2021 in review: Australia never felt so vast until I couldn't drive interstate to see my family

Australia is a big place, but it never felt so vast until I couldn't drive to Victoria to see my family. So, fingers crossed, nothing comes between us this Christmas - not least because I have a new niece to meet.

The last 18 months have taught me something about routine: it's not a boring thing people do when they get older, but something that keeps you in control when you realise all the things that are outside your control.

Walking became important, not just for exercise and vitamin D but for the sense of getting somewhere. It was also a way to see faces. The introduction of the singles bubble was a game-changer for me and likely thousands of others living alone during the lockdown.

While I had wins on my own - building yoga muscles, reading novels, honing culinary skills - being with someone else, even quietly, slowed down my heart rate. We truly are social beings and, as I move into a new chapter, I will remember these lessons: I am strong alone, but we are stronger together.

My favourite stories this year

This wasn't a long yarn, but it was a popular one. In fact, it was one of the most responded-to on our socials the week it was published. About an unidentified person leaving crocheted love hearts in letterboxes around the Sutherland Shire town of Loftus, this simple story reminded me of the need for togetherness at a time when we were apart and how a kind-hearted stranger could make all the difference.

It got me thinking that something like this might not have happened if we weren't locked down. And if it did, would this story have resonated in such a way? On Facebook, people began commenting about other areas around southwest Sydney where 'angels' had been undertaking similar feats. There were such people in many neighbouring suburbs - a 'lockdown movement', it seemed. But the overwhelming sentiment was that the identities of these kind-hearted neighbours should remain mysteries. It only added to the magic during a time when Sydney was hurting.

The crocheted love hearts - and the story - provided a lift for the spirits.

Quiet achiever: Kelly Wren with her Gold medals won in the Singles and Doubles matches at the Special Olympics Summer World Games held in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Picture: Peter Muhlbock

Quiet achiever: Kelly Wren with her Gold medals won in the Singles and Doubles matches at the Special Olympics Summer World Games held in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Picture: Peter Muhlbock

With 23 Gold medals in Singles tennis, Kelly Wren is undefeated. The 43-year-old Engadine resident has been quietly amassing trophies in the Australian Tennis Championships for decades, and now she's giving back as a volunteer coach.

This Local Champion story brought attention to an ordinary person doing something extraordinary in our community. But the positive yarn was touched with melancholy because it reminded me that the COVID-19 lockdown didn't just affect businesses; it also affected the excellent work volunteers did in our community.

Kelly, who has an intellectual impairment, was unable to coach children with intellectual impairment and a range of disabilities at the Sydney South Special Olympics Club during the lockdown. The yarn brought home the fact that COVID touched everything.

It is the strong and steady community members like Kelly who will help bring us back up onto our feet and continue to rally the troops during what will likely be some long-lasting mental and social repercussions of the pandemic.