2014 In Review, and Looking Ahead to 2015

The “Annual Review” process is big on a few of the blogs I follow, and it’s something that the more successful blogs have in common. Chris Guillebeau does it, and so does James Clear. So I thought I’d give it a try, even though, well…

You’ll figure it out soon enough.

Let’s just sum this up in one simple sentence: 2014 was my seccond-worst year ever in my 54 years of life, and that’s saying something! I went backwards (in some cases, way, way back!) on almost every metric by which I judge myself.

I have five main areas of my life on which I’m actively working.

1) “Financial Freedom” In the short term, I’m simply aiming for a balanced budget. In the long term, I’m aiming for a debt-free life, with some savings in the bank and the freedom to live my life free of a corporate job.

2) “House Beautiful” In the short term, I’m working towards a clutter-free, clean, nicely decorated living space. In the long term, I’m aiming for a three-bedroom house with no mortgage.

3) “Fit and Fabulous” I’m working towards achieving my ideal weight and maximizing my fitness level so that I can do the things I love, like swim, canoe, camp, and hike long trails. I’m also working towards a physical look that does not scream “poor, lazy, middle-aged mother who doesn’t much care what she looks like.”

4) A Writing Career Nothing really big here–while I wouldn’t object to being the next “big thing” with my writing read by millions, I’d be over-the-moon happy if I could just get one of my myriad big projects finished and being read by people who are not related to me by blood or strong ties of friendship, and who are willing to  pay for the dubious privilege of reading my words.

5) Travel, especially within Canada. I’m not one of those folks who would ever be happy living the life of a vagabond, but I’m not a person who is happy never going anywhere, either. One or two big trips per year, with a number of day trips interspersed, would more than make me happy.

So, with that in mind, on to my review of 2014:

In early January, my father finally slid all the way into senility. Since it was his pension that was keeping the family afloat, it necessitated life changes for my mother, brother, and sister-in-law that were unwelcome and for which they were ill-prepared. The house had to go on the market, but how do you do that when you’re living in a dump that could have been featured on “Extreme Hoarders”?

As the eldest and most sane sibling, a large bulk of the work and the lifestyle visioning that needed to be done fell to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take full control of the situation until May or June, by which time the financial mess had become critical. I ended up taking weekly seven-hour round trips to my parents’ place to clean it out and get it ready to shown. It took me until mid-October to finally get enough junk cleared out so that the house at least could be cleaned and finished to a level acceptable to buyers. One of the biggest difficulties was getting my brother and sister-in-law moved out and into their own place, as they were a huge problem, and totally unable to even see the mess around them, let alone know how to get started cleaning it up.

When the house was first put up for sale, there was a lot of interest. It has over 100 acres of recreational land, it’s in cottage country, and on a major highway. It was attractively priced. But due to the hoarding and the fact that my mother, brother, and sister-in-law were invariably home during showings, only one offer made it to the table. After some dickering, it was accepted, conditional on a home inspection. A large crack in the foundation was found. My mother, instead of pricing it somewhat lower and selling as-is, decided to have the work done. In the middle of winter with the hoarders still living in the house. Then the septic bed was found to be faulty. Then she decided a new kitchen was in order. By the time I was able to put the brakes on, my mother was in serious financial trouble. I had to take out a ten thousand dollar loan in my own name in order to get the monkeys off her back long enough for her to get the work done, which by then had progressed too far to be stopped.

In the middle of this mess with my parents, my autistic son had a total melt-down, one that required both his father and I to be home doing full-time parenting for almost two weeks. The fact that his dad is a teacher and has a gold-standard benefit plan saved our a$$es, as he was able to take the time off to help out.

With all that going on, I had to let my paper route go, losing $300 per month income and my major mode of exercise. With less time to cook and with so many hours spend on the road, I ate out more. A LOT more. And guess what happened to a lot of the stuff at my parents’ place? After FIVE dumpster loads, about twenty trips to the thrift store, and dividing up some of the remainder amongst four households, I still have a large number of boxes and bins to go through, and with my mother now occupying the second bedroom in my house, I’ve got a lot less space to put it. My writing suffered (as followers of this blog may have surmised), and as for travel, I had my usual week-long vacation in Algonquin, but I spent so much time travelling back and forth between my house and my parents’ house that time, money and energy for anything else were not available.

Of course, not everything went badly. Not even most things went badly. My brother and sister-in-law did eventually move out into their own apartment (their first in more than seven years of marriage). My brother got a decent job, which he still has. They still drink, they still smoke, they still don’t have much money, but that’s now their problem, not my mother’s or mine.

My father is now in an appropriate care facility, and I didn’t have to see a lawyer or alienate my mother in order to get it done. (And believe me, I have been considering it for at least the past two years.)

The crisis with my son taught us that we can’t do this alone, and we applied for respite care, which will happen once per month starting this month.

My two elder kids are well on their way to becoming independent, functioning adults. They both have decent careers, the eldest is happily married, and they’re able to handle most of their crisis on their own. It’s so great when the kids are finally all grown up!

Looking forward to 2015:

Financially, I’m going to have to get a handle on my spending. I normally track one or two months every year. This year, I’m aiming to track four separate months, starting with January. I’m also going to have to get a job to help pay the bills, at least for the short term. Resumes start going out tomorrow!

The biggest project, of course, is getting the house sold. There’s still a lot of work to be done (after being occupied for years by hoarders who were also heavy smokers, there is a lot of cleaning and basic upkeep to do), but I’m hopeful that by the time summer rolls around, it will be gone and the associated debts paid off.

I’ve already started working on my house. Two nights ago, I realized that the space under my basement stairs was not being fully utilized, and in the last two days I’ve stacked boxes in there to get them out of the way. That’s not a long-term solution, of course, but it’s cheaper than the storage unit we’d been renting, and if my mother and I continue going through the boxes as we have been, we should be through them in a few months, and I’ll be able to work on painting and decorating.

As far as being fit and fabulous, curbing my restaurant habit and getting a job where I’m more active will go a long way to reversing the damage I’ve done in the past year. I will continue to find the money for semi-annual dental check-ups (something I re-started in 2014 after seven years without!). We’ll see where these minimal but critical changes lead…

Writing. What can I say? It’s been my dream for as long as I’ve been writing (to date, 48 years). Do I care enough about the dream to give it fifteen minutes a day? Like many mothers, I spend so much time and energy taking care of others that I often forget what it is I want most out of life. I’m going to choose ONE project this evening, and devote fifteen minutes per day to getting it done.

Travel is the one area that I can say with some certainty that will show improvement. Because my youngest brother (age 47) is getting married in Saint Lucia, and my deposit is already paid! I’ve got the scrip for my vaccinations, I know where my passport is. I just need to come up with the rest of the money, but this kind of money goal (a set amount for a set, much-desired goal) is one that I have a proven track record of acheiving. I’m going to Saint Lucia next November! Go me!

So that’s a wrap on 2014. 2015 is a brand new package, waiting to be opened. What comes this year will be part luck, and I hope it’s better luck than last year’s. But what is to come will also depend in large part on my own actions, and I my one and only real resolution is to be more conscious of how my everyday choices affect my ability to acheive my goals.



About Ruth Cooke

Ruth Cooke B.A, M.Div., MPS is a writer, public speaker, and itinerant preacher whose areas of expertise and interest include poverty issues and solutions, parenting exceptional children, sexual orientation, and the place of religious institutions in society. If you would like Ruth to come preach, speak or lead a class or group, please contact her via email.
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