We Bought a Farmhouse

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Finding The Good in an Exceptionally Bad Year (& 2021 Plans - Sort Of)

I try really hard to live my life with the philosophy that every day is a gift. Tomorrow is never promised, and life is short are overused cliches, but it doesn’t make them any less true. Like most people, with each year we grow older, we start to realize the things we haven’t yet done, and life becomes a race against time. And of course, 2020 was going to be my year for accomplishing a few big goals, which ultimately ended in disappointment.


Many of us feel stuck because we don’t know how long this will last, when we can safely see family again, start to travel, etc. Everything is unknown, and even with the arrival of the vaccine, we can’t plan, we can’t move forward, we've been told that things will start to get worse before they getter (again), and that’s a weird and scary feeling. 


This year, compounded with feelings of being stuck and not reaching our goals, we were also faced with even bigger issues of fighting for human rights, and public health under attack/made into a political issue when hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake. That, alone, affected my mental health in a very bad way, and I know I’m not the only one.


Suffice to say, this year has been draining. And it makes it hard to see anything but grief, sadness and frustration.


But, the thing is, there was good in this horrible chaos. Even when you have to look harder for it, and when the world feels like it’s spiraling out of control, there is good. Every day is still a gift because you’re alive. You’re breathing. You have a roof over your head. You have food. You have people in your life you care about, and who care about you. We may not be accomplishing goals, moving forward, and growing in the way we planned, but sometimes, just being alive is the big accomplishment. And that's the best reason of all to be happy. 


For me, listing out everything I had to be grateful for has helped me to realize that this year wasn’t a waste, even when it felt like it much of the time. I hope that sharing this inspires others to reflect that there was some good in this exceptionally bad year.




1. My trip to Asia

When I look back on this year, as each day passes, I realize more and more that I was so lucky I even got to go on this trip at all. I left as news was breaking that the virus was rapidly spreading, and I got back within days of the worldwide shut down. Upon my arrival home, my workplace put me on a mandatory two-week quarantine, and then we shut down completely for another couple of weeks. It was so surreal at the time because I left thinking I would be returning to my life as usual, and I came home to a completely different world. 

Traveling to Singapore and Thailand was beyond thrilling, confidence-boosting and inspiring. And I don't mean to toot my own horn, but honestly, I’m really proud of the fact that I just went to the other side of the world, and planned every single logistic, on my own. I started in Singapore, flew to Northern Thailand, hugged and fed elephants at a safe and welcoming place for them, ate some of the best food of my life at night markets, flew to the islands, had one of the most embarrassing moments of my life on a snorkel trip (which involved seasickness and, well, the thing that happens when you get seasick, which I did allllllll over the boat), and took in views of secluded beaches and hidden caves I didn't even think were real. I look back on this adventure and can’t do anything but smile.

At Super Tree Grove in Singapore.

Obviously, one of the biggest highlights of my whole trip. Photo by James De La Roche Photography. 

Exploring Chiang Mai Old City.


One other major benefit to this trip (and hear me out on this one) were the massages. I know it seems silly to put something like that on this list, but for me, it was actually pretty major. I suffer from intense muscle tension in my back and shoulders. When I get massages, the therapists always tell me that the knots in my shoulders are some of the more stubborn ones they've ever worked with, and they can never get rid of them in one session. Since my insurance doesn't cover massage therapy, I rarely get them, except for maybe once or twice a year. 

In Thailand, however, a 90-minute massage is less than $10USD, depending on where you go. The first massage I got while there was a traditional Thai massage. The only thing I knew about it ahead of time was that it involved stretching, and that they provided you loose clothes to wear during the session. The entire experience was incredible. They bend you, stretch you, lift you off the mat, and at the very end for about 20-30 mins or so, the therapist dabbed by back with a ball of very hot herbs, and then just went to town on my knots while I sat Indian style. I left feeling like a new person. I got another back, neck and shoulder massage a few days later, and a more traditional Swedish-type massage with aloe vera on one of my last days. I was convinced I was going to undo all that bodywork during the rest of my travels, since I was lugging around two heavy backpacks, and had a 26-hour flight home. But nope! My pain stayed away for about 6 months after I got home. I then started to feel some mild bursts of short-lived pain every now and then for a few months after that. And just recently, about 11 months since my trip, I'm back to where I was when I left. But the benefits of those massages lasted me so long, and now Josh jokes that he just needs to send me to Thailand once a year to get my back worked on. I don't know how bad the pain in my back is, compared to others, but now that it's back, I'm realizing how lucky I was to have been completely pain-free for a span of months - and it felt really, really good. 


