2017: Goals and Blog Changes

Since 2017 is upon us, I decided to try something new. I love challenges, but I’ve never completed a yearlong challenge before (I’ve only tried one, and I failed.) So here are five challenges I’m trying in 2017:

    1. A reading challenge. When I saw the 2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge at the library, I thought it was a great idea for finding new books and authors. Popsugar has a list of 40 book criteria (e.g., a book recommended by a librarian, or a book written by someone with a disability). Here’s the 2017 version that I’m doing: http://www.popsugar.com/love/Reading-Challenge-2017-42561300. My parents and my sister Sarah are also doing this one, and Christina is doing her own reading challenge. 
    2. Writing every day. This is largely to help me be more consistent with my blogging and journaling. I was originally going to write 100 words every day, but my mom recommended writing a paragraph instead of shooting for a word count because I wouldn’t be tempted to use filler words.
    3. Anne’s Earworms. My sister Sarah invented this brilliant title. I love music, and I’m trying to find new music to enjoy, so I decided to write about the music that I find and enjoy, because other people might be interested in it. I’m going to continue my normal posts on Saturdays and post the Earworms on Wednesdays. This is the challenge that I’m most nervous about, because I’ve never written about my musical tastes, and I’m insecure about the fact that I don’t know tons of music. But I think it will be awesome to talk to my blog buddies about the music I love.
    4. The Bible in a Year. I’m following one of the methods Don Whitney recommends in his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Great book, if you’re interested). I’m starting in three different places in the Bible (Genesis, Job and Matthew) and reading three chapters every day, and five on Sundays. I tried to do this once before and failed, but I’m hoping that I can stay dedicated to it better this time with more accountability.
    5. Audible. I’ve never been a huge audiobooks fan, but I think they could be a cool tool for me, especially now that I’m in college. Our family has an Audible subscription, so I’m going to try it for a year. This probably won’t be as hard as some of the other challenges, but I thought it would be helpful for my future reading life (especially since I’m learning to drive, and I can’t read while driving). I’m especially excited about this one since I started listening to podcasts and enjoying them.

Because I want to keep you up to date, I will write about how my challenges are going on the last Saturday of each month. I’m pumped to try new things in 2017, and I’m especially excited about blogging. How are you going to challenge yourself in 2017? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to see my mom’s reading challenge, go here


How to Make a Comeback

This week, I was in a panic. I was behind in my music practice and in my Bible goals, and I was tired of people but I wanted to hang out with our family who was in town. By Wednesday night, I was having a mental breakdown. In the middle of my panic session, I began thinking: When I’ve gotten stuck in a panicky rut in the past, how have I gotten out of it? By the end of Thursday, I had decided on four steps:


Step 1: Calm down. When I get into a frenzy, I lost my ability to focus on a solution. I started panicking about what I haven’t done, instead of doing something. Until I calmed down to think, I got into a vicious cycle of “I’m-a-terrible-person” syndrome and not doing anything productive. Here are a couple of things that help me calm down:

  • Prayer. Until I turn my problems over to God, I keep failing, simply because I’m trying to do everything myself. I believe that asking Him for guidance on Wednesday helped me find a solution on Thursday.
  • Unplugging. This is one that I need to work on. While watching a bunch of YouTube videos helps make me forget my problems for a while, it really just suspends my panic, making it much worse when I realize how much time I’ve wasted watching funny videos.
  • Realizing that the problem is solvable. The problem may be hard, but it’s not impossible. Once you’re calm, you can actually start fixing the problem.


Step 2: Evaluate the problem. Sometimes the problem isn’t as bad as you think. Sometimes it’s worse than you think. If you have a big jumble of problems, try writing them down. Once you force yourself to identify the problems, you can see which ones you can fix, and which ones are beyond your control. On Thursday, I made a mental list of my problems, and forced myself to break down each one:

Behind on music practice: My goal was to practice 45 minutes each on piano and violin for 5 days each week. This week, I have done exactly 0 minutes of that practice time. It is frustrating that my music practice time isn’t where I want it to be, but I need to understand that we’ve had guests in our house for several weeks, and family time takes priority over music during break. So, I should work on getting back into my practice routine, but not feel guilty and depressed over the past week.

