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Monday, May 22, 2017


We have a high school graduation in our family this year and it always marks such a big season of transition.  Next year another room will be empty in our home and time just keeps marching onward.  We are grateful and proud of Lindsey for her work and perseverance to complete a challenging high school curriculum.  She has made wonderful choices and we are wide-eyed to see how her future unfolds.  Way to go!


It was special to be together with family and celebrate another milestone together.  We keep building our little blended family experience by experience, one memory at a time.  I love it.


Through many years of witnessing graduations I see that being intelligent is nice, but having integrity is so much better.  Yes, it's nice to know much about many things, but being wise will have a greater reward.  I wish this for our own graduate as she steps out into new adventures.

Another little girl completed elementary school this year and is headed to Middle School.  It will be a fall of great change in our household.

It is an honor to love, support and guide each of our children.  I feel no greater responsibility than to parent well.

Here's to more life and adventures!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mothering Everyday

Mother's Day has become a day that I absolutely love.  I remember what it was like to be sad on this day as I longed to be a mother, but worked to focus on the wonderful mother who raised me.  Now, I just adore the celebration of all that mom's do in our lives - Mothers really do rule the world, even when things aren't ideal.

I will save these handmade cards forever!
This year my husband wrote me the most meaningful note.  The words and encouragement remind me that what I do each day is worth it and valuable.  Mothering is the most important job I have, but it's not always the most rewarding and hearing that he sees the effort, is grateful for the input and my partner in the outcomes just means the world to me.  He also surprised me with something sparkly!
The children gave me thoughtful notes, love coupons and pampering items.  I am thankful their dad supported them in acknowledging their mom.  These original thoughts from my children are treasures to keep for all time.

I was able to see my stepdaughters, too.  I strive to honor their bond with their own Mother, but I really appreciate that they include me in their motherhood circle.  I love the bright, thoughtful flowers that I was given!

I missed getting to be with my own mother, but we chatted and texted between the miles.  I hope she knows how much I value the energy she continues to pour into my children.  She taught me to be a mom and always reinforced the value of motherhood.  I loved talking with my grandma, too.  She has been kind and supportive of me for all my life.  As an added bonus, I loved chatting with my mother-in-law.  Her influence is felt through each part of our family and she had an enormous role in the life of my Mr. Wonderful.  I'm so grateful for her.

I have a Sunday tradition of coffee with my kiddos.
 I like to imagine us meeting for coffee when he is all grown.
I received notes and texts of encouragement from my dearest friends, as well.  Mothering with them is so much fun and their wisdom brings dimension and perspective to my own parenting choices.  It's an honor to share this season of life with other mothers.  Everyone needs a mom-tribe.

"Mother's Day" has passed for a year, but these ladies are a part of my daily life and it reminds me of the influence I will have for generations to come.

Mother's Day comes and goes, and the investments of today often don't return to us for many years to come.  Count the cost and enjoy the privilege that you possess as an influencer in the generations to come.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Heart of A Mother - What I Didn't Know When I Became a Mom

This is the most recent photo I have with my three.
Long before I became a mother, I can see how the heart of motherhood was growing within me.  I loved playing with dolls and setting up a "house" in my bedroom or our garage, which doubled as our playroom.  As I matured, the longing to nurture was satisfied with my pet and nesting happened in dorm rooms and one-bedroom apartments which I delighted in making cozy.  I couldn't wait for the day to become a Mother and my first Mother's Day was one of the greatest days in my whole life.

I knew that I would adore my children and that they would also require me to be selfless and sacrificial.  I underestimated the intense connection that I would feel, especially in those early years when they were so very dependent.  I knew there would be fun times as well as stressful ones.  So much was predictable, but there were some things that surprised me about motherhood.

Last year, I got to be with my whole crew on Mother's Day!

What I Didn't Know

1. I didn't know how I would learn to value myself through their eyes.  That I was important to my children was obvious from day one - they needed comfort, care and protection.  But each time they run to me for assurance or glance to make sure I'm noticing, I am reminded that my presence in their lives in huge. The size of my thighs or the brand of purse doesn't matter one bit to my kiddos, but showing up at school or seizing one-on-one time makes their day.  I didn't know that having children would bring razor sharp focus for the purpose in this season of life.