2. I stepped back at my job

At the very end of 2019, I decided I needed to make a change in my professional life, and in 2020, I did just that. I actually stepped down and went backwards in my career, and it was a scary thing to do because the motivated, perfectionist in me felt like I was somehow failing or giving up. But in doing this, I learned so much about myself, and what I want (and don't want) out of a job. 

Before I made this decision, I was stressed constantly, and without going into too much detail, what I came to realize was, the type of job I had wasn't suited to my personality. I could do it, and sometimes do it well, but once I admitted to myself the kind of person I really am, and what I actually enjoy doing, I wasn't failing by giving up responsibilities that made me unhappy. I was freeing a part of myself and allowing myself the energy to focus on tasks that I enjoy. And once my job change took effect, I couldn't believe how much happier I was. I could enjoy my days off again. I had more energy and mental clarity. I was just, overall, in a much better mood all the time. I felt more like me than I had in a long time. And that was worth so much more to me than feeling like I was climbing a corporate ladder, moving upward, or how much my paycheck was. So while the pandemic was taking its toll on me in many ways, I was also feeling grateful that I finally had the courage to make this change. And that was probably one of the best things I did for myself in years.

One added bonus to this change is that it has allowed me to really stay in touch with what I want out of life, and the bigger picture of what I want to accomplish. I'm enjoying what I do now, but that doesn't mean I don't have other goals. Now that I'm free of the this is what I should do mentality, I feel like so many other doors and paths have been opened, and they're far less out of reach than I thought they were. And that's such a great feeling. Sometimes, taking a step back is five steps forward.



3. We finished our living room renovation

For most of 2019, we were living out of our bedroom while we gutted our living space. And as much as I love our bedroom, it was really hard. I’m very much that person that likes to separate bedroom sleep from general relaxing and lounging, if only because I find it drastically helps to improve my sleep quality. So to say that living out of a bedroom (which isn’t tiny, but not super big) was a challenge is a bit of an understatement. But we crossed that finish line in March or April of 2020, and it was a huge relief. And, as always, worth all the effort. We love this little room so much, and especially this holiday season, we’ve taken a step back to appreciate it even more. Last Christmas, we didn’t even put any decorations out because everything was just so torn apart and such a mess. So having this little space done, exactly how we wanted it, and being able to put up a Christmas tree and decorate and spend quality time together in here, has been such a dream come true.




4. Our local trips

When borders closed, we weren't sure if we would be doing any traveling at all the rest of the year. But the summer season proved to be safe for outdoor activities, and we stretched that well into the fall as much as we could. We were thankful that the Northeast states had relatively low COVID rates during the summer season, which gave us some options for getting out of the house. We continued with our July trip to the Cape as usual, and while it was different this year, we got so lucky and didn't have any rain, and quite literally, were at the beach all day. We'd leave our beach site late afternoon after spending all day there, go back to the cottage to shower, get takeout for dinner, and bring it right back to the beach with a bottle of wine to watch the sunset. And honestly, this particular new normal was not hard to get used to. 

In late September/early October, we switched gears from our perfect Tuscan getaway in Italy, to a week on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. And I know it sounds silly because we visit Nantucket at least once a year, but this trip was really special. We splurged on fancy accommodations, which we rarely do, and got all kinds of upgrades because no one was at capacity due to the season, and, well, COVID. The islands were quiet, safe, and we got super lucky with weather again. We actually had time to relax, slow down and just enjoy the island lifestyle which was a stark contrast to our other visits that are much shorter. And, we just fell in love with the islands in a new way. It was so incredible. 

Photo by Georgie Morley Photography.





