An Easter staycation

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This Easter, I’ve taken a whole week off work and it has been a real joy. It’s been several months since we have been ‘away, away’ but I enjoy pottering around at home and taking things slowly.

I would call this ‘staycation’ a ‘slow-cation’. It’s not that I haven’t done anything, mind you.

Gin & Book Club

On the evening of my last Friday of work, I got straight into holiday mode. This particular occasion saw the second gathering of a recently-formed ‘Gin & Book Club.’

This ingenious ‘books plus booze’ combination is the idea of my friend, Zoe. Following her 50th birthday last autumn, Zoe (with our help) has been sampling her collection of specialist gins that she received as gifts.

Sharing in this way has enabled us to sample all kinds of flavours that we might not otherwise have tried including marmalade, lemon drizzle and grapefruit. To this, we add our favourite tonic water, plus herbs, to make a lovely, refreshing drink.

Another positive is that we have not only renewed old friendships and nurtured new ones; we have also begun to enjoy literature that we might not otherwise have found. Our latest book was Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It’s odd, a little dark and – at times – very funny.

Zoe has also negotiated a discount if we want to buy the books we’ve chosen at our local bookshop. I turned up there to buy book number 3 (Tangerine by Christine Mangan) and it was gratifying to see how busy it was in there.

Shopping local?

Buying locally brings me onto a theme that I’ve been thinking about a lot. In spite of a healthy population of over 20,000 residents, Kenilworth has seen the closure of a number of independent stores in recent months. It also lacks some of the high street names that would be a draw to youngsters who want to shop; they have to go further afield.

It’s hard to reconcile the desire to support local retailers whilst being very intentional about what I buy. If I do need something, I will pop into town (garden rake, £7.50, Wilco’s), but it’s true that – as a family – we spend very little locally.

Going further afield

Friday was a mum and daughter day in Oxford. We took the train from Kenilworth (my first time since the station re-opened) via Leamington. Door-to-door, the whole journey was around an hour. I wish I could tell you that our objective in the ‘city of dreaming spires’ was to explore the historical architecture or take a trip on the river. Alas, it was to replenish Amy’s depleted wardrobe, as she finds the choices locally to be very limited (see above!).

In shopping with Amy, I have discovered the joys of reading on a smartphone whilst waiting for the ‘trying on’ to happen. I know I spent at least an hour in TopShop, during which time I read several chapters of Jenni Murray’s Memoirs of a not so dutiful Daughter. 

Oxford, it would seem, recognises the benefits of providing seating for those doing the waiting; it gives them more staying-power in support of those doing the shopping!

Being anti-social with digital media

This week, I have also remained largely immune to the lure of social media. Twitter seems to have got very shouty and political; Instagram more fun and supportive but still a potential digital rabbit-hole. So, whenever I have felt the twitch to check my phone, I’ve simply got back into my book, which has been far more rewarding.

Although I’m still dipping into Facebook from time to time, I’ve seen a number of people come off social media recently (some for good). What’s your take on it?

Getting my steps in

Alongside a couple of evening activities this week, Mr G and I have also started to do a bit more walking. We plan to invest in some new walking boots this spring, which is necessary for me; I had to consign my old ones to the recycling centre, as they were letting in water.

Since major back surgery last month, my husband is now on the BLT Plan: No Bending, No Lifting, No Twisting. That means that he is limited – especially during this period of recovery – in what he can do for exercise. His surgeon advises walking – and lots of it. So, we have started to venture a little further afield.

Yesterday, we started at The Red Lion at Hunningham, taking in a circular walk through the countryside via Weston-under-Wetherley and Cubbington before heading back to the start for a well-earned drink in the pub garden in the sunshine beneath the large umbrellas.

Today’s walk was just an hour’s circuit of the Millennium Walk round the Castle, so we have earned a little bit of Easter egg today.

One of the members of the ‘Gin & Book Club’ plans to walk the Cotswold Way next month, doing 10 miles per day over 10 days along with her family. I think I’ll need to walk a lot further and for longer before I attempt that, but I’m tempted…

So, what have you enjoyed this Easter? If you’re local, I’d love to know. If you’re further afield, what do the Easter holidays look like for you? Happy Easter, whatever you’re doing.