First Mother's Day with Faith
2. I didn't understand how my concept of self would become wrapped up in these little people,self-care was truly important and martyrs do not make good mothers.  Along with that purpose above, I found I could lose my own identity in theirs.  Now I know that it is worth the effort to value myself and not build my whole world around them - it is too great a burden for little hearts to bear.  This article describes it so well: Motherhood Taught Me To Love Myself.
why that wasn't always healthy.  I learned that

3. I didn't guess that I would find reasons to laugh and smile, even on my very worst days.  I was unaware of how my attitude would set the tone for the whole household.  I had no idea how to live "in the moment" before children entered my life.  I was planner and performer, always striving to please or working to be productive.  I was often thinking in the future, or checking off lists.  Becoming a mother let me savor rocking a baby, long after he had fallen asleep.  It taught me joy in folding tiny pajamas and to let go of imperfect garden beds.  I learned to quit trying to be perfect and be satisfied with enough.

4. I wasn't prepared for how much I would have to take the long-term perspective.  I thought most things could be conquered and tied up neatly, but motherhood taught me the value of daily investing for future payoffs.  Mothering well truly is a marathon that is won by daily consistencies in correction, compliments, time and affection.  Investing today may not have its reward for many years, but they are so worth the efforts.

5. I didn't know the instant connection that would happen among mothers and how it would bond me to a tribe of people who "get it."  In my neighborhood and in the headlines, my first response is from the heart of a mother.  I am grateful for the common bond even though we express our motherhood so differently at times.

I'm still growing as a mother, and I still have so much to learn  I'm so very grateful for the little hearts that teach me, stretch me, motivate and move me.  Motherhood has surprised me with lessons of life that I could have learned no other way.  Mothers aren't born the day a baby arrives.  The heart of a mother grows as a woman nurtures, cares sacrifices for those in her life: whether it is a child born to her or the child up the street who needs encouragement.  The heart of a Mother grows when we give away our very selves.

Other Thoughts on Mothering:

Rules of Motherhood

Essential Stepmom Skills

The Truth About Mothering

My Greatest Accomplishment

Stepping Through Mother's Day (As A Stepmom)

Mother's Day, 2015

Friday, April 28, 2017

How I Embraced the Role of "Adventure Mom"

I'm not exactly high maintenance, but I rarely leave the house without makeup and wear bright lipstick everyday.  I enjoy sparkly jewelry and high heels and think a bubble bath is the ultimate luxury.  I'm the last person you would think of as an adventurer.  But a flip switched when I became a mother and I innately wanted my children to value time outdoors and to be confident in their natural abilities.

Add to that, we live right near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the space for (inexpensive) adventures is just so available.  My son was only two months old on his first trip to the mountains.  He has grown up being confident about tromping through streams, forging through trails and absorbing the sounds of nature.

During my single mom years, heading to the mountains was a saving grace for me with three children.  There is no cell service or wifi, no goofy cartoon noises and no one to be bothered with the rambunctious noises of three young children.  They could throw rocks in the river for hours and "hike" the walking trails on their own.  They gained a sense of accomplishment and freedom that we couldn't have found in the neighborhood.  I believe it was during these preschool and early elementary years where we adopted the general mentality that this is where we go to be together, to connect and to make memories.  It's where I established my free range parenting philosophy.

This is also the period in life when I went on my first road trip with three young children - that is an adventure unto itself!  But what really happened is that I adopted a "Can-do" attitude toward challenges and my children picked up the same attitude along the way.  Now, they just assume I'm up for just about any adventure.
My first trip to the mountains with my children
and Mr. Wonderful.  Look at the fairy wings!

We continue hiking as a family, even more exciting as we became blended because it is something we can all do together.  It's not easy finding an activity that kids ranging from first to twelfth grade like, but hiking worked for us.  We do it on weekends, holidays and vacations.  Whenever we can escape, we try to do so.  All of us go together, or we just take whoever is available.  We like to bring friends, too.  Some of my best bonding with my step daughters has been side-by-side, hiking in nature.

Hiking provides lots of one on time
for talking or just being together.
Soon, my oldest son will turn thirteen.  For his birthday, he wants to hike Mt LeConte as a right of passage.  So, we've been working our way up to the eleven-plus mile distance and terrain.

