Life list year 3: It's all about me edition

In April 2013, I began a journey to have 100 new experiences in a year. Although it initially overwhelmed me, I blew the goal out of the water and had 160 new experiences in those first 12 months. For year two, beginning in April 2014, I upped the goal to 250 new experiences, but only had about 114 new experiences.

Sure, I missed the goal in Year Two, but I still had over 100 new experiences that year and I learned a lot. Year Two was a year of personal trials and tribulations and frankly, I am really grateful to have made it through the year.

As I began to think about my Life List Year Three, I looked back over the first two years, thought about where I am at age 44, and where I want to be when I turn 45 in 2016. It occurred to me that this year, I want to focus on my own personal growth and development in ways I haven't in the past. I've done a lot of cool things over the past two years and challenged myself in ways I never imagined I would, but now I'm prepared for the truly tough stuff - the me stuff.

Anyone can play with beluga whales or step out onto the ledge at the Sears Tower, but it takes true courage to look inward and do that work. As a result, this Life List Year 3 will be known as the "It's About Me Edition" and will only include new experiences that focus on making me a better person for myself and my community. Because this year is all about me and my personal growth, I thought it apropos to begin this year on my birthday - June 16, 2015 - and end the year on my 45th birthday on June 16, 2016.

Unlike previous years, I don't have a goal of achieving a certain number of new experiences. This year is about quality over quantity.

Life List Year 2 will remain and I will continue to plug away at those new experiences. Check both pages because the excitement is just getting started.

Personal Physical Fitness

  1. Regularly exercise 3 to 4 times per week
  2. Start swimming again
  3. Run a mile without walking or stopping
  4. Bike the Drive
  5. √ Try Paddle Boarding. - DONE August 21, 2016. Read the blog post here.
  6. Lose 50 pounds
  7. Climb Baldy the "back way" from M-22.
  8. Swim 1 mile without stopping
  9. Give up Diet Coke and all soda for one week
  10. Drink a minimum of 64 ounces of water for one week.
  11. Take a class at the Chicago Trapeze School.
  12. Workout every day for a week.
  13. Enjoy a full spa day - mani/pedi, facial, massage, and who knows what else.
  14. Do a polar plunge.
  15. Hike the Des Plaines River Trail from Northbrook to Independence Grove in Libertyville.
  16. Hike or bike the Robert McClory Bike Path.
  17. Hike or bike the Green Bay Trail.
  18. Take a hot yoga class.
  19. Walk 10,000 steps each day for a week.
  20. Walk 10,000 steps each day for a month.
  21. Sleep 8 hours nightly for a week according to my Jawbone UP3.
  22. Go cross country skiing.
  23. Go dancing.
  24. Go sledding.
  25. Go ice skating at Lincoln Park Zoo.
  26. Complete the Plank Pose Challenge (Read the blog post).
  27. Ice skate a Millennium Park.
  28. Reach the top of a rock climbing wall.
  29. Eat organic for one week.
  30. Work out daily for a month.
  31. Go kayaking on the Chicago River.
  32. Walk the entire Chicago Pedway.
  33. Ride a segway.
  34. Ride a bike along the Chicago Lakefront.
  35. Ride a swing tower ride.
  36. Hike seven new Lake County Forest Preserves (each one will count as a new experience).
  37. Go roller skating.
  38. Try indoor skydiving at iFly Chicago.
  39. Walk 20,000 steps in 1 day.
  40. Walk the beach from Watervale to Elberta.
  41. Ice skate on the ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.
  42. √ Climb the steps at the Benzie Scenic Turnout on M-22 on the side of Old Baldy in Arcadia. DONE August 22, 2015.

Mental and Spiritual Health

  1. Develop a morning ritual (e.g., journaling, yoga, lemon water, stretching)
  2. Journal daily
  3. Write a mental health book
  4. Attend another religion's religious holiday celebration (e.g., Passover seder).
  5. Attend church at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest.
  6. Attend church at Glencoe Union Church.
  7. Attend Grace Methodist Church's Easter Sunrise Service at Lake Bluff's Sunrise Beach.
  8. Attend church at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.
  9. √ Celebrate my 44th birthday with a Labyrinth Tour. DONE June 16, 2015.
  10. √ Walk the Lavender Labyrinth. DONE August 22, 2015.
  11. Create my own guided meditation.
  12. √ Write a book about caregiving. DONE mid-October 2015. Working on getting it published now.
  13. Curate a mental health blog. In process. The blog is called Mental Health from the Inside Out.