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Overbuyer or underbuyer? Either way, you might be cluttered

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I’ve just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s latest book: Outer Order, Inner Calm.

As I mentioned in my April Community Newsletter, there aren’t many books I’ve not read on decluttering (see my Resources page if you’ve signed up to join the community for a list of some of them). Rubin’s twist on the topic is that she links the idea of clutter, wellbeing and happiness. That builds on the enduring theme of happiness about which she has written plenty.

Hands up, all you ‘under-buyers’? You may hold onto stuff because you seldom purchase something new. Perhaps you’re an ‘over-buyer’? If so, then you’re likely to stockpile things you don’t need.

I thought it would be interesting to explore this idea a bit further.

Overbuyer?

Courtney Carver is a self-confessed classic overbuyer; she would shop for fun, to fill an emotional void or as a way of treating herself. Did Carver need even more clothes? Of course not. But, as she wrote in her book, Soulful Simplicity, her un-intentional spending habits resulted in piles of debt, piles of clothes (still with labels on) never worn, and piles of stress.

Stockpiling

Of course, not all overbuying is about clothes. As Rubin writes, you’re likely to be an overbuyer if you stockpile stuff like toiletries; if you buy gifts for others without an intended recipient; or if you end up throwing away food or medicines because they’ve passed their use-by date.

Food waste

Food waste – an unintended consequence of overbuying – is a massive global problem. According to Friends of the Earth, the average UK family spends £470 annually on food that is binned. Even more shocking is that one third of all food produced around the globe is lost or wasted.

Inadequate storage

In terms of clutter, according to Rubin, overbuyers feel stressed because they end up being surrounded by things for which they have inadequate storage and feel hemmed in by all the stuff they’re holding onto.

Whilst I would probably class myself as a natural ‘spender’ as opposed to being a ‘saver’, I would not put myself in this category.

Underbuyer

Underbuyers may buy too little, so they’re unlikely to be prepared for bad weather or end up shopping for summer holiday clothes when the autumn/winter season stock has already hit the shelves.

Oh, that’s me!

Resisting replacements

Whilst I don’t resist buying the essentials, I do resist replacing worn out items such as household linens. Since we’ve been on a journey to improve our finances since January 2018, this has been largely cost driven, but I recognise the feeling of being stressed because I don’t have something suitable to wear for a special event.

Last minute shopping panics

There have also been times when I’ve had to rush out to get something for a holiday because I didn’t have the basics. This trait has clearly been recognised by others; my mother included a pack of tea-towels in my holiday gifts at Christmas!

Underbuying and clutter

If you’re an underbuyer, Rubin suggests that your distaste for shopping could actually contribute to clutter. This sounds counter-intuitive but it might be possible that you dread the idea of needing an item (thus being forced to go out and buy it) that you hold onto things, no matter how useless. That has certainly contributed to my clutter in the past.

Get Uncluttered

So, do you fall into either of these categories? And, if so, have they caused you to become more cluttered than you would like to be? If so, do take a look at my previous posts on how to tackle clutter. For some accountability and regular input, check out Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course, which is now open to new enrolments. Readers of my blog can now get 25% off the $89 dollar registration fee, so drop me a line via email if you’d like to benefit from this.


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Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

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This is a guest post from freelance writer, Johanna Cider, who is based in beautiful New Zealand. 

Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

In a world where everybody is glued to digital screens, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to live in the moment. We spend so much time on our devices that we become disconnected from our real-life surroundings. As a result, our state of mind can become fragmented, and we lose focus on things that matter.

So, how do we stay mindful in the digital age? It’s certainly not impossible. All you have to do is make a few simple adjustments to how you live your life. Follow these tips to build a mindful state of mind.

Turn Off Your Digital Devices

Taking a digital detox is the first step in living a mindful life. If you’re constantly attached to your phone, how can you expect to live in the moment? When you’re not working, turn off your computer and put your phone away. Challenge yourself to be in the moment more. Be grateful for the people and the world around you. Listen more to what people have to say instead of letting your mind wander. Invest more time engaging with people face to face, instead of talking on the internet. With no digital distractions, you’ll end up noticing all the little things that really matter.