Clearly, my son didn't have any concern that I was capable of completing his dream.  In his mind, I'm already the "Adventure Mom" so it was natural to assume I would help him accomplish his goal  And so, I will.

How to do it?  Just embrace the role and look for it: Adventure is Out There!

The little guy was only five years old when he completed this five mile hike.

The waterfall was worth the whole 8+ mile hike, and we saw two bears.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Heart of Faith and the Real Possibility of Second Chances

Easter is a holiday that I enjoy celebrating, but it comes at such a somber price.  During this week leading up to joy, I read about the cost required for victory.  Forgiveness never is fair, is it?  We don't get to the resurrection without the dying, and that is the part that weighs heavily on my mind today.

There is hope found in the most dire of places - a cruel betrayal, torture, humiliation, agony, isolation and death.  The process of sacrifice marks our example for obedience, sacrifice, love, honor, forgiveness and new life.  Yes, new life: Life that is different, marked, etched and set apart from what if once was.  Death leaves its scars on all of us, but it doesn't mean we are forever bound in its grip.

New life.  This is what I claim on Easter Sunday - Resurrection Day.  My worst moments have birthed my best.  What I once was, I am no longer.  Hope for my future dark days (I know there will be some).  Trust in the One who overcomes.

I do not speak profoundly, or with anything new to say.  I simply know today more than ever that while it was kindness that brought me first to Christ, it was pain that saw my heart transformed.  As a child, I couldn't fathom the reality of the cross and it's trauma.  I had not reference for the hate and brutality.  Today, from new across the world I can see the climate of hate that permitted such mob mentality.  I hate the pain for Him all those years ago.  I hate the pain in our world today.  I hated the pain in my own life and dread the pain I will witness in the lives of those I love.  Yet the very pain that I avoid is what allowed new life to emerge in me.  It is the miraculous way that God works to bring something good from even what is the worst in our world.  The horrific pain of the cross was the road new life in Christ.  I wish there was another way, but I am not God.

This is why we have Easter traditions in our home.  We color eggs to remember God always brings new life.  We talk about the last days of Christ and what it must have felt like to be betrayed.  We gather with our church to remember and honor His sacrifice.  We celebrate the Victory on Sunday, knowing it is only a shadow of the celebration to come.

Easter is all about pain.  God didn't choose to eliminate the pain from our world.  He used it then and uses it today.  No matter what has happened to you or what you have done to yourself, the pain doesn't have to be the end of the story.  We are a people of second chances who choose to believe the best is yet to be, whether here on earth or in the hereafter.  Easter is the heart of faith for Christians, but it doesn't eliminate the struggle.  It takes that struggle and makes it worth something, and that is where second chances (or third, and more) take root and bloom.

What is Your Response to Easter?

Some Easter Traditions in Our Family

The Old Can Be New Again

Friday, April 7, 2017


"Safety is the state of being "safe" (from French sauf), the condition of being protected from harm or other non-desirable outcomes. Safety can also refer to the control of recognized hazards in order to achieve an acceptable level of risk."

In this privileged life that I live, I often take my safety for granted.  When I see the conditions of many in war zones, refugee villages, I struggle to imagine what living in that way would mean.  I think of the details through the lens of motherhood and imagine the cumulative stress of trying to parent in that environment.

It's easy to develop a tunnel-vision in the way we view the world and see what we recognize.  My desire is to widen my world view and I do this by intentionally informing myself of the ways others live, their struggles, their joys.  To accept that my lifestyle is a minority in the world isn't condemning myself.  It spurs me to steward the privilege well.  Where I have been gifted, I am looking to give.  Surely I have not been given so much only to serve myself.

So these are some places where I choose to invest:

My Church.  It's the first place that I give and am committed to doing so for life. To make a lasting, personal impact, your church is the place to invest.

Mercy House Global.  As a former single mama, these overcomers inspire me! I feel so glad to purchase their products for gifts and love the t-shirts.

Preemptive Love.  I can't imagine living well in a war zone, but I will help where I can.

Compassion International.  One way that I involve my children is to let them choose a gift each Christmas.

Locally as needs arise.  There are immigrants who need basic living goods and jobs.  There are foster families who need last minute supplies.  There are students in our classrooms who need lunches and clothing.  There are some who need a drink or food.  There are laborers all around who need dignity, a smile, recognition.  When I see the need, I am prompted to give.  The key is to continue noticing the need.