Failure at Bible goals: I’m several days behind on my one verse a day goal for December. Because I committed to finishing the book Thirty-One Verses to Write on Your Heart this month, I should make a plan not just to continue, but to get caught up on my plan. Also, since I’m starting a new Bible reading plan in January (spoiler from next week’s post), I need to finish the current plan I’m on.

Needing alone time but wanting to be with people: I don’t need to be alone all the time, I just need a break. My family won’t be mad if I need a little time to recharge.


Step 3: Decide what needs to change going forward. Some things need to be added. Even though I might not be able to complete my practice goal, I still need to spend some time practicing. Some things need to be removed for a while (or permanently). I spend too much time on YouTube (a battle I’ve been fighting for a while), so maybe I need to take a break from spending time on YouTube at all.

Once you know what needs to be done, make a plan to do it. Your plan should be as specific as you need. Without a plan, I tend to work very hard to get nothing done. While making your plan, don’t lose sight of what you can actually do. I love to challenge myself (hence several of my posts are challenges for myself), but I tend to grossly overestimate my time and energy levels. Michael Hyatt has a great podcast on goal setting which has helped me. Here’s a link.

My plan looks like this:

  • Take a morning to recharge and get caught up on some of your goals. Write your blog post for Saturday, continue the post you’re writing ahead for the end of the year. Finish the next three chapters in your Bible study plan. Memorize four verses. Enjoy time with your family in the afternoon.
  • Go to bed no later than 10:30 tonight, and use your early morning tomorrow to continue with your Bible goals (memorize verse of the day and continue Bible plan). Then you can spend time with your family, while still having time memorizing Scripture.
  • Take a break from all YouTube videos for the weekend. As much fun as they are, they’re not helping me get anything done.

Once you’ve gotten started on your plan, make a commitment to continue it for a certain about of time. Otherwise, you end up with dramatic bursts of productive energy with no direction.


Step 4: Start doing it. Even though it’s fun to sit around planning, nothing will change if you don’t do the work. Once you have your plan, immediately follow it. This morning (Friday), I only came downstairs for breakfast. I spent my morning writing this post (blog post inception!), practicing music, reviewing Bible verses, and enjoying some time without extra input. I didn’t get everything done, but I made much more progress than if I had done nothing.


When you’re stuck in a rut, it can be easy to panic, or to ignore your problems and hope they go away. The good news is that you’re not alone, and you’re not hopeless. If you’re stuck in a rut, try these four steps, and see if they help you get back on track with your goals. And if you think I missed a step, let me know in the comments section. I would love to hear your advice on making a comeback!

Online Encourager Challenge

“Liz Curtis Higgs tweeted me back!” I told whoever I thought would listen. I had tweeted about Liz Curtis Higgs’ book 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart, and she responded. She just thanked me for reading her books. She had no way of knowing that her tweet would make my day (and my week). And yet, it did.

When I told my older sister, she mentioned how small things like a tweet can encourage someone’s day. I realized that a lot of the things that I think of as huge encouragements to me were actually small things that people used to tell me “I care about you, and I like what you’re doing.” I’m starting to see the internet less as a “necessary fact of life,” and more as a tool. Little encouragements can transform someone’s day, and the internet is a great way to give little encouragements, even to people that I don’t know well.