Connect with Nature

Spending time in nature is healthy for your mind, body and soul. Nature has no distractions. Being in such a calm and peaceful environment helps to encourage a state of mindfulness. In the natural world, there’s nothing to focus on but your senses and your thoughts.

If you want to live a mindful life, you need to prioritise how you spend your time. Instead of spending your free time browsing social media, venture into the outdoors. Go to a quiet beach, take a hike in the woods, or just hang out in your garden. Pay attention to what you can see, touch, smell and hear. Use this quiet time as an opportunity for self-reflection.

Make Exercise a Priority

Exercise is one of the best ways to relax your mind. Intentional physical activity can reduce stress, boost your mood and improve your sleep patterns. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will help inspire mindfulness in your life. Over time, you’ll feel greater awareness of your body and mind. Just make sure to stay consistent with your routine, and to track your process.

Try a New Hobby

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There are many fun activities that promote mindfulness. Creative outlets like painting or journaling can be healing for the soul. These relaxing hobbies can help put your mind at ease.  If you’d prefer to get active, try an outdoor pursuit like fishing.  Fishing offers opportunities for self-reflection and mindfulness. As you wait to catch a fish, there’s nothing to do but stand still in nature. This gives you time to think, reflect and take in all your senses.

Practice Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing trains your body and brain to relax. It’s an important technique to have in your daily life, especially during periods of stress. The practice of mindful breathing isn’t difficult. It’s all about giving full attention to your breath and taking back control.

To start, spend some time each day focusing on your breathing patterns. Ideally, this should be done in a quiet place with no distractions. The moment your mind goes somewhere else, bring it back to the present. Focus on connecting to your breath instead of thinking about anything else.

If you practice mindful breathing on a daily basis, it will soon become a natural part of your life. You’ll learn how to calm yourself down, take control of your emotions and be in the present.

About Johanna:

With a career that requires long hours of research and editing in front of a screen, freelance writer Johanna understands that smelling the roses – literally and figuratively – takes time! Bill Watterson, the creator of one of Jo’s favourite comics, Calvin and Hobbes, wisely said: “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” Find more of her published work on Musings of Johanna.


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Clutter is costly

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My other half has just received a copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. This is interesting and timely for a number of reasons, not least because my next post (a guest blog) will cover this very topic.

Plus, wait…., my husband has bought a book with minimalism in the title!

The first page we opened when Newport’s book arrived contained this phrase: Clutter is costly. This set my brain whirring. For me, this phrase suggests that clutter – when seen as excess – is not only costly on the wallet, it’s literally costing the earth.

Clutter is costly on the wallet

Whenever we buy stuff we don’t truly need, we’re spending money to satisfy a fleeting desire when these funds could be saved for a short-term financial goal or even invested for the future.

I recently pre-ordered my (digital) copy of Gretchen Rubin’s forthcoming book, Outer Order, Inner Calm. As part of a package of pre-order bonuses, I’ve been receiving some daily ‘outer order’ challenges via email. Today’s suggestion speaks directly to this theme.

Rubin asserts that impulse shopping is a “serious happiness stumbling block.” In her eyes, buying on impulse (so easy to do in the era of one-click shopping), creates unnecessary clutter. I’d go a step further and say it has a serious impact on your budget, too.

Costing the earth….

This week, there were more news stories on fast fashion and its negative impact on the environment. The UK Government was said to be considering a number of measures to tackle this, including the possibility of adding a 1p tax on every item of clothing sold, the revenues from which would pay for improved recycling solutions. This seems like a no-brainer, especially if it’s true that around £140m worth of clothing is going into landfill every single year.

Style not fashion

One of the problems with fast fashion is that it appeals especially to teens and youngsters who don’t have the means to invest in good quality clothes that would last. And why would they want to? When brands like Zara are bringing out new ranges every other week, my daughter’s generation are not going to be interested in saving up for something that would count as ‘investment dressing’.

Still, it’s good to remember that the late Karl Largerfeld, who died this week at the age of 85, said, “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” That’s fine with me; I’m not a great follower of trends and have always been a late adopter when it comes to the novel or new (particularly when it comes to technology).

Declutter your life and save money

So, consider these tips to avoid costly clutter. We can all do more.

