New Year, New You?

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On January 1, I received following message:

“Happy New Year! I’ve decided I can’t manage much but my two goals are family exercise and music practice.”

So she bought a YMCA gym membership for her family to help them survive the Minnesota winter. Each year, she faces the same uphill, snow-filled battle, active kids in need of stimulation in a house in which they don’t quite fit.

The day after New Year’s, she wrote me again,

“We went to the gym. It feels so good to have a place to go. I feel like I’m getting to know again the person I was pre-kids.”

“You still are that person,” I wrote, “you just haven’t been accessing it.”

And she agreed.

The power to change is in you.

Or so I hear. It seems awfully simple, doesn’t it?

We have our will. We have our emotions as a guide. They act as indicator lights that something needs our intention; they motivate us; they are an important part of the process of overcoming obstacles. We have our intelligence to help us to reason and problem-solve those goals we want to put in place.

So as with every New Year’s column, let’s look at what’s missing.

What do you want?


What is preventing you from getting it?

“I always wanted to take cello lessons. Maybe when there is more time,” a woman told me. Then she shrugged her shoulders and acknowledged, “There’s never more time.”

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It helps to talk it through.

What are our excuses?

Some obstacles come from within. It may be a scheduling issue. It may be an issue of prioritizing ourselves over others. It may be a matter of letting the urgent demands or interruptions dictate our days rather than the important and less urgent ones.

Most enriching things will not be urgent, but they are important.

Changes to aid our health are not urgent, until they suddenly become so. But even then, after a time, the desire to eat this or drink that is stronger than the doctor’s orders.

We must make time for the things that are not urgent but are important.

The will to change may not be enough. We are nested in relationships, in an environment that may need some adjusting to help us reach our goals.

Talk it through again, only this time with those you live with, and problem-solve a way to make space for what you want to do.

I have been making the mistake of buying duplicate books at used book sales or antique shops. I don’t need three copies of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

So I spoke to my spouse about a strange goal for Christmas break. My office is built into a detached garage, just across the porch, 21 feet away. But getting there and staying there uninterrupted without the children falling down a well is the challenge. To my husband, I shared my desire. I want to catalog my books. He shared his support.

Over break, each day when we had no plans, I let him know I was going and spent my hours in nerdful bliss, realizing the professional benefit this strange task would give me the next time I write a book or essay in need of formal citations. That added thought made the goal suddenly more important, to me, at least. “You’re a writer, after all,” my husband said.

  • Goals related to health
  • Goals related to enrichment
  • Goals related to organization

These may be the pivotal categories to consider this time of year. Do not fall for trends.

Look within you to listen to your desire for what is missing.

The longing is in us because there are things we are meant for. All work and no play, etc., etc. 

My next goal is, when I have the impulse to share something deep or poetic, to take to my notebook rather than my phone, to record the thought for me rather than send it out into the text messaging bliss. Who knows, there may be something at the end worth saving, editing and sharing.

What are your goals for 2023?

And how are you going to make them happen?

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Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Four Simple Questions for 2020

Make your life perfect in 2020

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or they say in a thousand little iterations this time of year. I am home and online enough to read their variety. Why not jump on the bandwagon?

Join a reading challenge.

Make a book list.

Exercise goals. Career goals. Family goals. Bucket list goals. Organization goals.

How many are tempted to set these goals, savor the positive vibrations that come from setting them, only to never follow through because that first wave of good feeling was enough? We go through the of the year, much as we have done before.

Being in my last month of pregnancy and quite overrun with a cold virus at the time of the writing, I imagine a simpler path ahead.

When I last took the temperatures of my children, I recalled a fancy thermometer we purchased, the box of which promptly discarded. We never felt confident about where exactly it ought to be pointed for an accurate reading. So we never use it. Why do we keep it, I wonder?

Laying in bed, with my tea, magazines and stack of books beside me, I look round my room. We became farmhouse residents in March, unpacked our things, marveled at the sheer quantity of cabinets, and moved on with our lives. Some cupboards are orderly, some less so, some still have construction materials from the good people who lived here before us, some have make-shift cabinet liners hiding whatever unsightly things those good people spilled in that particular cabinet.

What do you see when you open your cabinets?

A goal met, a project procrastinated, abundance or want?

I could go through each room and pause at a given place (my closet, the hall cabinet, the children’s toy storage) and ask myself,

“Who does this space serve?”

