Category Archives: Life

5 things I’m worrying about as my son graduates high school

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In one week, my son will graduate high school. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. For those of you who remember my stories about the Taz from my single mom days, I’m sure this is hard for you to believe, as well. He’s the youngest (and the tallest) in our blended family, and every step of his high school journey has felt more like a tug-of-war than a 4-year climb. I believe all of us are relieved to get to this point, especially my burnt out son. But in other ways, I’m feeling a lot of emotions that are coming as a surprise. I never really thought of myself as nostalgic, but in his last week of high school, I’m finding myself fighting tears a lot more.

I’ve also uncovered a few worries I’ve stuffed over the years—worries that are now demanding attention as we near graduation.

1. Have I done enough? It’s so late to even think about this, but I wonder if I helped my son to the best of my ability to guide him on the road to success. I can’t help but dwell on all the missed opportunities for deep level conversations, or the times I was too busy to check in with him. Schoolwork has always been a struggle with him, and I can’t help thinking I could have done more to help him get better grades and set the tone for future education.

2. Did I back off enough? Independence is the natural next step for a graduating senior, whether it’s in a few months or a few years. Did I give him enough room to try things on his own and learn from his mistakes? There have been times when I gave up believing he’d ever clear the dishes from his room or do his chores, and I’d just do them for him. His room has always been a disaster, and I’m guilty of going in there and cleaning it when he’s away. In doing so, have I set him up for failure? I think about what his apartment will look like one day, and I’m almost certain it will include a floor made of crusted plates, all because I couldn’t get him to clean his room by himself.

3. Did we make a big enough deal out of “last” moments? I have a list of “lasts” that run through my head. Last drive to Starbucks before school, which was really about the quality time and conversation. Last time meeting his school friends and driving them on class trips. Last time collaborating with his awesome teachers. So many great moments in these 4 years. This isn’t so much of a worry, but just a musing of all the things we’re saying goodbye to.

4. Will he regret the things he didn’t do? Last year, my son switched to a different school that offered smaller classrooms and more access to the teacher. This school is as much a community as it is a classroom, but in joining, it meant he had to give up a few things. He lost a few friends in the process, though he gained a few new ones. He didn’t join the football team like he’d once planned. He skipped prom, and won’t go to Project Grad. Part of this is choice and part of this is because of his new school, and all of it he claims to be okay with. But years from now, will he look back and regret that he didn’t take part in traditional high school experiences?

5. Who will I be when my son leaves home? I was at a gathering with a bunch of women, and had been avoiding this thought until one of the women brought this up. Her children had moved out, and she’d put so much energy into raising them that she now couldn’t figure out who she was and what she liked to do. I have been telling myself that I’ll be fine when all our kids leave home, and even look forward to an empty nest. But what will it be like when my son isn’t there to tell a funny joke, or confide in me about something he’s struggling with, or asks to hang out with me? Will I have enough to do when I’m not caring for him daily? Will I feel lost and useless when there’s no one left in the house to mother?

This weekend I listened to our pastor share about parenthood and the common worries we have. She said, “While so many parents wonder if they could have done a better job raising their children, I don’t know one who hasn’t given it their all for their children.” I almost burst into tears when she said it. In fact, I did break down when I thanked her for her message after service. It was just the acknowledgment I needed in the face of all my doubts.

The honest truth is, I know everything will be fine. I’m so proud of who my son is and how far he’s come. I like that my son comes to me with issues instead of shutting me out. When I hear other parents describe the friction between them and their teens, I feel lucky that’s not our case. Yes, there are probably times when I could have done a better job, but there were also times when I rocked parenthood. It’s probably more times than I give myself credit for. I think we parents, in general, tend to beat ourselves up more than we deserve.

So if you’re in that same game I keep finding myself in, the one where we count up all our mistakes in the 9th inning, you’re not alone. Also, you probably deserve MVP. Let’s put down the scoreboard and believe we gave it all for our kids. They’re going to be just fine. And when we’re no longer actively parenting them, we’ll be just fine, too.

