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.
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:
- You don’t need a car as much as you think you do.
- 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.
- 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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