As 2016 draws to a close, we are reminded not only of the struggles and losses of the past year, but the joys and successes as well. There were moments that made us question ourselves and our roles in the universe at large, but there were also times that made us laugh harder and appreciate each other more. I do not believe in forecasting, worrying about those things out of our control and making ourselves miserable. Instead, I choose to encourage everyone to live each and every moment to its fullest and tell your loved ones what they mean to you every chance you get. 2016 may have tossed us around, but it also opened our eyes and brought us plenty of joy. Here is what we learned and loved this year.
1. Seeing the world both near and far away
This year we learned not only explore the beauty in our back yard, but to go out of our comfort zone and see what life is like in undeveloped parts of the world.
In June, I traveled with my two older boys to the Dominican Republic with now defunct Fathom Cruise lines. We spent four days in Puerto Plata getting to know the locals. We taught English at a local school and worked in a cacao factory.
I still struggle to put into words what that experience meant to us. We learned not only about ourselves, but about the importance of family and what little you need in life to be happy.
Our youngest son stayed at home with dad and when I asked him what he wanted for a souvenir, he asked me to go and buy a souvenir for a child in the Dominican Republic and give it to them.
Which is exactly what we did. There were two little boys sitting outside the cacao factory (where their mother worked) and we bought them chocolate bars (a real treat according to their mother). The smiles on their faces tell the story. I wish they were still offering the Fathom journey, because it was valuable for so many reasons.
2. Making new friends and valuing the old ones
I went through a phase after the birth of my first child when I was sure I would never make a new friend again. Boy how things have changed.
This year I have been blessed beyond words to have met so many people from all over the world that I count as friends. I have an amazing group of “old” friends as well, and I love how we encourage one another and won’t stand for any drama or nonsense.
This past year we made memories, shared many laughs, and even shed a few tears. All of these people bring something special to my life and I love them all.
3. Reinforcing the importance of family
As our kids get older, they want more freedom, which is great, but it is equally important to spend time together. My husband says it is ironic that as a family travel writer I travel 90% of the time without my family, and it’s true!
I hate that part, so I make a concerted effort to find moments for togetherness (insert my teenager’s eye rolls here).
Whether it’s family movie or game night or just dinner where we all sit at the table, we need to have something that is “our time”. I will continue to work on this in 2017, hoping it is making a difference.
4. Realizing life can change in the blink of an eye
I haven’t written about this, because every time I think about it I start crying. A couple of months ago, when I was in Mexico, I barely escaped death.
I was in a convoy of passenger vans headed out for a fun day of exploring, chatting with the other passengers, when all of the sudden our van lurched to the right and dirt and shrapnel started raining down on my side of the vehicle.
Our driver slowed down and when we looked behind us, we could see that the car that had been traveling about 10 feet behind us had been slammed into head-on by a truck that came from the other side of the highway.
It was clear at that moment there was no way the driver had survived the crash. It wasn’t until later we learned that both the driver and passenger of the car lost their lives, and the child and adult in the back seat were taken to the hospital in critical condition.
The driver of the truck that crossed the divided highway was drunk at 8:30 in the morning. Things could have gone differently. I am so thankful for our driver. His quick thinking and alert driving saved our lives. I wake up every morning thankful I am alive.
5. Facing our fears
We had many moments this year where we came face to face with things that made us uncomfortable. For our youngest son it was climbing to new heights on a ropes course adventure and riding a horse for the first time.
For our middle son it was surviving the New Year’s Eve size crowd in Times Square after Alicia Keys decided to have a “pop up” concert. He had to stuff his claustrophobia and muster through the madness.
For our oldest it was trying a ride at Holiday World, only to find out it ruined his equilibrium for the rest of the day. My biggest fear had to do with roller coaster rides as well and I found myself suffering through many this year all in the name of “fun”. At least my kids were happy.
6. Seeing the Chicago Cubs win the World Series!
I don’t think I would be a true Cubs fan if I didn’t include this in our favorites of 2016. I was lucky enough to see the Cubs at spring training this year, and watched the final game from my hotel in Cancun (which was not the same as watching it with my family). It was a wild ride, and we loved it!
7. Finding beauty everywhere
In our busy lives, we often overlook the beauty around us. This past year I really tried to point out to my kids the beauty that can be found in nature. We made time to unplug. We had fun playing in the snow, hiking through the forest, and making sandcastles at the beach. I also tried to catch as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. They can be truly spectacular, and they’re always different. For 2017, we plan on more of the same. Not just finding beauty in nature, but in the world we live in and the people that surround you. It’s there, you just have to look a little harder.