When I am overwhelmed by the evil in our world, it is easy to feel paralyzed with insignificance.  What can I do?  How can I help?  Where can I make an impact?  But small actions truly can make an impact.  Sometimes I have to filter what I see in order balance the difficulties with hope.  But I don't want to be so consumed with my own comfortable life that I miss the benefits of joining to help others.  I want to be part of the solution...even if my contributions are small, they are significant.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Life Lately

There isn't much "news" to share, but life has been full of moments that I treasure.

A couple of weeks ago, our college girl came home for the tail-end of her spring break.  We loved being with her and enjoyed family meals and dreams of future plans.  We fed her well and encouraged lots of rest.

Our own spring break was unhurried and restful here at home, with Nana as our visitor.  Crafts, movies, reading and downtime were on the agenda.

We had a fun family day in Gatlinburg and I'm so glad that as our Spring Break ended, better weather arrived.  Time change didn't even affect us, since that is when the children were out of school, but we sure are enjoying longer daylight and dreamy weather!

Getting back into the school routine wasn't too bad and I think the children were happy to see their friends.  Our senior in high school is counting each day down until graduation, and I am so proud of her for finishing well.

This weekend we went to her university of choice.  We toured the facilities, met her prospective room mate and got a vision of what her world will look like next year.  It is always such an exciting stage to be right on the cusp of adulthood.

For now, we are treasuring the way spring unfolds and planning our patio garden.  It's a simple season for the next couple of months before life changes dramatically once more with another child leaving the nest.  I'm so grateful for the rhythms and seasons.

I'm grateful for this front-row view of my husbands daughters launching into college, even as my own middle school guy gets taller every day...and his voice deeper.  There is such an awareness of the march of time.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Birthday Traditions to Connect with Your Child (That Aren't Big Parties)

Birthdays have always been a big deal in our family.  In a large family, a person might feel a bit lost on some days, so we use the date on the calendar to celebrate each individual.  With four of our seven having had birthdays in the past two months, we consider January and February our "Birthday Season."

We still have parties for the elementary schoolers, by middle and high school, it's usually an activity with a friend or two.  So gathering with friends is one way that we honor each special day.  But here are some simple yet meaningful ways to connect with your birthday child that aren't a big party:

1) Pull out the Baby Book.  Mom, you spent time and energy noting details that didn't really matter so put that sweet book to good use and look through it with your child.  Mine love to see the silly faces and funny firsts that make each child unique.

2) Recount the Birth Story.  To this day, my own mother will call or text and say, "Forty-three years ago I was heading to the hospital and..."  I know the story now, but my children don't know theirs yet.  Each one loves to hear about the details of the day they were born.  Who was there, who came to the hospital, what did the doctor say, was it planned or surprise labor?  All these things make their own story precious.

3) Put out a fun photo. We have frame that holds a 4x6 photo and says "Happy Birthday."  I rotate the photo, depending on whose birthday is coming next and keep it out for the week surrounding the special day.  It's just a little touch and a reminder to everyone that a special day is coming.

4) Note something new that he or she has done or acquired in the past year.  Note that last year he wasn't able to ride a bike, but now he can!  Look at how your room has changed.  I notice your grades are so much better this year.  Can you believe how many books you have read this year?  Or how many Lego sets you have put together?  Find anything notable to express pride in the growth you see.

5) Enjoy a personal favorite!
This can be a meal cooked at home or at a favorite restaurant.  It can be a favorite dessert or one of mine chose to get his favorite coffee - and the largest one money can purchase!

BONUS: If you have family that live far away, have them send cards or gifts and let them pile up until the actual birthday.  This really ignites the anticipation!

Sometimes a child may feel overlooked in a large family.  The blended family dynamic can magnify this feeling.  But there are ways to strengthen each individual child and celebrate his or her uniqueness.  Make birthdays exciting in simple ways to build up self esteem and family bonding.

Family connection is vital to healthy emotional development and self identity.  Children with strong families grow to be strong individuals.  Take advantage of a birthday to celebrate and connect with your children. How do you celebrate birthdays?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Easing the Stress of Transition Days When Coparenting

It's transition day again - the day my children leave home and head to their dad's place, which is another home to them.  Children in blended families have unique needs that often overlap with blended family roles.