There is a particular way I would organize that child’s room if I did not have to consider the child. But the room is not for me. The wonders of the Instagram pantry spaces lie untapped in our cupboards, because it is a shared space and a space that must serve a large family.

The house, like my life, is shared. Not every ambition will be for my sake. They will, like this house, be shared, so that we work together, play together, and grow together not as autonomous individuals but interdependent members in this little school of love.

Next, I ask:

“What purpose does this place serve?”

A closet could be simply for storing clothing. Or as my 9-year-old would have it, a place of wonder, to hide and recharge when her introverted self is over-whelmed.

The cabinet in the laundry room could be a medicine cabinet or it could be an apothecary’s paradise showing my expertise and prowess in managing colds.

This shelf by the back door with tumbling down candles could be a display at Pottery Barn rather than a bargain bin.

I take inventory:

“What is necessary here?”

In knowing who this is for and what this is for, I can narrow down what is essential.

“What is unnecessary here?”

And then I can identify those items that are superfluous, that weigh us down, clutter us up, and confuse the tasks we must complete each night before bedtime.

These four questions will work for my cupboard, yes, and beyond. I consider relationships that have evolved over time, projects and hobbies I have undertaken, ministries or causes I have committed myself too. It is easy to become overtaxed in a world that demands us to move in so many directions. I begin to lose sight even of the place of my life within the bigger world.

When we focus in on one place, letting the endless spaces beyond quiet themselves for just a moment, we find our world a little brighter, a little better, and a little more focused.

This is the space where we live.

This is the space that matters.

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When I dared to hope…


Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.


A year ago, I dared to hope.

I wrote in early January, “The thing I dare to hope for is to publish a book, or at least accepted by a publisher, not just any book but the book I have been living through and working on through our “hard year.” I share it now because I am daring to hope, and when I dare to hope with witnesses, it gives me strength.”

One year later, I find myself with a signed contract, in hand, for a devotional to support women who have received a prenatal diagnosis.




We could chalk it up to a dream made real, a wish granted, but even when it is something you have dreamed about since you were a child, I think we shortchange the process by simplifying it so.

Let us see how this measures up with the advice I gave in the past to make your goals SMART.

Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific: book proposal accepted. I wrote, “not just any book.” I prematurely limited my options. If I were rigid here, the year would end in disappointment. That would be a mistake. Listening to other authors, many will say, you need to write the first book, the one that gets rejected, in order to write the book to be published.

Measurable: one book, that was all I asked. I did not say “write more” or “write a good book” or “talk to a publisher.” It was the acceptance.

Relevant: The goal should be part of the big picture plan, not a distraction. Interestingly enough, had I embarked on this journey in the fall, it would have seemed a distraction from the business at hand, raising and homeschooling four littles. In the spring, it was “income contribution” and quite relevant. Circumstances change. Even now, I sometimes ask, is this a distraction? Yet the joy I have in the task tells me it is not only a matter of craft but self-care. Some self-care requires sacrifices in other departments and support from those who inhabit our daily spaces.

Time-bound: set for the year. Since the acceptance was outside my control, I did not plan on berating myself it did not happen. What happens if you do not meet your goals because of outside circumstances?

Like the relevancy question, our goals must be flexible and ready to adapt.

Make long-term goals attainable by turning them into a series of short-term goals.

Ask an author, “how did you get a book published?” She answers, “well, my former classmate introduced me to her editor and bam!”

So simple? That sort of talk makes a goal seem unattainable for the 12-year-old who dreams the same dream the writer dreamt decades ago.

Set the goal.

Start the education. Our culture has tended towards limited the idea of education to the classroom, formalized program, and certificate of completion. With the internet, library system, and Link+, there are few limits to what we can get out hands on for education. Writers associations, Tuesday Teachings, Facebook groups, and books, stacks of books on writing, publishing, and good habits, plus studying one admired author in-depth.

Do the craft. Don’t practice, just do. Do it seriously. Do it professionally. For the writer, it means leave the journal prompts behind. I completed the memoir by rapid, obsessive work. This turned out to be an unforeseen necessity as our schedules filled up in the fall.

Leave the romance behind. The honeymoon period ends. It gets hard. You have to decide if the craft is worth slogging through. Every good piece of writing has hours of editing following after it, loving it to death. If you can stand the thing you wrote after all the editing, it is worth the pursuit of publishing.

That is it for me. For you, will you dare to dream, to hope, and then do? I hope you will. I hope you will take a moment to entertain the dream from when you were a kid, a teenager, an aspiring college student, and go for it, in the way that works for you, for your life, right now.