  • Get rid of the excess and you’ll be able to see – and enjoy – what you already have, before you buy more
  • Make money from selling unwanted stuff (especially higher-value items)
  • Remember the 3 Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
  • Consider ‘style’ over ‘fashion’ for long-term investment dressing (quality over quantity!)
  • Spend out! That is, use up all those consumables you already have and see how much you’ll save

So, what about you? Have you let go of clutter and reaped the benefits? Have you changed your clothes-shopping habits to create a more sustainable wardrobe? I’d love to know; do comment by replying below.


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Wellbeing week and the menopause

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Following my last post, which started a bit of a ‘wellbeing’ theme, I recently attended a seminar on Menopause, Stress & Nutrition.

This session was part of a series of events for Wellbeing Week at the university where I work; it proved to be extremely popular. There were around 100 women in the room and – to his great credit – a single male who had come along to find out how he could support female staff in his team who might be experiencing the menopause.

What is menopause?

We all think we know what it is, but menopause (literally the cessation of menstruation) only lasts a single day. That is, it’s the day of your very last period. What we understand by menopause may fall more squarely into the peri-menopause, the phase leading up to the menopause itself.

Why don’t we talk about it?

I still think menopause is a little-understood – even taboo – phase of life. In the workplace, we generally fail to acknowledge it, but it may affect things like concentration, memory, mood and confidence. Other symptoms may include mood swings (including rage!), the interruption of sleep, weight gain and something the presenter of our session called ‘brain fog’ (e.g. losing keys, forgetting people’s names) (I already did that!!!).

So, whether you’re a manager, team leader, colleague, line report, co-worker, business partner, husband, child or friend, you’ll know  – or be close to – someone who’s right in the thick of it.

Triggers

I didn’t know this, but stress is a key trigger for menopause symptoms. Whether it’s your lifestyle, food, exposure to toxins or exercise that you might consider improving, these things all contribute to stress. So, we were told to choose just one thing that we might want to change and track our habits around that particular issue.

Diet

This is the part where we hear what we already know, but just had to have it from an external source.

The good

“Love your liver,” said our guest speaker, which meant including lots of good things in our diet such as hot water and lemon in the mornings; lots of greens (broccoli, kale, spinach) and foods such as salmon and avocado. In particular, foods containing phytoestrogens are said to be particularly helpful (I note with some enthusiasm that oats – my favourite grain- and coffee (!) are on the list).

The not-so-good

However, any food containing more than 10% sugar is a no-no and caffeine – which takes 72 hours to leave your system – may be a trigger. Alcohol may not be best idea, either, as it raises our core body temperature. Humph!

If that all sounds a bit too ‘goody two shoes,’ there is a positive in all of this: Prosecco is best, as it’s lower in sugar. Who knew?!

Exercise

Running

As I wrote in my last post, I’m in the midst of working through the Couch 2 5K programme. I can’t say I’m finding it terribly enjoyable, but it does tick the box when it comes to exercise. If you have any ideas how to make it more fun, please do tell me. I ran for my first full 25 minutes yesterday, but I am not yet experiencing ‘runner’s elation’.

The dog seems to find the jogging quite good fun, although it’s quite tricky to run when you have a dog lead in one hand, ABBA in your ears and the lovely Jo Wiley encouraging you – via her narration on the BBC app – to “keep going”.

Stretching

Earlier today, I also tried out a new class called Barre. Using a ballet barre, this class is the perfect complement to running, as it incorporates stretches and ballet movements. I enjoyed it! Let’s see if I’m still enthusiastic about this the day after tomorrow (I always find that it’s not the next day it gets you; it’s the day after that).

Of course, both running and stretching require some focus on the breath. That’s fabulous when it comes to the menopause; focussing on lengthening the out-breath at key times can be just what we need, so practising controlling the breath can be a quietly powerful tool.

Sleep

A lot of what we heard in this week’s seminar chimed with what I wrote about in my last post. Getting outside during the day – or even being close to a window – is a very good idea. Likewise, softer lighting in the evening and a darkened bedroom are also what we need to promote good sleep.

Clutter and the menopause

So, what about clutter? As a minimalist, I already know that clutter can contribute to anxiety, so maintaining a minimalist space can be incredibly helpful when it comes to supporting our wellbeing.