P.S. This is not an expert’s guide on how to cope with graduation, but more of a letter of humility as I admit the things I grapple with as a mother of a graduating teen. If you worry about these things, too, or are struggling with other worries, add your voice to the comments section.

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Crissi Langwell is a Petaluma local, blended family mom to three young adults, and author of a bunch of books. Visit her author website at crissilangwell.com.

Hello out there!

I don’t write much here anymore, but I still love this blog so much. It started at a time when my kids were young, and so was I. I was navigating the world of divorce at a time when my mid-20s felt ancient because while everyone my age was finishing college, hitting up the party scene, and preparing for their careers, I was signing school papers, attending soccer games, and wondering how I could possibly make it as a single mother when I couldn’t even afford an extra cup of coffee. Wine Country Mom was my tongue-in-cheek name for who I was because I wore secondhand clothes and used food stamps while my neighbors were stay-at-home moms with highlights and designer labels.

This blog was my growing space. I used this blog to confide my deepest fears, admit my struggles, and make public every time I fell short. Sometimes I met backlash from people who didn’t understand. But mostly, I met other moms and dads who got it, who saw themselves in my stories, and who added their own stories to the fold. I love the community that grew out of all our shared stories.

My kids are older now. At 18 and 21, I can hardly call them kids anymore, though I think I always will. I’m older too, no longer a 20-something, but now a 40-something. Our stories are no longer about outgrowing shoes and long days at the sports fields, but about college applications, adult conversations, and future talk. We’re in seperate directions more than we’re together, all of us leading busy lives. There are some dinners when it’s just my husband and me, with containers of food set aside with our kids’ names on them for whenever they make it home. Some things stay the same, though. The kids and I still enjoy our car of secrets, using car rides as a time to vent or confide. They still share their lives with me, which I’m so grateful for. We cherish our time together as a smaller unit within our blended family. And we honor the experiences we’ve shared together, some of them traumatic, some we wish we’d never experienced, but all that shaped who we are today and make our tiny unit of 3 unique.

And while I’m so different from the original Wine Country Mom, I will also always be her. She is my foundation, the place where I started over and reclaimed my life. She is the place where I embraced my humility, held my head up, and then did the hard work to get myself out of what could have been a rut.

While I don’t write here much, I will still stop by from time to time to offer thoughts or a story. You can also find me on social media, or at my author blog, where I write more regularly about books, thoughts, and stories from my life.

All my links are listed below.

See you around!

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12 ways we keep our blended family marriage strong

My husband and I dated for a few years before we got married, living in separate households and reveling in the excitement of coming together every weekend. We’d both been married before, and were now living as divorced single parents. I longed for the time when we could finally blend our households and things could become much simpler.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Things were bumpy when we finally did move in together, mostly because blending a family is hard work. But the other hard part was learning how to work together as a team in every decision when both of us were so used to being independent.

Marriage only made this worse.

Our first year of marriage was really rough. I loved being married to Shawn, but I also recall the many fights we had, the loneliness I felt as I clung to stubbornness, the continued struggle of being two different families in one house, and the daily realizations over how different we were in so many areas.

Things finally did settle down, and our family has learned how to come together in many ways. We still have differences, as many families do, but mostly, we’ve learned which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t. I won’t pretend we’re perfect — we’re not. But the place we are now is paradise compared to the darkness we experienced in the beginning.

The biggest reason, I believe, things are much better is because Shawn and I have come together as a solid team through all of this. Every year I’m amazed at how much more I love him than the year before, and how there’s still so much we get to learn about each other. He’s my biggest champion, and I’m his. It makes me excited to see where our marriage will be by year 10, 20, 50 and beyond.

The other day I was thinking about the things that makes our marriage so wonderful, and the following things came to mind:

1. We compliment each other often. When I look in the mirror and am disappointed by what I see, he’s right there behind me to let me know how sexy I look. Just this morning I was bummed out about the number on my scale. He didn’t know this when he asked me to stop what I was doing and take a turn for him. “Damn, I’m a lucky man,” he told me. I know we’re supposed to love ourselves and all, but it sure is helpful when the man I love reminds me every day that he finds me sexy. It goes both ways, too. I think my husband grows more handsome and sexy every day, and I tell him so. It goes beyond looks, too. He’s my biggest cheerleader to the things that mean most to me, helping me to see the positive when I’m stuck in the negative. I tell him how proud I am of him, from the big things to the small. We both try really hard to notice what the other person is doing, and acknowledge those things with words of affirmations.

