloved dog with cancer, and finding more family with DNA testing. We really are members of a big community of people with many of the same events in our lives.

    Susan, thank you so much for this truly peaceful start to the morning.

  38. What a lovely way to start the day. Thank you for sharing a bit of Meadow Knoll with your readers and offering a hopeful lens through which to see the closing of this year. Warmest wishes for a cozy season to you and yours.

  39. Hi Susan. Thank you for this lovely post and for sharing some personal history. We seem to have things in common. I also have a grandfather (mother’s side) that I know almost nothing about. There isn’t a photo of him anywhere, and even the Ancestry DNA didn’t yield much. I also had cataract surgery this year (in one eye only), and suffer with chronic SI joint arthritis that renders me debilitated at times. I’m a mixed media artist so the pain definitely puts a wrench in the works. Aging is not for the weak willed! I’m triple vaccinated as well, still working from home. As for 2021….another difficult year with my sweet dog, Sookie. Last year it was two knee surgeries followed by 5-6 months of home rehab after each one. This year it’s cancer. She’s been on chemo since February. I cherish every moment with her, but it’s been challenging to say the least. This year has been as heartwarming as it has been heartbreaking. Thank you for writing books that allow your readers to escape for a little while. Be well. Stay safe.

  40. I love your books and have read pretty much everything you have written. I hope you don’t start inserting your politics into your fiction.

  41. I needed your inspiration and calming voice this morning. Thank you so much. When I read your posts I feel like I’m there with you and it renews me. Hilary

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