A Road Map for Turning Wishes into Goals

A guide on setting goals without the use of magic

Goal planning gets us started, beginning with the end in mind. A goal is different from a wish. If I say, “I wish I could make a million dollars this year,” I’d be fooling myself. But if I say, “I wish I could have a million dollars in ten years” this might not be altogether impossible.

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.

To read more, click here

From the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at and

A Road Map for Turning Wishes into Goals

Goals are the way we can follow the wisdom, “begin with the end in mind” articulated by Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A goal is different from a wish. If I say, “I wish I could make a million dollars this year,” I’d be fooling myself. But if I say, “I wish I could have a million dollars in ten years” this might not be altogether impossible.

Implicit in the stated goal is the first quality of a goal. It should have a timeline. Without a magic lamp, wishing for the million dollars means nothing. Wishing for it in x amount of years, now there is something upon which to evaluate the idea.

The second quality that makes a goal a goal is that it is realistic. I could switch jobs, cut back on expenses, save vigorously, invest as I save, and I just might save that million dollars.

Another quality that comes with my wishing for a million, but not always as clear with other goals, is that a goal must be concrete and measurable. Money is easy to measure. It comes with numbers already on it. But if I wish to be athletic or I wish to be happy, that is not so clear. How will I know when I’ve achieved it? I won’t. That’s what makes it a wish and not a goal.

We need to spell out what we want. What does it mean to me to be athletic? I can’t take Colin Kaepernick’s definition of what it means for him to be athletic. Our definitions must be different because of our different ages and states in life. What does it mean to be happy? Wherever you glean this wisdom from, it’ll have to become a belief you believe strongly enough go after it. For example, happiness for me means being wealthy…or being healthy…or giving of myself.

When we spell out our goals, making sure they’re realistic, putting them on a timeline and defining them in a way that is concrete and measurable, then we can make a plan.

The ultimate goal is the long-term goal: to reach a state of athleticism which means I can eat ice cream thrice a week without gaining weight and bike for 50 miles at a time in one year. You’ll have to take word for it that’s its realistic. One year is the time line. The ice cream is not the substance of the goal but an extra reward. Some times we want things like that. But the focus is the thing I can positively work on. I’ve indicated how many miles I want to bike.

In order to make my place I create short-term goals that build up to the long-term goal. What will it take for me to reach this goal? I will need to start riding my bike regularly. How regularly? I will need to start riding my bike four times a week at least. I can look online or talk to a personal trainer to find out what is the best regimen for riding my bike in order to reach my goal. Professionals in their field can help me determine a recommended pace.

But I think, four times? That’s crazy. I don’t have time for that. I have to find a way to make time. This process of identifying objections and obstacles is part of the planning process. Think of every possible obstacle: babysitting, laziness, boredom. Brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles. Babysitting: I could bike in the morning before the kids are up and my husband is home. Laziness: I could plan different routes to keep it interesting. Create your short-term goals based on the information you’ve gathered.

Work gradually towards your goal by using the timeline you’ve already established. If I’m going to bike 50 miles in one year, I want to be able to bike 25 miles in 6 months, 15 miles in 3 months, and so on. If I plan it out, write it out, it will be easier to see what arrangements need to be in place to make it all come together.

Becoming athletic is part of good health and part of personal development. There are other equally important types of goals: those related to professional or educational development. I want to graduate college by the time I’m 22. I want to move up to a supervision role in next three years. Setting goals can keep us focused, interested, making what could have become mundane and routine a challenge to overcome. Life and relationship goals are important as well, although they are more difficult to define. I want to be a good spouse. When? Immediately. It might take longer than that. It will be hard to know. Still that doesn’t mean we can’t keep it in mind by considering what qualities make for a good spouse/friend/parent and decide what we need to do. Perhaps it means cutting back on social media in order to focus more on the family. I can make a plan to do that gradually so I don’t binge when I can’t take stand anymore.

Lastly we come to the idea of the bucket list. The Bucket List is a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.” We can start considering these things now and setting goals to achieve them. If life is a road trip, these are the quirky stops along the way.

So whether your considering what you want your life to look like professionally, personally, relationally or for excitement along the way, make the steps you set down realistic, concrete, and on a timeline. Check your progress along the way. If you haven’t reached a short-term goal by the time you planned, there is time to reevaluate and see what needs to change. It’s part of the process. You have not failed if plans need to adjust.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.

Dr. Seuss