2. We respect each other’s seasons. Let’s just get right to the point: sometimes I’m not in the mood to have sexy time, especially at the end of my cycle. There’s a particular week when there is nothing he can do to awaken the sleeping dragon. What I love about my husband is that he understands this and is completely respectful about it. However, it would be completely selfish of me to let this mood control our sex life. There has to be a give and take when it comes to sex. Sometimes I fight through my “don’t touch me” feelings for his benefit. And vice versa, when I’m in the zone and he’s not, he’ll make sure I’m taken care of. The benefit? More times than not we’re in the same space, and I firmly believe it’s because we understand the give and take, and respect each other’s moods.

3. We spice things up. Right now, our lives involve a very busy household, teenagers, hectic jobs, and we just moved his mother into our home. All of that is a combination for passionless nights as we collapse into bed so we can do it all again the next day…even with everything I mentioned in #2. Luckily, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I won’t divulge our secrets here, but if things are feeling fairly routine between the sheets, perhaps it’s time to get a little creative. Is there something you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t because it feels a bit too naughty? Maybe it’s time you let down some of your guard. You might be surprised at what happens. 😉

4. We plan for uninterrupted time daily (even if it’s just 10 minutes). Our lives have only gotten busier since our earlier days. Two out of three of our blended kids are in college, plus I started college two years ago. We both have demanding jobs. Plus, we’re caretaking for his mother. Life is crazy busy. There are some days I only see him in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and in the evening when we go to bed. Still, we make it a point to ask about the other person’s day, and then LISTEN, phones away, completely focused. This is one of my favorite things about our marriage, that we still have so much to share with each other every day, and this uninterrupted time becomes some of our best conversations.

5. We support each other as much as possible. Shawn is a gardener. I am not. But I love the outcome of his efforts when we have fresh tomatoes in the summer. Usually, he’s the one out there watering. But (when I remember) I’ll go out and water, too, simply so he doesn’t have to. I wanted a dog. Shawn did not. Guess what? We have a dog. And despite his repeated insistence that he never wanted a dog, he still takes the dog for walks regularly. We’re both writers, and we are each other’s first readers. We attend events that are important to the other person, even if they’re not our personal cup of tea. We only talk kindly about each other to others, never slamming the other person (how many times have you been uncomfortable around other couples who do the opposite?). We build each other up and cheer each other on. I can truly say Shawn is my best friend, and he says that about me, and it’s because we truly support each other.

6. We put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is our level of empathy. I’m not going to lie, we still have our fair share of fights. But these fights never last long. One of the reasons is because we have a high level of empathy for the other person, willing to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This isn’t easy, admittedly. However, we both know each other’s true nature. When I’m mad at Shawn, I also know he’s not a bad person. I know his reasoning isn’t to be malicious, but because he has his own reasons for acting a certain way. I try to see what that reasoning is, and if there is something I should bend on. Shawn is the same way. Even more important, he knows how to say he’s sorry when he’s wrong, and has been a great model for me so that I can learn to do that, too. And man, is that hard!

7. We recognize each other’s strengths, and remind each other of them. I’m the worst when it comes to knowing what I’m good at. I’m really hard on myself. That’s why it means so much to me when Shawn stops everything and tells me all the things that are special about me. I need to hear this, because I forget. In the same way, I often tell Shawn what I admire about him: his confidence, his way with words, how he carries himself, how personable he is, how much people appreciate his wisdom.

8. We date each other. If I had my way, Shawn and I would go on a date at least once a week, if not more. However, we live in the real world, and that is rarely possible. We do make time for each other regularly, though. This could be a movies date, or time at a coffee shop, or even, and I’m not even joking, a Costco shopping trip. It’s mostly about the time together without anyone else so that we can talk and have fun together. It keeps our friendship alive in our marriage.