I'm also really thankful I got to squeeze in my trip to the Massachusetts North Shore in November. The weekend after I got back, the state borders closed again, so while this was a bad year in general, I seemed to have decent luck with my travel timing. I really debated if this trip was safe to take, and looking back, it was probably safer than me going to work and going to the grocery store. The inn I stayed in was so on top of COVID safety and had contactless everything, and I spent all my time outside, in mostly remote locations, rarely seeing other people. It was also very late in the season, so most of the towns were deserted much of the time. It was actually a perfect way to get in a trip, while social distancing, and I'm so glad I experienced it. I had a feeling it would be the last trip I would take for a while, and now that I'm sitting here on my couch, just before New Year's, with no certain travel plans in site, I'm really happy I got to breathe in some salty sea air before another round of lockdowns.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Safety definitely first! Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.


5. Re-prioritizing our house projects

This is both a good and bad part of the year for us, but I mostly consider it good. Once we knew things would not be back to normal for a while, we talked about it and decided to put on our front living room project on hold, for what we thought would be a few months, to work on the outside of our house. Our reasoning was that we would be spending a lot more time at home for an undetermined amount of time, and we hadn't, up until now, done a lot to the exterior of our house or land. This was something we both had wanted to do for a year or so, anyway, because eventually, we wanted the outside of our house to look like people actually lived here. The landscaping was insanely overgrown when we moved in, and we've been slowly digging ourselves out, but we still had so many plans to make this little house of ours as beautiful as we knew she could be. 

So, we decided to redo our deck. But guess what? So did everyone else in the country because they were also stuck at home. There were lumbar shortages everywhere. The prices doubled. Our quick little deck project quickly turned into "maybe we'll get it done by winter?" We also ran into a lot of unforeseen structural issues with our deck once we started, and we also redesigned parts of it once we were in the thick of renovations. We saw better ways to use the space, and we also knew the structural issues needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. One of the issues was so bad, I'm actually kind of shocked one of us didn't just fall through the deck. 

So, we had to call in our trusty contractor to jack up our roof and fix it all for us, and even that took a while because he was so in demand with everyone being at home working on projects. He couldn't even do his part until the beginning of fall. Basically, long story short, we got the bulk of it done just in time for our first snowfall, and we thought we would be done by the middle of the summer to enjoy it during the fall season. For the first time probably ever, though, it actually wasn't our fault. The supply shortages, labor demands and price surges are actually what really set us back. 

The reason I'm considering this a good thing is because I was so inspired by this one, simply project. For a long time, as excited as I was about everything we were doing inside the house, when I pulled up to our driveway, it was hard to see beyond the overgrowth and all the issues with the outside. It was a lot of holding my breath when I got home until I stepped foot inside because it stressed me out not knowing if we would ever get to a place where the outside would start to look how I knew it could. Right now, looking at it from a distance, it probably looks worse because there's a few things that are half-done, and all our supplies and such are still outside. But up close, we made so many improvements to our deck, and did a lot of new planting for summer abundance. By summer of this year, it's going to look so much better.

This project also allowed us to have more clarity surrounding our overall vision. We decided we wanted to re-side the front porch area of our house at minimum (likely the entire front), and add new board-n-batten shutters. We also decided on a new front door and overall, finally felt like we were on track for making this little house exactly what we know it can be, and that felt so amazing. Sometimes, just digging into something, not knowing where it's going to lead is really scary, but pays you back in the end with a clear vision of possibilities.



6. Developing my photography and videography skills

One of the biggest benefits to feeling mentally healthier and balanced at my job is that I've had more energy to feed my soul with my favorite hobbies. Prior to this year, as much as I wanted to always be learning more, I never had more room in my brain for any hobbies, really. It was all work, and house projects. After that, I was spent, and had no creative, physical or mental energy left. But now, I finally have more of all of that, and I have so enjoyed really sitting down, and learning everything I can to take better pictures and videos from our travels. I'm still not very good, and I have so much more to learn and experience, but having another creative hobby as an outlet has allowed me to feel more well-rounded and fulfilled. 

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.



