As you may know, I've been battling depression for a few weeks now, and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. I'm already a pessimistic person to start with, so this is really knocking me out.
2016 was a brutal year in many ways. I had started to explain why but that depressed me even more so I deleted the paragraph since the point of this particular post is to reflect on all the GOOD things that happened to me in order to try to counter this desolation I've been feeling. So here we go...
Greg spent more time with me.
This is huge. He always claimed that he spent tons of time with me because he's a homebody and sat in the same room as me. But we sit on opposite sides of the room and we're usually either both engaged in our own activities (he: reading or playing video games, me: being on the laptop, watching mindless TV, or reading, in that order), or we're watching a show together but that's hardly "being with someone", in my opinion.
But this year, he started inviting me to go fishing with him or to go on walks. And we've gone on many walks together. And he's been very patient with me as I stop repeatedly to take pictures of flowers or birds or bugs. And he's started taking an interest in those things as well.
I finally feel like we do have something in common that we enjoy doing together and that's huge for our relationship.
He continued to show me many kindnesses.
I know I harp on Greg a lot on the blog, and most of it is in jest. I have an incredibly awesome and supportive husband.
No, he's not the kind who will do what I consider to be hipster things such as writing poetry or declaring to everyone that he's incredibly supportive of women (ooooh, how I roll my eyes at those hipsters, especially the ones with the great bushy beards and the man buns. Ugh. Yes Greg has a beard. That's not to say that I like it! Plus I think we're too old for him to be able to be called a hipster!).
However, Greg always asks me if he can get me anything from the kitchen when he goes that way. He wears headphones when gaming so it doesn't disturb me and yet he always takes them off when I speak to him while he's gaming and most of the time doesn't let on that I'm bothering him, hahaha. He lets me control the TV remote. He lets me get out of cooking dinner way too often. He didn't make me give the kittens back! He fixes stuff in our house. (OK, not the leaky shower but other stuff), he doesn't bat an eye when I buy lots of scented candles. He lets me stay home! He forced me to buy a new laptop before my old one actually bit the dust. He is on board with me to take my daughter to France this summer. He isn't forcing me to interact with his family. He still finds me attractive despite my personality flaws, and he's still in love with me. He celebrated my birthday in such a way that he actually made me enjoy my day :) And he bought me the expensive mixer that I would have never in a million years asked for or bought for myself.
Many women are matched up with the wrong partner. I was, with my first husband. Many women don't feel supported, or feel like they are single mothers even though they're married. I won't lie and say that Greg is always awesome and that there isn't room for improvement. But we have a happy married life. We are in love. We are content being with each other. I don't try to shave his beard and he tells me he loves my figure. He buys me chocolate. Now I just need to work on him keeping an emergency chocolate stash somewhere...
Youngest Son and Daughter Continue to be Awesome Kids.
I'm addressing them together since they both still live at home and are similar in many ways. They both are excellent students. Truly excellent.
Youngest Son's report card, for his first semester in high school, will feature straight A's. He volunteers every week and volunteered this summer as well, at our local library. He joined the Future Business Leaders of America Club as I had requested he does. He even participated in one of their competitions despite virtually no support from the club or the organization itself! He started his own Dungeons and Dragons club at the library and he continues to lead it every week. He participated in the Teen Video Competition at the library and helped others with their videos. He won for his own video! He is kind and helpful (as in he always asks me if I need help with anything). He enjoys spending time with his dad and they're been on several (unsuccessful) hunting expeditions together, as well as trips to go visit Greg's parents and daughter and grandson. He is funny.
Daughter and I continue to be very close. She is so much fun to be around, most of the time :) She and Youngest Son get along amazingly well despite a 3.5-year difference in age. He looks up to her and named her his inspiration when he graduated from 8th grade. She is an excellent student and makes me proud every day. She is earning her AA while finishing high school and is obtaining excellent grades, held a job for several weeks, got accepted to one of the universities where she applied (still waiting to hear on the other) and was offered a Provost Scholarship, was a National Merit semi-finalist, is a member of the National Honors Society, was asked to apply for the Leo Burnett College of Honors at UCF... I'm sure I'm missing other accomplishments! She is an awesome support for her friends who have physical and/or emotional problems, is kind to her parents and step-parents and siblings and generous with her time and money. She has been a very good driver (keeping my fingers crossed!) too!