9. We are social together. There’s something so romantic about being with Shawn among a group of friends, from quiet dinners to group outings, laughing with friends and having him close to me as we experience the same thing. I always feel so proud of him when we’re out together, and we often come home feeling closer than ever before.

10. We’re social apart. We don’t have all the same friends or interests, and that’s completely okay. I love that Shawn has no issue whatsoever when I enjoy time with my girlfriends or some solitude time away from him and everyone else. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with him going to the ball game or the movies with his friends while I stay at home. We both enjoy a healthy amount of time away from each other and by ourselves, which makes our together time that much more special.

11. We work as a team. Earlier this year, Shawn’s mom moved in with us. This change in our household held all the promises of stress on our marriage, and yet, I’ve never felt closer to him. We have divided the duties, trying to avoid burnout. We are talking so much more about real feelings through this, being open and honest, even about the hard stuff. We give each other breaks. We build each other up. We do every single thing on this list. I can honestly say that his mother moving in has brought us so much closer, which, seriously, astounds me.

12. Our shared faith is at the center of our marriage. I recognize not every married couple is lucky enough to share the same faith. I feel fortunate that Shawn and I do. I’ve been in relationships where the faith is different, whether because someone didn’t have faith or we shared completely different faith altogether, and it was HARD. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it definitely takes work to be in a loving, committed marriage, and share vastly different ideas about God and what that means for humanity. So in that, I feel very fortunate that God is our partner in our marriage, that we both view God through loving eyes, we see our duty as to love all people, and we do all this together.

What works for you and your spouse in your marriage?

10 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

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With a household of young adults aged 15-20, I am in the final years of my hands-on parenting stage, and the empty nest is getting closer and closer. If I think too hard about this fact, I am liable to burst into tears. However, sometimes this revelation is a light in a tunnel of teenage moodiness and rebellion.

Each stage of parenting has both pros and cons, and these later teen years are no exception. I love that my kids are so independent now. I no longer need to coordinate their every move, or ensure they are properly entertained. All of my kids are capable of jumping on a bus or driving a car downtown to go hang out with their friends, and they earn their own money to pay their way for non-essentials. They make many of their own meals and keep track of their own homework. And I thoroughly enjoy conversations with them, because they are at a level where we can discuss things from current events to their natural day-to-day.

However, their growing independence comes with a price. Being so close to total independence, my kids tend to believe they should have the kind of absolute freedom all adults have, even while they are still a dependent in our household. They fight certain rules and obligations, and the power struggle is real. They have reached an age when forcing them to do anything is no longer realistic, and I have to rely heavily on the ideals I’ve raised them with, and hope with all my might that these ideals possess some sort of pull in their current decision making.

There are many times when I feel like just throwing my hands up in the air, and maybe even giving them the house while I move to some deserted island. But just when I have reached my breaking point with these rebellious, stubborn teens, they do something to remind me that they are really just brilliant human beings that I cherish more than anything, and they are only testing their wings before they are ready to fly.

I came across an article I wrote when my daughter was 13. In it, I was going through an especially difficult time with her, and I was frustrated with how far our relationship had fallen in such a short amount of time. But then I put myself in her shoes, remembering what it was like when I was 13 years old. I ended up writing a letter to my 13-year-old self, telling my younger self all the things I would have loved to have known back then. You can read that letter here.

My daughter is now nearing her high school graduation, my son is finishing his first year of high school, and my stepson is figuring out his career goals after college. It’s so easy to place my adult ideals on their day-to-day actions, and grow frustrated when they don’t do things the way I would do them. However, if I look back at the person I was at their age, and remember what it was like as an older teen getting ready to leave the nest, I gain a bit of perspective about their role in life.

I also remember all the things I grappled with at their age.

So in favor of understanding my teens a bit better, I took a stroll down memory lane and wrote a new letter to myself from way back when. Here’s what I came up with:

Dear 18-year-old Crissi,

At this moment, you are preparing for high school prom, graduation, and the moment when you can pack your bags and leave your over-controlling parents and all of their ridiculous rules. I get it. You can’t wait for your freedom. These are exciting times. However, as your 38-year-old self, I feel it my duty to share a few things I’ve learned about us in the past 20 years. I hope you will take some of these things in consideration.