7. My sister got engaged

This was such a great way to end the year. On Christmas Eve, my sister and her now fiance FaceTimed us to let us know they were engaged. Josh and I just love her fiance so much, and have already long-considered him to be part of the family. And my sister is my best friend. So to be able to gain a brother and see my sister so happy is incredibly heartwarming. And I'm just so happy for them. 



LOOKING FORWARD TO 2021

As much as I want to list all the things we’re looking forward to in 2021, it’s still so hard to say what it will bring us. If I had to guess, I'd say that by the holidays next year, we’ll be somewhat back to normal since it seems most of us plan to get the vaccine. But the rest of the year? I really just don’t know. Like everyone, we're going into the year with a lot of trepidation, knowing we have to stay flexible, and also, accept that nothing may go according to plan. Some days I'm totally fine with that. Others, well, not so fine. I hate uncertainty so much, and I'm most definitely not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person. But much like last year, I'm going to have to consider just being alive and managing best I can an accomplishment on its own.



Traveling

In 2020, I had to cancel my two-week solo trip to Portugal, which was really hard to do because at the age of 36 (at the time it was planned for), it would have been my first trip to Europe. But I rebooked everything for May 2021, exactly one year after the original was planned, feeling so certain that there wouldn’t even be a question as to whether I could go. Surely by then, we’ll be able to travel internationally, even with some extra precautions, right? I actually specifically rescheduled it for a year later, rather than postponing for later that same year because I was so sure I wouldn't run into any issues, and thought my patience would be rewarded. Hmmm, well, now I’m not so sure. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I'm not going to get to go. Again. Because of the type of work I do, I will say that I’m grateful to be somewhat ahead of the general public in line for the vaccine (but still far down the list, and rightly so). But will I get it in time for May’s travel plans? Probably not. And will that even allow me to travel internationally? Not a clue. Will the EU’s borders even be open to Americans? I literally have no idea. And that’s the hardest part. We all had this assumption that 2021 would be a lot more certain, but the reality is, even with the vaccine roll out, it’s not. And the roll-out is already much slower than anticipated. So, I certainly hope I can continue with my plans for Portugal in May, but I’m not counting on it, as sad as that makes me. I think moving forward, this will teach me to never wait for the perfect time to do anything - just do it while you have the chance, amiright?

As I mentioned before, we also had to cancel our dream trip to Italy last September, which was really tough because it was something we wanted to do for 11 years. And the stars just finally aligned for us to make it happen in 2020 (ha!). We haven’t yet rebooked that trip because we would plan to go in September/October 2021, but, we have been looking at flights and all the hotels/AirBnB's we had originally booked, and are starting to plan that trip back out. I'm feeling a lot more confident about this one, though, and think there's a good chance we'll get to go this fall. Our fingers are crossed so hard, you don't even know.

And, of course, we plan to continue with our week on the Cape in July, expecting it to be much like last year: lobster face masks, avoiding crowds and restaurants, and staying at the beach all day. Basically my introverted self's dream vacation. 

Because I'm such a planner, we even started talking about travel for 2022 because I'm in withdrawal. And also because this year, we would have been planning new trips anyway had last year gone to plan. This very well could change, but right now we're looking at a full-blown winter adventure in Banff right after the New Year, and possibly a Seattle & Portland trip in September/October. As for solo trips, high on my list are Turkey, going back to Iceland, and domestically, a road trip that starts in Arizona, and works its way to Zion National Park in Utah. But those are all wish list trips at the moment, and I have no concrete plans to make them happen. 



House Plans

We actually have some exciting things in store for our house renovations this year, and our hope is that by Christmas, we'll have a big chunk of our house officially done.    

We've already kicked off 2021 with some demo work for a project that we had zero intention of starting for another year or two. The more time that passes, the more our priorities ebb and flow, and sometimes, breaking away from our plan is the best thing we can do for ourselves. This left our front living room still in shambles (although, Josh did manage to at last get the drywall up). And while we assumed this would be the first thing we would start this year, to finish by Summer, we went in an entirely different direction.