I Continue to Have a Good Relationship with Middle Son.
It's not a given, as I discovered when my relationship with Oldest Son went sour in a completely unexpected way. Middle Son is boastful and fiercely independent (except when he needs help) and his personality can be a little more challenging. He no longer lives at (my) home so I didn't expect for him to stay in touch, especially once he broke up with his awesome girlfriend because she lives nearby and it was the main reason why he still came around once in a while. But he did. We don't talk often but often enough for us to be comfortable with the relationship. And he still comes around and when he does, we have a good time chatting.
He's talented in his Photography and I believe he's getting good grades at school. He doesn't share much about that so I'm not as "in the know" as I could be :) He participates in contests, engages professional photographers to learn from them while he's still in school, educates himself in a lot of ways too. He works to support himself, although his dad helps with the support (providing a car, and how a living space as Middle Son is moving back in with him to save some money). He also is very sarcastic but very funny. I laugh a lot when he visits :)
Oldest Son Moved in With His Girlfriend, She and I Get Along and Are in Contact.
I won't lie. I'm incredibly hurt by what Oldest Son wrote to me back in July and so very sad that we don't have a relationship as once upon a time I considered him the child I was closest to. Well crap, I'm crying in the middle of my gratitude post :(
But here are some positive things that happened this year that are Oldest Son-related: he graduated from college. Yes, he has student debt and yes, he's chosen a very difficult field that is his passion (Jazz) and that I think has proven very challenging in providing an income for him (but I don't know for sure since we don't communicate), but he made it through college and has that piece of paper to produce when he applies for jobs. He has a part-time job too. He and his girlfriend were able to move into an apartment together. I know they had wanted to but didn't think they could just yet, but apparently, they were able to make it work. Good for them!
I made overtures to get to know his girlfriend one on one this year, and to my surprise she accepted and we had an enjoyable evening together, before hell broke loose with Oldest Son the next day. Since then she's emailed me to wish me a happy birthday and sent us Christmas presents. She's staying out of whatever is happening with Oldest Son but I appreciate her maintaining the relationship that she and I had started to build and I hope they are very happy together.
Our Cat Family grew from 2 to 3 and then to 6 cats in 12 months!
Wow, I would have never guessed that would have happened. I'm not a pet person. I love cats, but I'm not someone who enjoys having a pet stick to her like glue. And I really am over cat hair all over my house, not necessarily because of the cats themselves, but because I'm a terrible housekeeper who doesn't enjoy housekeeping duties, ha.
Last Christmas, I made an impulsive decision to adopt a 3rd cat (that our neighbor had found in his family's grove) and give it to Youngest Son and Daughter as a surprise Christmas present since it was the only "thing" they had asked for at Christmas time, as a joke, because they knew it would stress me :) They loooooove cats. They were over the moon when we got New Kitty.
And then this past August 30th, the same neighbor found 3 newborn kittens between our houses. A huge storm was brewing, the mom wasn't in sight, he asked me if I knew a shelter where he could take them. Newborn babies! We took them in. And now they're MY babies. We all love them. I adore them. I indulge them. I kiss their bellies and their paws even though they step in the litterbox and I don't care. I let them sleep with me and I even contort my body so they're comfortable. I've gone completely gaga over cats. Any small animal reminds me of a kitten and I've gone "awww" even looking at animals that usually turn me off. It's ridiculous and funny, all at once. The older cats have accepted or tolerate the kittens with a minimum amount of spitting and growling. There hasn't been major drama. We're happy.
Greg is valued at work.