1. If you are given the choice between moving in with that exciting bad boy or getting a college education, CHOOSE EDUCATION. Trust me on this, it’s going to save you a lot of headaches. That being said, I know you’re not going to listen to me. See #8.

2. Smoking does not make you look cool. Just stop.

3. Pay attention to who your real friends are, and stop wishing you were hanging out with the “cool kids.” Years from now, those cool kids won’t even know who you are. But your real friends? They’ll still care for you 20 years after you graduate.

4. You don’t have to fall in love with every boy who pays attention to you.

5. YOU ARE NOT FAT.

6. Right now, you believe you are completely plain and forgettable. But years from now, you are going to find out from several people that they looked up to you, had a crush on you, or wished they had been better friends with you. You are not as invisible as you think you are. However, the biggest takeaway I want you to gain from this knowledge is that you should really be kinder to yourself. You’re kind of awesome.

7. You will have a daughter JUST LIKE YOU. Sorry. And congratulations.

8. That boy you’re dating is going to be the worst thing that ever happened to you. He is also going to be one of the best. Through him, you get to have two really awesome kids, and you are also going to gain a real life education.

9. You are going to be way too young when you start having kids. You are going to make countless mistakes. However, you will also learn so much as you all grow together. And when they are older, you will get to be the cool, “young” mom, and you will share a unique bond with your kids.

10. You will one day be friends with your parents. Right now, you don’t get why they are so strict, and why there are so many rules. You are even plotting all the ways you will be a much better parent than they are. Trust me, they actually know what they are doing—at least for the most part. One day, you will reach a point in your parenthood when you understand why they did things a certain way, especially when your own kids are being buttheads. You will also have many days when you want to call them and apologize.

If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say?

10 ways to unplug this weekend

flying kite blogThis weekend, Petaluma is encouraging everyone to detach from their devices and join the community for some unplugged fun. From April 10-12, Petalumans will be out and about, enjoying picnics together, enjoying the waterfront, strolling downtown and more.

There will also be plenty of unplugged events to choose from this weekend. On Friday, you can treat yourself to a self-guided tour of Petaluma’s waterways, or unplug with tea at Aqus Cafe from 4-6 p.m. On Saturday, there will be a hike at Helen Putnam Park, sheep shearing at Petaluma Adobe State Park, and sing-alongs at Aqus Cafe. On Sunday, Steamer Landing Park will be hosting free boat rides from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a kite flying picnic from 1-4 p.m.

To see a full list of events, visit petalumaunplugged.com.

Of course, you don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy a technology-free weekend. Here are a few things you can do to occupy your time when you’re not plugged in to your device.

1. Write a letter to a friend, your grandparents, a teacher or a relative. You know, the old-fashioned, snail mail kind. Tell them something fun that’s going on with you, or let them know why they’re important to you. Who knows, they may even write you a letter back, giving you the surprise of something nice coming in the mail among all your bills and advertisements.

2. Get lost….but in a good way. Explore your town, but leave the GPS at home. Find places you’ve never discovered before, and don’t worry about losing your way. After all, you can always ask someone for directions if you get lost.

3. Go outside and play. Take a hike in the hills. Go to the beach. Play on the playground. Go for a bike ride. Take the dog to the dog park. Strap on some roller skates. Build a fort. Play hopscotch or jacks (do you remember those?). The possibilities are endless!

4. Sit and do nothing. Seriously. Remember what it was like to NOT pull out your phone when you had idle time? Think of the things you could now do with that time. You could watch people walk by. You could stare at the leaves in the trees. You could try to make shapes out of clouds. Or…you could do nothing.

5. Color. As in, the kind where you have to stay inside the lines. Or don’t stay in the lines. Heck, scribble all over the page, if you want. Just grab a box of crayons, a book of pictures, and have at it. Coloring is an awesome way to just get lost in the moment.