I don't like the fact that my children move between two homes.  It disrupts their schedules and creates tension on transition days.  I see the anxiety levels rise as they attempt to gather what they need and want or get frustrated when things are left in their other home.  Their dad and I work hard to combat and minimize the struggle, but it is a reality that we know will impact them.  It is an ever-present aspect of their lives that will define their concept of "home" forever.

As a parent, there is tension, anxiety and frustration for me, too.

Sometimes, I strive to have exceptionally wonderful moments during the hours prior to their departure.  This is unrealistic and adds pressure to both myself and the children.

I am tempted to make their lives easier in our home by requiring fewer chores, less responsibility and providing fewer boundaries.  This doesn't do them any favors and results in entitled children. Eventually, I resent that they expect me to do everything for them.

It feels like the angst builds closer and closer to pickup time and so there are some things I've learned in the seven + years that I've been co-parenting.

·         No Suitcase Required!  Having all the necessary gear at two homes is the ideal.  Children are not visitors and need a sense of ownership and belonging in both locations.  Stress increases dramatically when there is a need to cart clothing, hygiene supplies, games, toys and more between two locations.  Some things do have to go back and forth (homework, personal devices or a stuffed animal), but these can be minimized.

·         Avoid big chores on transition day.  Early in the process, I used to make leaving a time to straighten, organize and get everything in order so that the children would return to a comfortable room and space.  This only created stress prior to them leaving and they dreaded it.  Now we take care of major chores the day before transition, and they just keep up the day to day things.  If it’s messy when they leave, it’s messy when they get home…and no one seems to care much.

·         Keep a space available for items that need to move between homes.  We don't pack suitcases, but we do have to transport backpacks, school papers and the occasional uniform or device.  Having a designated spot alleviates the mad dash at the door while dad is waiting. 

·         Separation anxiety extends beyond the toddler years and in the shuffle between homes, some personalities are more prone than others to agitation that they cannot yet articulate.  Knowing that the tension during the back-and-forth is normal, can help you adjust expectations accordingly.  This isn’t the time for life lessons.  Correct only what is essential and aim to bid farewell on a positive note.

·         Separation anxiety happens for parents, too, but your anxiety will escalate theirs.  Calm down because your calm presence provides the perspective they need and will adopt.  It is essential that your children do not feel responsible for your feelings or worry about you while you are apart. Let them know if you have plans or how you will fill the time.  You are the grown up.  You have just been given a block of time without childcare responsibilities.  Use it work, for self care, for home maintenance or whatever.  Keep your perspective positive and treat the time you have as a gift.

·         Keep goodbye simple, sweet and in advance.  Do not prolong the farewell or require superficial affection prior to departure. Be relaxed, upbeat and keep it enjoyable.  A quick hug and kiss is just fine.  Let them know you are available if they need you, but give them the freedom to head out to their other family and enjoy time there, as well.  Long, heartfelt goodbyes will make your child feel guilty about leaving you.

·         Create a schedule and keep it as consistent as possible.  Kids like to know what to expect and it will instill security.  Predictability is your friend in the sometimes chaotic lives of co-parenting families.  Be simple and positive at send-off.

Transitions while co-parenting are unavoidable and inevitable.  They are part of the normal patchwork and life for some children.  I have found that keeping the transition as low-key as possible it best.  We try to make the switch as uneventful as possible and normalize the back and forth. There is a specific need for peace in these families.

I love speaking with older kids who have gone through the process and have more perspective.  One girl told me it feels, “So unbelievably normal.  I couldn’t imagine not going between homes, especially now that my dad has my brothers.  And of course, my mom is my mom!”  She went on to say, “If you start when you’re little, it’s no big deal.  If not, you still get used to it.”  It's sobering to grasp that something that seems so out of ordinary to me will be the status quo for many children.

Obviously, most children and teens eventually find a way to cope with the movement between two homes.  But we cannot deny the real pressure and triggers that are involved.  As parents, we take on the duty to make these transitions as simple, low stress as possible.  Ultimately, transition days are not about me.  My gift is to smooth the process where I can and help my children cope with the drawbacks.  While they are gone, I get to take care of me and enjoy some freedom from the pressing responsibilities of childcare.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Be The Love

"All You Need Is Love," some say and I do cherish being loved.  But instead setting up false expectations about a deeply romantic Valentine's Day, use the 14th as inspiration to be the love that others in your life can celebrate.