In this day and age, the fact that he is employed, makes a good living and is valued by his superiors is really something to be grateful for. They just allowed him to get a business phone. Earlier this year he got a promotion, was assigned more team members, got a small raise and a big bonus. His employer provides us with good health insurance that we can afford. They give us free tickets to Universal Studios once a year.
I'm so grateful to him for being such a hard worker for us and sticking with this employer when I know he was frustrated many times and was tempted to leave.
We stayed out of debt and paid down a chunk of our mortgage.
We could spent way less, it's true, especially in ordering in/eating out expenses. But we still pay our credit cards off every month and we have a healthy emergency fund set aside that has helped cover unexpected car maintenance issues, plane tickets when Greg had to fly to be with his parents at critical times, etc.
We've been bad with keeping up with our investments because neither of us has any interest in the subject. I mean, we like money and having it and are worried about retirement (although I am more worried than Greg is and that's because I'm a worrywart and a pessimist), but we can't seem to make ourselves care enough to even just open our statements. Or even make an appointment with an accountant and/or personal finance counselor. So I'm not proud of that.
What I am proud of and grateful for, is the fact that every month we have paid almost double our mortgage payment every month this year so we could pay it down faster. And, when Greg got a big bonus, we both agreed that we should throw it at our mortgage, despite the fact that we definitely and desperately NEED (but not want!) both bathrooms to be renovated and the kitchen as well. The result is that since last December, our mortgage principal has gone down by $36,260.55*! *including our regular mortgage payments.
I feel incredibly grateful to be able to type this. Yes, we are privileged (let's not kid ourselves) but Greg works very hard and we both made paying down our mortgage early a priority. We could easily have renovated bathrooms and kitchen, newer vehicles, I could go on vacations to France every year... conversely, we could also put more into retirement savings but that will come (knock on wood) once our mortgage is paid off, which, hopefully, will be in 2 years or less. Let's be clear, we don't feel deprived and we're not. But we could be blowing money on things and we're not. So I'm proud of ourselves for this.
I brought in over $2,500 and many MANY freebies in what I consider "Found Money" (or "Snowflakes") in 2016.
I love being a homemaker/stay-at-home mom. I worked outside of the home for 15 years prior to having this privilege. Greg would rather I have a job. I can see his point :) But me staying home has lots of advantages and benefits all of us, not just lazy, antisocial me: I'm available to take the kids (well, Youngest Son now!) and cats to appointments without him having to take time off from work, I'm available to take the cars to have maintenance performed without him having to take time off from work, I have plenty of time to take care of ALL the bills and financial matters. I'm here for package deliveries, maintenance workers to perform their jobs when needed. I'm available to drive
Yes, all of this can be done while you have a job outside of the home, but we all know it's much more stressful for everyone in the family. Greg can indeed spend his entire evenings playing video games precisely because I'm a stay-at-home mom and I handle the chores, the housekeeping, the finances, the kids' educational and medical well-being, etc.
But part of me also does want to help the family in financially concrete ways. So I embarked on this imperfectly frugal lifestyle and accountability journey, reducing our expenses by reducing and but also by trying to bring in some cash too. This year, I kept track of many many snowflakes that are my contribution to our disposable income and, when I added it all up, it came to over $2,500. That doesn't include the hundreds of freebies that we benefited from because of surveys I took, requests I sent in, sweepstakes I won, strategies I implemented (like making sure we always use the credit card with the highest reward for a specific purchase), etc. More details will be published about this before the end of the year.
We Started Contributing to a Prepaid College Fund for our Youngest Son This Year.
Long intro: Greg and I both agree that, as parents, the best we can do for our children is to prepare them for adulthood by giving them plenty of advice, modeling responsible fiscal behavior, setting their expectations early, and encouraging them to work hard in school and apply for scholarships, get part-time jobs, etc., and then setting them free. Free to be adults and responsible for themselves.