Because I realized this, I decided to challenge myself. For the next 20 days, I will encourage someone online. If you want to try it with me, here are some ideas:

  • Leave a comment. Tell a blogger whose writing you love how much you appreciate their hard work making quality content. Since I started blogging, I realized how much a nice comment can completely lift a blogger’s day. Even though it takes less than a minute to write, it means a lot.
  • Try emailing from their “contact” page, and encourage them. This can be a good alternative to commenting if you don’t have a specific post that helped you.
  • Tweet someone. Just like the Liz Curtis Higgs incident, a tweet can make someone’s week. Plus, it shows your followers cool people that they might want to follow.
  • Send them a personal Birthday message. A friend that I didn’t know very well sent me a really nice message on Facebook on my Birthday, and this meant far more than a plain “Happy Birthday!” on my timeline, because he took the time to make the message personal. This inspired me to think more about Birthday messages online.

Try encouraging people online with me for 20 days. You may be surprised by the difference it makes in someone’s life. If you decide to try it, let me know in the comments how you’re going to encourage someone for day 1. You can do this!

An Open Letter to My Music Teacher

This has been harder to write than I thought. I thought that since I had so much to say, saying it would be easy. I was wrong. Even so, I will try.

When I first came to lessons, I didn’t speak much. I didn’t even want to come to them, because I was scared of new things. Over time, however, I started loving lessons, instead of dreading them. My passion for piano grew and overshadowed many things in my life. I spent hours practicing, stressing over pieces, and loving the panic. When we took a break from piano lessons, I expected to miss the music, which I expected. I found myself missing you too, which I didn’t expect. Our break wasn’t long, but I realized that I loved music lessons not just because of music, but because of your attitude.

You have a contagious outlook towards life. I almost always left my lesson encouraged, not only about practicing, but about my family, my relationships with other people, and other skills I was learning. You were patient with me when my practicing wasn’t sufficient, and with many I-didn’t-practice-enough-please-forgive-me tears. You helped me when I decided to try something new, like teaching students or arranging mashups. You encouraged me when I started playing music with other people (which eventually led to talking to people). You are far more than “just a music teacher.”

Thank you for being kind and encouraging. I thought that this would be an easy post to write, because I could spend hours writing about your good qualities. I love being around you. You inspire me. Your house is one of my favorite places to be, because you are there. I didn’t realize that the hardest part is deciding what not to say, because I have much to say about you, and only a short post to say it.  You have shaped me so as a musician and as a person that I don’t know what my life would look like without you. You are a huge part of my life, and I hope that I know you for a long time.

With exceeding joy,

Anne Mary Russell

Four Blogs I Love to Read

Even though I write on a blog every week, I don’t read tons of blog posts. I do, however, have several blogs that I follow. Here are four blogs that I enjoy reading:

  1. Currently Kelli. Currently Kelli is a daily blog project about Kelli Taylor’s life. Kelli is part of the YouTube channel Blimey cow, and I found Currently Kelli after seeing a blimey cow video which mentioned it. She writes about her daily life, and her goals. She has a specific kind of post for (like Twitter Tuesday, or Friday Favorites) I love her blog because it’s personal and creative. She has a predictable format, but she makes each post special. My favorite post from Currently Kelli is a “Wordless Questionnaire;” Here’s a link.
  2. Gracie the Ginger. This blog is written by my friend, Victoria Grace. I had only been writing on this blog for a few months when she mentioned starting a blog, and I was excited to look it up. Her blog features writing and public speaking tips, and talks about her life. I love reading her posts on writing especially, because they are professional, and help me improve my own writing. Here’s my favorite post on Gracie the Ginger.
  3. Blackberry Morning. I discovered this blog in a YouTube video (I guess this is a pattern for me). Sara gives information about food and baking, essential oils and healthy living, and talks about some of her life experiences. I like her blog because it gives interesting information in a casual voice. Sara is writing about things she loves, and it makes her writing fun to read. I especially love her posts on health and beauty, so here’s a link.
  4. Theolatte. This blog is written by Dan DeWitt, former Dean of Boyce College and current professor at Cederville University. He writes about worldview issues, and publishes a “Weekly Worldview Reader” with articles that he finds featuring worldview issues. His writing is clear, and fun to read. Click here to read his review of the movie Inside Out, the first blog post I read of his, and still one of my favorites:

There are four blogs that I love to read. What blogs do you like to read?