We decided that, as a belated Christmas gift to ourselves, we would hire our contractor to renovate our interior stairway for us. Doing this will allow us to finally remove the rest of the plaster walls (except for our two remaining bedrooms), refinish the pine floors in our downstairs and upstairs hallways, and basically finish off major walking paths in the house we use every day. We came to realize that we pass through these areas every day, and it was taking its toll to have them completely untouched since moving in, while adjacent areas were totally redone. It made them stick out even more. But, we new that doing our staircase was something we wanted our contractor to do because he could knock it out in a day or two. For us to do it, we have no idea how long it would take, and there was no way we could not have stairs leading up to our second floor for an extended period of time. 

So, Josh is currently doing a lot of demo work to prepare for our contractor to come in the Spring, and rebuild the stairs, including new railing and banisters, and install some new windows on our landing and upstairs hallway. The existing windows are super old, and allow a lot of air to escape, so this is huge for us to help with heat retention in the winter. 

Then, once this is done, we can drywall this entire area, paint and re-install the original hardwoods, giving us a completely done downstairs entryway, staircase and upstairs hallway. 

Then, of course, as mentioned already, we need to finish our deck project. We need to install the railing and decide if we want to stain the actual deck. We also have to finish off our cascading stairs that will transition from the upper to the lower deck, and install and paint a porch and deck skirt to hide the underneath parts. Once that's all done, that project will be crossed off the list.

Every Spring, we also pick one area of overgrowth, and rip it out to re-plant some new landscaping. This year, our focus is the back deck area, and we plan to get some hydrangeas tucked in back there. We're also talking about planting some new fruit trees, and I'm also excited to plant some crab apple trees to mainly use as cut branches for flower arranements.

Then (as if that wasn't enough), we'll finally refocus our attention back to our front living room, which we hope we can start in late summer, and finish by Christmas. Famous last words, that's all I'm sayin'.



Digging deeper into gardening

Photography wasn't the only hobby my soul opened up to this year. Over the past two years or so, I've developed a big interest in flower gardening. It's a whole journey I went on, I guess, but the nutshell version is, I used to hate flowers, and now I love them. And I want more. This past year, I've been really feeding my brain with all kinds of information about growing plants and flowers, and just this past Christmas, actually, I just decided that this year, I wanted to make a cut flower garden happen for myself. The past two summers, as we've planted more landscape elements just for show around our house (mostly hydrangeas, peonies and daffodils to start), I find myself outside every night, just walking around, tending to them, and looking at them, feeling so happy. And that's what summer is all about, right? Longer days that provide an abundance of sunlight to feed the earth and allow things to grow. I wanted to be a bigger part of that.

Over the past few weeks, Josh and I have been planning our plot for a fenced-in cut flower garden of my own, and I've been going through websites and flower catalogs and buying seed packets and dahlia tubers. And I'm very sure I've gotten in over my head, but that's how I need to roll. I have a habit of holding myself back and not allowing myself to do things because I'm not good enough, not prepared enough or just - not enough in general. And I've always found that it led me to disappointment (a big reason why I started to travel more recently). When I allow myself to jump in, and fail, the successes are more than worth it. So, here I am, ready to get started. Thankfully, I've got another month or so to keep learning more before I have to really jump in with starting seed trays indoors. 



Family

Not being able to see family this year has been incredibly hard. I was able to squeeze two visits in with my mom that were outdoors, but we really wanted to limit our exposure to keep everyone safe. So, once everyone is vaccinated, I feel like it'll be exciting, yet challenging, to try and travel, work on the house and see family. But man, I'm so ready for it. 

This year, we had to cancel our "housewarming" party that we planned for family this past summer. I use the word housewarming loosely because it's not exactly a housewarming since we've been here for over five years now. It'll be six in June of this year. But every year we were here, we kept putting it off, knowing we would have more projects done as each year passes. Of of course, 2020 was going to be our year (insert palm to forehand emoji here) to have family over at our house and make use of all this outdoors space we have. I'm really hoping that this August, we're able to continue with our plan to have a large gathering. But again, that's so uncertain.

What we do know is, we can't wait to see family again. And that's the one thing to get the most excited about. 



How's everyone else looking at this year? Do you have any goals you definitely want to accomplish? Places you want to visit that you weren't able to in 2020? Are you laying low until you know what the heck is actually going on with the world? Let me know!

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