I won't lie and say that we had to do the same when it came to higher education. Greg's parents paid for part of his education (private school in high school) but also he was part of the JROTC and then ROTC and did serve in the military when he was out of college. As for me, I was the first in my family to go to college and I was able to, thanks to the generous social benefits of being a French citizen and, perversely, of my mom being a low-wage earner (because I qualified for scholarships that my wealthier friends didn't qualify for). My scholarship paid for most of my tuition, my grandmother generously helped by sending money that paid for my dorm, and my mom and dad gave me a little bit of money here and there. I had summer and part-time jobs and saved all my money to pay for my food, clothes, etc. and to pay for my plane tickets to the USA and spending money when I was chosen to spend a year as a fellowship student at a Florida private university, and later on when I came back to visit my boyfriend.
But early on, both Greg and myself realized that while the kids would have opportunities to earn money for college that we might not have had (Florida Bright Futures Scholarships, other scholarships offered by various organizations and universities, etc.) and could take loans if push came to shove, we couldn't borrow our retirement. When Greg was growing up, the pension system was still in place in the USA. There was no reason for him to worry about putting money aside for retirement just yet, and in France there is STILL a pension system and when I worked at Walt Disney World, I also qualified for a pension so I never worried about putting more aside either. But then things changed while we were in our 20's and suddenly there were fewer and fewer pensions and people started pushing 401(k) accounts and IRAs and a whole slew of alphabet soup.
So we started to stress to the kids that not only they needed a higher education since degrees have been devalued in such a way that nowadays even a receptionist job will require you to have a college degree (!), but that we wouldn't be paying for it. We stressed the importance of getting excellent grades in school, being aware of all the opportunities available to them and sacrificing some fun and free time to do such things as taking more challenging classes, dual enrolling in college while in high school, obtaining part-time jobs and putting their income into saving, practicing thrift and yes, taking advantage of their parents while they were still paying for their expenses (hence: save your income from your part-time job, why are you going out to eat non-stop when we have food in the house that we're already buying, etc.). Some listened, some didn't. Those who didn't have various amounts of student loans or are now, as working adults, also students because they realized that a high school diploma will get you exactly bubka. Those who did obtained a full ROTC scholarship that was supposed to pay for nursing school (but then dropped out of the ROTC program so they had to refund the scholarship and yet graduated from college with a nursing degree and went on to become a nursing supervisor pretty much straight out of school!), and went the dual enrollment route while still obtaining superb grades that allowed them to also be offered scholarships. I'm hoping that Youngest Son will follow in either of their footsteps.
So after this long intro, why would we be funding a prepaid college fund for Youngest Son? Well, we're actually not putting our money into it, but his. For several years, Youngest Son has been in charge of the care of our cats. He's the one who feeds them and cleans their litter box (now litter boxes) every day. He's the one who brushes them and clips their nails. He's the one who makes sure they get cuddles and played with. Years ago, I started keeping track of this and assigning a dollar value to it. (The other kids got paid for washing the dishes, doing yard work, etc.). However, I never actually gave him the money nor did I put it aside in a Savings account. I should have, I just didn't.
Queue this year: it started to bug me that I hadn't done any of this. And then the Florida Prepaid College Plan program started sending me emails about their enrollment period being open. My ex had started prepaid college plans for our 3 older kids, and even though they weren't fully funded, it was indeed money that helped the 2 older boys for a while when they first started their college studies. Back when my daughter was in 5th grade, I entered a fundraiser drawing run by our county's educational foundation, and won the first prize, which was a college scholarship that will disbursed to her via a prepaid tuition fund (which makes, in my opinion, her hard work and determination to get other scholarships and monetary awards even more remarkable since she's always known that part of her college tuition would be covered by that scholarship!). But Youngest Son was stuck with us as parents and, try as I may, I never won any other scholarship in any other drawing!