On Friday, after a particularly trying week, I decided to take some time at the end of my working day to reduce some no-longer-needed paperwork and straighten up my desk. When I return to the office tomorrow, it’ll be shiny as a new pin, which will set me up for a more positive week ahead.

The M Word

So, if (like me) you’re a woman of a certain age, get out there and use the M word at least once over the next 24 hours. It’s not about singling us out for special treatment, but it’s about mutual support, awareness raising and understanding. And that can go a long way towards engendering a more positive environment for everyone, be that at home or work.


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Why I’m cracking my circadian code

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It’s been a while since I have done any blogging, but I have a very self-indulgent reason: I have been reading.

What a joy it has been to immerse myself in some very good books. These have included Nicci French’s Blue Monday (cleverly written but disturbing) and Susan Beale’s debut novel, The Good Guy. The former is co-written by a husband and wife partnership, which makes it even more compelling (just how do they do it?).

New Year, New You?

Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been aware of the prevalence of the time-honoured ‘New Year, New You’ theme throughout the month. While I normally carry on as usual throughout January (largely ignoring these messages), my interest was sparked when I heard Liz Earle interview Max Lowery on her popular wellness podcast.

Lowery advocates the idea of eating only 2 meals per day during an 8 hour period,  resulting in a daily intermittent fast. You’ll no doubt heard of approaches like the 5:2 diet, but this method means that 16 hours in any 24 hour period are without food.

The timing of this episode was fortuitous, as it chimed with the ideas of Satchin Panda whose book I am currently reading: The Circadian Code: Lose weight, supercharge your energy and sleep well every night. 

Circadian rhythms

Satchin Panda is an academic whose work he has distilled into a really accessible book. Focusing not only on diet, Panda explores ways to optimise our health through the alignment of our activities with our daily ‘biological clock’ or circadian rhythm.

In the early part of the book, Panda explores how the timings within our schedule are particularly important for our overall well-being. For example, it had never before occurred to me that getting up at a different time at the weekend would effectively create what Panda calls ‘social jet lag.’

Panda suggests that, by altering our schedule by going to bed and getting up later at the weekend, we are all de facto ‘shift workers.’ Instead, he advocates going to bed and getting up at the same time 7 days per week. This avoids the foggy brain and fuzzy head of a weekend morning, which we might previously have experienced.

A little experiment

This has prompted me to do a bit of experimentation. From early January, I’ve been going to bed and getting up at exactly the same time every day. Yes, even on a Sunday. For sure, I take things a little more slowly at the weekend and might even pop back into bed to drink my morning tea. But I am consistently getting up at 06:15 (which means lights out around 22:15 or 22:30).

A friend of mine has a son who has recently returned from the West coast of America. Many days after any genuine jet lag should have subsided, he continues to suggest this as the reason for him not getting out of bed in the morning. On closer examination, the ‘problem’ is easily diagnosed: social jet lag. He is partying late into the night.

Light

Sleep, of course, is intrinsically linked with light. Or rather, the absence of it. This means that we’re more likely to have disturbed sleep if we persist in using electronic devices during the evening when we should be enjoying the soft, warm glow of side lamps.

Panda explains that the blue light from electronic devices triggers a protein within the eye, which tricks the brain to wake up. Since the brain does not expect the stimulation of light at night, the use of bright light disrupts our circadian rhythm.

So, if we want to benefit from a deep, full restorative sleep, we’d do well to revert to an old-fashioned paperback at bed time. That’s handy for me, since my Reading Group (aka wine club) books are always physical books. So, I’m definitely going to carry on with this good habit. I’m not talking about the wine.. and cake.

2 meals per day

The ideas expressed during the Liz Earle podcast (eating just two meals per day) align closely with Satchin Panda’s time restricted eating (TRE).

Panda explains how the science around restricting daily eating to a 12-hour period brings impressive results. Even better, reducing the window to as few as 8 hours can be even more beneficial. The reason is because most of the body’s fat burning happens 6-8 hours after finishing your last meal. It also increases exponentially after a full 12 hours of fasting.

So, if you want to lose some weight, reducing the ‘window’ during which you consume all of your daily calories can reap real rewards (even if you don’t change what you eat).