6. Play board games. What’s the most obscure game you used to play as a child? Chutes and ladders? Pick up sticks? Risk? Clue? Candyland? Or perhaps you like some of the newer games like Apples to Apples or Cranium. Find a game you used to love, or discover a new one. To get you started, check out this list of 76 board games you can play.

7. Learn a new recipe. But not the kind you look up online. Grab one of your grandma’s old cookbooks and find the most interesting recipe you can find. Then make it for your family or friends.

8. Read a book. Not your Kindle, but an honest-to-goodness book, the kind that emits a light scent of paper, ink and glue.

9. Take a nap.

10. Journal. There’s a major difference between blogging and journaling. When you blog, you’re sharing your inner thoughts without eh whole world. But when you journal? Those thoughts are just for you. It’s here that you can get down your deepest thoughts without censoring yourself, being absolutely honest because there’s no one to offend and no one to make you feel stupid. It’s just you. And magic happens when you journal – you learn more about yourself than you thought you already knew. Try it every day for a week, and find out what happens.

What do you do to unplug?

Good friends and Prosecco

Jonathon, Soskia and Gina, chowing down on Mexican food and Prosecco.
Jonathon, Saskia and Gina, chowing down on Mexican food and Prosecco.

Every Tuesday, a group of friends and I hang out, taking part in a shared meal before settling in with a video series by Rob Bell, an emergent pastor with some simple, yet huge, ideas. Two months ago, many of the people in this group were strangers to me. But something happens when you spend week after week with a group of people, breaking bread with delicious food, revealing your struggles and passions through whatever that week’s topic is….you become friends.

This was definitely true last night. We gathered around the island in Gina’s kitchen, talking about our highs and lows of the week over burritos and bubbly. Usually we drink wine with our dinner. But I had a bottle of Prosecco from Barefoot Wines I was dying to try. So we paired our Mexican meal with a glass of sparkling wine.

Prosecco1Let me pause here to rave about this Prosecco*. I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what I was in for. Gina popped the bottle and I poured us each a glass. The first thing we noticed was how light and refreshing it was. It has just a hint of sweetness, but leans more toward the dry side. We all agreed how good it was. Jonathon, who admitted to not being much of a champagne fan, even said that Prosecco was the way to go when it came to sparkling wine. And while I’m sure it would be a great accompaniment to a meal with light flavors, like seasoned veggies or salmon, I was quite impressed with how it tasted with our burritos. 😉 I will most definitely be drinking this wine again.

At any rate, Gina mentioned how this was the second to last week our group will be meeting – all the more reason to break out the bubbly. But it was also a bittersweet bit of news. It’s been so short since we started hanging out together, learning more about our faith, as well as who we are as human beings. However, this group seems to have melded together really well, celebrating in each other’s milestones and happenings. At one point, we all sat in the living room, admitting our most awkward times in our youth, realizing how unoriginal each of our childhoods really were. And I looked around the room and saw good friends, people I knew would drop everything for any of us.

All in two months.

My friend Gina (left) and me.
My friend Gina (left) and me.

I owe this, first, that we’re just awesome people. 😉 But I think there’s a little more to it. Any time you pair good people with excellent food and something delicious in your glass, you’ve got the first few ingredients of a promising friendship. Week after week, this has proven true. Tonight’s burritos and Prosecco just happened to be another one of these magic combinations.

*Barefoot Wines sent me a bottle of Prosecco to review. However, these views are completely my own.

15 things I want my kids to know before they’re adults

A mom recently made a list of 44 things she wanted her kids to learn before they hit adulthood, which is something we should all think about as we’re raising our own future adults. I know for me, there are certainly some major values and skills I want for their lives. So without further ado, here are 15 things I hope to instill in my kids before they hit their adult years.

P.S. Have any you want to share from your own list? Leave it in the comments!

1. Honesty is always the best policy. Best way to not be caught up in a lie is to not do anything worth lying about. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to fib your way out, DON’T. It might make things uncomfortable in the moment, but trust me, you’ll be better for it in the long run.