So I approached Greg about contributing to a Prepaid College Fund in Youngest Son's name by paying in the amount of money he had earned from his cat chores. It took some convincing because he had objections ("Let him decide what to do with his money!", "What if he doesn't want to attend college? We need plumbers!", "What if he doesn't want to attend college in Florida?!") but in the end he told me to do what I wanted. I love my son but what 14-year-old, faced with receiving several thousands of dollars and not being too hot at having to continue his schooling for several more years, would pick to fund a prepaid college account? I didn't want to take the risk. So I set up the plan and we started contributing this year. Youngest Son will be entering college in the Fall of 2020, if he goes at all. The plan locked in the 2016 tuition rate, however, it will cover only a small portion of his tuition since we're talking tens of thousands of dollars. So it'll be a small savings for him, but a savings. I didn't trust that investing the money would result in better returns because, as I explained above, we suck at investing so badly.
So now, though, I have a conundrum: how to handle the chore money that he has earned this year, and will likely continue to earn through high school? I'm not sure. I need to look into whether it is feasible to just send a large payment to the fund at one time to increase the maximum amount of benefit. If so, once our mortgage is paid off, we should be able to make large payments into his prepaid fund to catch up to his earnings. If not, I suppose that I'll see about opening an investment account with that money and possibly get some advice on getting the highest return rate possible (i.e. high risk and maybe I shouldn't play with his money so maybe not).
But I'm grateful that Florida offers the Prepaid College program, that Greg let me decide what to do, and that I finally got the ball rolling on this.
Hurricane Matthew was a non-event for us.
Many people weren't as lucky. Personally, we also didn't experience any catastrophic fires, floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks. We've been oh so lucky. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed. I was very nervous about Hurricane Matthew, especially for my oldest sons. Neither of them were affected or much at all.
I lost 12 pounds... and then put them back on again!
How is that a positive thing?! Well, it proved to me that I CAN lose weight. I just have to keep at it. Watch what I'm eating and account for it somewhere, drink water, and get on my recumbent bike every day. And then keep at it. That's the part I don't like so much. But I'll work on that in 2017, promise!
I turned 49.
Ugh. Just writing this number makes me shiver. But many people didn't make it to 49. Many young children lost their parent(s). Many young lives were lost to illness, accidents, terrorists. I got to turn 49. That's a privilege. And despite really not liking this number, I'm grateful. Also: I still have a year before I turn 50. A year to get healthier. I'll really feel like shit if I'm still as fat as I am now next December. Re-read this sentence several times, Nathalie. You know you'll be revisit this post several times in 2017, don't be stupid. Invest in yourself.
Despite being an introvert and antisocial most of the time, I continue to have awesome friends...
I don't have many in real life relationships. I don't tolerate fools and I don't feel that I have to fake liking anyone. I have two IRL friends locally and one who's in France.
My BFF is going through many challenges of her own, yet she is always there when I need her and is actually frustrated that I don't need her more! Truth is, I don't want to add to her challenges and she's a busy woman. And also I'm an introvert so seeking others' help just isn't something I do. She's a loving and lovely person and I'm so grateful for her continued friendship.
My other friend, who used to be my boss one year, seems to have enjoyed the monthly lunches that we held this year and is always up for discussing our kids, our plans, etc. She now has her own business and has offered me two opportunities to do some (paying) work. One didn't pan out as the prospective employer and myself didn't mesh, and the other might happen in the new year where I would actually work for her doing some light data entry, from home. I'm thankful that she has such a high opinion of my skills that she continuously think of me when there is such an opportunity.
... and awesome readers!
It just continues to amaze me that anyone would be interested in my daily nonsense. I mean, I love reading blogs too, but I actually rarely comment on them (especially these days when I'm not commenting on any blog at all). I appreciate all the time people put into leaving me comments! We're all busy with various things and we all have challenges of various degrees so you spending even just 30 seconds typing a 4-word comment is very much appreciated, even though I might not let you know that right away these days.
From kind comments, to suggestions, to people actually saving their Coke product codes for me, to being told that I'm "handmade card worthy", you've all contributed to making my year a little better and I thank you!
This is only a small portion of good things that happened to me this year. For instance, I'm in relatively good health despite small problems here and there. I have much to be grateful for!