I'm kind of famous among those who know me well for being wild about Valentine's Day.  It remains such a fun moment for me to spoil and pamper the ones that I hold most dear.  Mostly, I want them to know they are so loved by not only me, but by their Heavenly Father.  His love is more than enough to fill our lives, if we let Him. This is the true message of love.

So how do I celebrate this annual Love-fest?  Here are some ideas:
  • Spend some energy to spruce up your space.  You don't have to wait for someone to buy
    flowers, bring some back from the grocery store after your next weekly trip.
  • Send something special to someone unexpecting.  Do you know a single mama or grad student?  Surprise them with an invite to dinner or something that shows you see their hard work.
  • Pay it forward in the drive through - just for fun! 
  • Take cookies or flowers to your neighbors.
  • Spoil your children with notes that detail what you love about them.  Leave on the table for a breakfast surprise on Valentine's morning.  Pack some chocolate in their lunch.  Never let them wonder if you think they are amazing!
  • Send a text to a friend far away.
  • Love yourself with a bath, mani/pedi or new lipstick.  Wear red or pink just for fun on Valentine's Day.  
  • If there is a man whom you admire, think about what would be special for him.  Write a note.  Bake some cookies.  Give him something to anticipate in the bedroom.  Find a way to connect.  He may never admit it, may even say Valentine's doesn't matter, but he will appreciate your reaching out to demonstrate the ways you love him.
  • Tell your parents how much you love and appreciate what they have done for you all of your life.  Send an encouraging note to a far-away relative.  Isn't it fun to get real mail these days? 
  • Send a care package to a college student far from home.
  • Offer to babysit so your friends can go out.  

There are countless ways to celebrate love, but most importantly we must take the time to do it!

Valentines Day - Skip the Dread & Drama

Nine Easy Ways to Love Your Family

Our Valentine Tradition

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Big Secret is That the Forties are Fabulous!

I never dreaded my forties, but I didn't know that I was supposed to look forward to them either.  For anyone who hasn't hit this age yet, the big secret is that the forties are fabulous!

Of course I deal with the normal aging issues: my knees crackle and ache, heels are no longer and all-day option, yet I'm healthy and strong.  My waist is thicker and my skin less youthful, but I smile more than ever.  I am comfortable in my own skin.  I enjoy deep, quality relationships that involve give and take.

I know myself better than ever, and I know what I need, what I like and what doesn't work for me.  Plus, I'm not afraid to speak up about those things.  I am happier and more content in my life than ever, I think.  I don't say that to gloat or rub-it-in-your face or one-up anyone.  I'm just truly happy, and recognizing it amplifies the feeling.  Here is what I note about myself this year:
  • I am confident in God's over-arching care of me, no longer
    driven to perform for approval but able to rest and act in confidence that He has my best interest in mind (even when I don't understand at a particular moment).
  • I'm loved and respected by a true partner in life.  I fully trust Mr. Wonderful and knows he desires the best for me and my children.
  • I get to be the primary parent to three fabulous children.  I have a role in the lives of two step daughters that we continue to work out and define.  I am confident of my place in these lives.
  • Every physical need is supplied and so many of my wishes, too.  We are healthy and I am aware this is a gift that we may not always enjoy.
  • My extended family is far away and that sometimes makes me sad.  Yet I recognize that we have wonderful relationships and history.  I know not everyone enjoys close relationships and I'm so grateful that we all make the effort to remain connected.
  • My best friends are also far away in location, but close in heart and are seriously the highest quality women that I know!  We have adapted to our cross-country friendships and manage to remain involved and active in each others' lives.
  • The stress levels in my daily life are fairly low.  This is an ENORMOUS gift! 
  • All but one of my children can do their laundry from washer, to dryer, to folded and put away.  This is seriously one of the best gifts of the year!
 Birthdays happen every year and while I don't love everything about getting older, I really am in love with this season of life!  I've been working on those goals I make every year...kind of like my "New Year's Resolutions," and I'll share those soon.