2. The first step to something great will likely feel insignificant. This goes for anything – learning a new skill, saving money, beginning a new project… But it especially goes for getting a new job. You cannot expect to enter the workforce and be given an impressive job title and high salary right off the bat. The reality is you will probably be paid far less than you want to be paid for a job that only hints at your interests – if you’re lucky to get that close to your dream job. Do it anyway. Even the most successful chefs started out washing dishes in the back. With experience comes knowledge, and that will help you not only learn more about where you want to be in life, but will help others easily recognize your potential. Which brings me to #3….

3. Take pride in your work. I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floor, working a minimum wage job, or climbing the corporate ladder – always put your best effort into what you are doing. After all, if you can’t handle the smallest of tasks with finesse, what makes you think you can handle the bigger ones?

4. Handle your money like an adult, not a kid. Keep your checkbook balanced. Do not rely on credit to get the things you want. Save for expected expenses, and unexpected ones, too. Never pay a bill past its due date. Avoid borrowing money like the plague (but if you must borrow, always pay it back). Live only as large as a portion of your paycheck – not the whole thing, and definitely not more than you make. And regularly give to charity.

5. Learn to cook one meal really, really well. By all means, learn to cook in general. But find that one dish that will impress. There will come a day when you will need to pull that ace out of your sleeve (cooking for your significant other’s parents, inviting the boss over for dinner, contributing to a dinner party…). Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared beforehand?

6. Do your best to only speak about your spouse in kindness. Not only will badmouthing your spouse kill your marriage, it will also kill your friendships. Trust me, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a room with someone who can only say snarky things about their husband or wife, even in jest. It’s just uncomfortable and terrible, and no way to treat a person you love.

7. Never stop learning. Read lots of books, take a class, learn a new language, study a culture or religion, challenge yourself to a new word a day, pay attention to the news of your community/state/country/world…. Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is truth. Live by it.

8. Figure out your passion. And once you do, don’t let life get in your way of pursuing that passion. If you love singing, then join a choir or band. If you’re a writer, join a writing group. If you’re an artist, take classes. If you love to build things, go fishing, play golf, then do it!

9. Make time for fun. Once we get into adulthood, sometimes this part is forgotten. There’s a job to go to, a house to clean, bills to pay, errands to run, committees we signed up for, a family to care for, life to contend with… All of those things are important. But so are you. Schedule in a portion of your week when you can enjoy the things you like to do so you can be a better worker, friend, mom or dad, etc.

10. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated. We all want love, kindness, equality, generosity, honesty, dependability, and more wonderful traits from the people around us. Be this to the world, and the world will be this to you.

But on the same token…

11. Do not give anyone permission to walk all over you. You are your best advocate. Stand up for what you believe is right.

12. Abuse is never okay. Be it hitting, using derogatory names, or making dangerous threats, these are not the actions of someone in love. These are actions of someone who wishes to control their partner. If you are tempted to take these actions against someone else, get help immediately. If someone is mistreating you, get out of the relationship. Don’t walk, RUN. Because if you stay, you are giving that person permission to treat you in a way no one should be treated. You cannot change them. It is not your job to change them. But it is your job to look out for your own safety, because no one is going to do it for you.

13. Appearances DO matter. Sure, we say beauty lies on the inside. But can a potential employer really see the inner beauty of the person they are interviewing? First impressions can never be taken back, regardless of the situation. So always leave the house wearing clean clothes. Keep your hair and teeth brushed. Shower regularly. And seriously think about where you place artistic expressions on your body.

14. Don’t forget me when you leave the nest. I want you to be independent and make it on your own. That is my biggest goal for you when you leave this house to create a home of your own. But call me once in awhile, okay? Let me know how you’re doing. Keep me in the loop about what’s important to you, what you’re struggling with, who your friends are, what’s going on in your life. I’m your mom, and I always will be. And you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world. Keep in touch.

15. Love your sister/brother. He/she shares your history. He/she is your closest link to our family. Be there for each other, celebrate each other’s families, cheer each other on. Don’t ever take your sibling for granted. When I leave this world, nothing will make me happier than knowing you have each other to lean on.