Again, in the interest of science, I’ve been observing my own behaviours around food. I normally eat a light breakfast before I go to work; a snack mid-morning; a light lunch (normally leftovers); then another small meal when I get home. I might also have my daily fix of natural yoghurt and a couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner.

I’m basically taking on food from morning through to night. That can’t be doing me any good.

So, I’m going to experiment a little and see if skipping that evening meal will result in better sleep and a greater appreciation of the food I am eating. If you think about what that 8 hour window means in practice, it means breakfast (for me) at around 07:00 then my final bite of the day no later than 15:00. That’s quite a change for me.

A time for everything

It follows that, since all the cells of the body have their own ‘circadian rhythm’, there’s a time for doing certain things during each day. If you eat from the moment you wake through to that last snack of the evening, your body will be in constant ‘digestion mode’.

By creating a gap between the last bite of the day and the time we prepare to sleep, the body can have disposed of its food-related responsibilities before it goes into rest, repair and rejuvenation mode. Equally, our bodies aren’t designed to exist in a well-lit environment throughout our entire period of wakefulness; when then sun goes down, so should our overhead lights.

If we are more intentional about our activities, we may enjoy myriad unexpected benefits.

So, I’ll read on and explore what other lifestyle choices I can make that might positively align with my natural circadian rhythm. I’m currently on Week 5 of Couch to 5K, so knowing the best time to run (for example) might spur me on and keep me running well – and with some enjoyment – throughout the programme.

But what about you? Are you aware of your own ‘circadian code’? Have you ever experimented with TRE (time restricted eating) and do you dim those lights during the evening? Do let me know by replying below.


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Life lessons from 2018 and a brief glimpse forward

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2018 was a quite a mixed year for our little family. Like us, I expect you’ll have experienced the ups and downs of everyday life during the last 12 months.

Taking a look back at the year as a whole, I realise that a bit of perspective on what we experience makes all the difference in the world. Here’s how our year panned out, with some of the life lessons we learned along the way.

Warm conversations during a chilly winter

Once the holidays were well and truly over, the first part of 2018 saw me settling into a regular routine of visiting our local nursing home as a volunteer with Pets as Therapy. Our little dog, Ollie (a 5 year old cockapoo), brightens the day of the residents every time we visit and I enjoy the conversations with the lovely people I meet there. Although a small number of the residents have indeed died during the year, my overriding sense is what a privilege it has been to enjoy their company; blessings all round!

Life lesson #1:

Giving (time) to others brings as much reward to you as it does to them (especially when there’s a furry friend in tow!).

East meets West

In February, we welcomed our second pair of international ‘homestay’ students, who stayed with us for the whole month. From Ritsumeikan University in Japan, the latter part of the students’ visit coincided with the ‘Beast from the East’ – a bitterly cold spell of weather that resulted in the girls’ return journey being postponed for a few days.

It was enriching to spend time with these young undergraduates and we realised that, in spite of some interesting cultural differences, we had far more in common than we might originally have thought.

Life lesson #2:

Opening your home to others can enable you to develop some wonderful, unexpected friendships, whilst enjoying a unique and mutually beneficial intercultural experience.

Spring forward

Just as the students returned to Japan, I started a new job. Having had a very modest salary increase with my new role, as well as going car free, we were now able to make some serious inroads into paying off debt. During the previous autumn, we had discovered an unexpected personal tax liability of several thousand pounds. So, 2018 became the year when we became ‘gazelle intense’ over our finances. That made a real difference as the year progressed.

Here, I have to acknowledge the approach of Dave Ramsey about whom I’ve written often. During 2018, I also discovered Pete Matthew’s Meaningful Money podcast and have enjoyed his first book: The Meaningful Money Handbook. Pete’s just established a Facebook community, too, so check that out if getting on top of your finances is part of your 2019 goals.

Life lesson #3:

Actually, there’s more than one life lesson in this particular segment:

  1. You don’t need a car as much as you think you do.
  2. You do need an Emergency Fund for when life slaps you in the face. Save £1000 if you’re paying off debt, then build a fully-funded Emergency Fund of 3-6 months of expenses once you’re debt free.
  3. You can learn a lot from listening to podcasts that provide sensible, consistent and free advice. Find the ones that speak to your situation and become an avid listener.