Personal Development & Growth

  1. Develop and stick to a writing schedule on Little Merry Sunshine
  2. Write a book about my new experiences from years one and two.
  3. Start a new hobby or restart an old one (e.g., scrapbooking)
  4. Become a Girl Scout Life Member.
  5. √ Get a new job. DONE January 18, 2016. Read about it here.
  6. Take an Ivy League class online.
  7. Get my personal email to #InboxZero on my laptop and phone.
  8. Become a notary public.
  9. Complete my household decluttering project.
  10. Ask 5 people to each teach me something new. Each new thing will count as a separate new experience.
    1. √ Dave taught me to paddle board 8/21/16. Read the blog posts here and here.
    2. √ Alan taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons 12/29/16. See the photo.
    3. √ Scott taught me to play chess 1/8/16. See the photo.
  11. Set calendar reminders to do monthly self-reviews at work and in life in general. Ask myself what am I doing well, what could be improved, what should I start doing, and what should I stop doing.
  12. √ Be interviewed on Huffington Post Live. DONE July 13, 2015. Read about it and watch the interview here.
  13. Decorate my new office space with pretty and functional accessories.
  14. Learn to knit or make an infinity scarf.
  15. Make curtains for my guest room/office.
  16. Complete an A to Z photography project. Document on Instagram or Pinterest.
  17. Paint or decorate the backsplash in my kitchen.
  18. Finish reupholstering my dining room chairs. I started this in May 2013.
  19. Take a cooking class at Sur La Table.
  20. √ Attend Chicago Booth Women Connect Conference. DONE October 23, 2015.
  21. √ Attend Poised for Leadership Conference sponsored by DONE on September 1, 2015.
  22. Read 25 new books in 2016. (each counts as a new experience)
    1. √ The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai DONE January 3, 2016.
    2. √ I am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer. DONE January 5, 2016.
    3. The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction by Linda Gray. Started January 3, 2016.
    4. √ My Glimpse of Eternity by Betty Malz. DONE January 5, 2016.
    5. √ The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. DONE March 2016.
    6. √ The Best of Enemies by Jen Lancaster. DONE July 19, 2016.
    7.  In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, DONE June 2016.
    8. The House of Secrets by Brad Meltzer. DONE June 2016.
    9.  The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. DONE August 14, 2016.
    10. √ Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner. DONE August 17, 2016.
    11. √ Leadership & Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute. DONE August 21, 2016.
    12. √ We are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson. DONE August 13, 2016.
    13. √ I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer, DONE September 6, 2016.
    14. √ I am George Washington by Brad Meltzer, DONE September 6, 2016.
  23. √ Hold a python snake. DONE July 2016. See the photo.


  1. Rebuild liquid savings by at least 3 months worth of expenses
  2. Add 10% of my salary to retirement in the form of a Roth IRA
  3. File 2016 taxes by April 15, 2017.
  4. Finish my business plan for Daughter, Inc.
  5. Loan someone money on Kiva.
  6. Open and stock my Etsy store, which is named Vintage Frances.
  7. Increase my income by at least 20%.
  8. Completely diversify my retirement portfolio with a financial advisor.
  9. Really master the 40 Financial Things You Should Know by 40 list.
  10. Earn 5 Girl Scout badges from my 1980 Girl Scout Badges and Signs and 1977 Junior Badges and Signs handbooks, buy the badges on Ebay, and sew them onto my Girl Scout vest. Each badge will count as a separate new experience.

Community Growth

  1. Help 5 people have new experiences from their lists. If I haven't done the new experiences I assist others have, they will count as separate new experiences here.
    1. √ Take dad to Mackinaw City and Mackinac Bridge. DONE August 16, 2015.
    2. √ Take mom to the Joshua Davis concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. DONE November 13, 2015. Check out the picture.
    3. √ Take dad to the Kenny Rogers concert in Merrillville, IN. DONE November 28, 2015. Check out the picture.
    4. √ Take mom to see the Nutcracker. DONE December 10, 2016.
  2. Perform a wedding
  3. Host a Navy Sailor for Thanksgiving.
  4. Provide an entire Christmas for a family in need (gifts, meal, and some decorations).
  5. Serve meals in a soup kitchen.
  6. Make and pass out 100 sandwiches to homeless people.
  7. Create business plan for non-profit.
  8. Donate my hair to Locks of Love. UPDATE November 2016: After a year or so of growing out my hair (it was at my bra line!) and doing further research into the hair donation industry, I decided against donating my hair and cut it, returning to my short bob.

Personal Connectedness

  1. √ Have a reunion with Tiffany for the first time since 1989. DONE August 1, 2015.
  2. √ Reconnect with Shannon. DONE August 8, 2015. See the photo.
  3. Host a Friendsgiving Dinner
  4. Write and mail 52 snail mail letters of gratitude.
  5. Mail out all Christmas and Hanukkah cards the day after Thanksgiving.
  6. Interview Dad for my family oral history project.
  7. Interview Dave for my family oral history project.
  8. Research my family back to my great-great grandparents in the Gardner, Bear, Paulk, and Scruggs families.
  9. √ Create a Gardner Family Cookbook. Done in time for Christmas 2015. Read about it and see pictures here.
  10. Invite a stranger to dine with me when I'm dining in a restaurant alone.
  11. √ Hold a newborn baby. DONE August 18, 2015.
  12. Plan a family reunion for July 2016. Began August 21, 2015. UPDATE February 2016: July 2016 won't work for the family, so this has been postponed.
  13. √ Visit my great grandfather, Henry A. Gardner V's farm in Wadsworth. It's now owned by Tempel Lippizan and we got to tour it on July 3, 2016. DONE July 3, 2016 with Aunt Barb, Uncle Jeff, and Anna.

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    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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