Long, hot summer

Summer saw our daughter, Amy, join her school friends on a four week visit to Costa Rica with Camps International. After two years of fundraising, she had a truly amazing experience, which involved a huge variety of activities. These ranged from building a septic tank to scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean!

Life lesson #4:

Step out of your comfort zone once in a while; you will have the time of your life.

During Amy’s first week away, we spent a few days on the Norfolk coast. Remember, this was one of the hottest years on record, but we ended up in the only cool corner of England that week. It was so chilly, we had to invest in new jackets. My mother reminded me that we had holidayed on the East coast in the intense summer of 1976 when the temperatures at the seaside had also plunged. So, if you ever need a cool spell during a heatwave, just follow me!

Life lesson #5:

Expect the unexpected (particularly with English weather) and never leave the house without a coat!

Sunsets and farewells

Sadly, things back at home took a turn for the worse when my mother-in-law died during the second week of Amy’s trip. My father-in-law had died only 15 months before, so this was an especially sorrowful time for everyone. My mother-in-law had been a gregarious, larger-than-life character, so it was especially sad to see her becoming more and more frail towards the end of her life.

We postponed the funeral until Amy’s return, then began the long process of decluttering the family home to prepare it for sale. This was a lengthy job and pretty hard work. However, a lovely and unexpected benefit throughout this whole process was the growing bond I have enjoyed with my lovely sisters-in-law.

Life lesson #6:

Through every sad situation, there will always be a ray of sunshine (I promise).

After this experience, I asked my own mother to do something that I’d heard of during Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast: Make a Facts of Life document. This is where you set out some basic information about your life: details of accounts, policies and other information that your loved ones should need ‘in case something happens’. This is how we in the UK euphemistically describe illness or death. Happily, my mum had already done this, so it was much easier to have that conversation with her than I thought.

August also brought GCSE results for Amy. The big deal with these qualifications was whether or she’d passed her maths (she had!!).

Life lesson #7:

Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best (things can and do work out).

Transition into autumn

Autumn saw yet more changes, as Amy embarked upon A levels and enjoyed another school trip. This time, she visited Marle Hall in Wales where she took part in a number of outward bound activities including coasteering. As far as I can tell, this involved moving along a rockface, then jumping in the sea periodically. That is not for me (especially in October!).

As a couple, we completed the intense period of paying off our debt. It’s wonderful to be going into 2019 knowing that this is behind us.

And back to winter

Around 3 weeks ago, our little pup became unwell. On careful investigation, the vet found a ‘foreign object’ in Ollie’s stomach. This turned out to be a whole and perfectly intact peach stone in his small intestine. A good deal of worrying, one surgery and over £1500 later, Ollie is now on the mend but has what looks like a little zip in his tummy as a ‘souvenir.’ Thank goodness for Emergency Funds and pet insurance.

Life lesson #8:

Take advice as soon as something happens that worries you (and – again – get that Emergency Fund in place!).

Today, as I write, my own mother (she who had sensibly created her ‘Facts of Life Document’) has just had surgery to remove a tumour from her stomach! We await to hear if more treatment will be needed, although we are hopeful that this won’t be the case. It’s strange that there should be yet another bump in the road during a time when we are reflecting on the year gone by and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2019. No more foreign objects in tummies, please!

Word of the Year 2019

Rather than make New Year’s Resolutions, we have decided to set out some goals for 2019. We may even adopt a personal ‘word’ for the year.

If I look back at 2018, I realise that taking the long view – and having a bit of distance to give perspective on your experiences – is a very good thing.  The life lessons we learned along the way in the last 12 months will stand us in good stead, as we embark upon another year.

As Courtney Carver once said, “Don’t write about it when you’re in it.” So, I didn’t blog about all the twists and turns of 2018. There have been a great many ‘ups’, as well as a number of ‘downs,’ but we live and learn and move forward.

What has 2018 been like for you? What life lessons has 2018 taught you? What does 2019 hold? And will you make New Year’s Resolutions or even adopt a Word of the Year? Do let me know by replying below.

Wishing you very Happy New Year 2019.


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