How to Make the Best of a Rainy Vacation (Review of The Woodlands Resort)

The Woodlands community is just a short drive from where we live in Houston, but with the beautiful scenery…. it feels like a million miles away. When my family and I were recently invited by The Woodlands Resort for a visit over Spring Break, we were thrilled. We all really needed a break and we were curious to check out what new things will be unveiled at the resort this summer.  We were especially excited about the chance to play on the water slides and relax pool side with good food, live music and other entertainment they had planned for Spring Breakers of all ages.

 umbrella

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Mother nature – you can be cruel sometimes. It was cold and rainy during our entire two-day, one-night stay. Not ideal for outdoor fun…but we still got to enjoy the resort, find out about their renovations and we learned a couple of tricks about how to make the best of dreary weekend weather.

The Woodlands Resort is in the middle of a $60 million dollar expansion including the addition of a new building with 184 guest rooms …plus they are renovating their existing rooms. Check out the new look coming soon!

 woodlands resort rooms

They are adding a 900-foot lazy river that will wind around the property’s existing Waterscape pools and play area. We can’t wait for this new addition which will be ready in time for summer fun!

In addition to many other renovations and additions, a new steak house is being built to overlook the 18th green of Panther Trail Golf Course as well.

Even with all the new and exciting changes on the horizon, The Woodlands Resort is already a great place to relax with your family and friends. One of the things we enjoyed the most was the excellent customer service and even with the less then ideal weather conditions, we still had fun.

Tips for Making The Best of a Rainy Vacation

1. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em 

Swimming in rain

It’s hard for kids to be so close to beautiful pools and water slides and not dive in. While it was a chilly 60 degrees (that’s cold for Houston!) the  Woodlands Resort heated their smaller pool in the back. When the heavy rain slowed down (and there was no sign of thunder or lightening) we let the kids enjoy some time in the water. The nice staff members even let our kids go down the water slide in the front pool (which wasn’t heated – brrr!) once or twice so they could experience it!

2. Enjoy the Rhythm of the Rain

Our room had a balcony overlooking the Forest Oaks Waterscape. While we couldn’t enjoy lounging by the pool, we loved sitting on the balcony with a good book. Protected from the raindrops, we were able to enjoy the outdoors without getting wet.

3. Fun Indoors

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The Woodlands Resort moved some of the Spring Break activities they had planned by the pool inside one of their ballrooms including clowns, balloons, live music, games and a movie in the evening. We also played a family game of pool and shuffle board and enjoyed some live jazz music in the lobby. For moms and dads, there’s also a fitness facility and spa. (I definitely intend to take advantage of a massage the next time we visit the resort!) When we had enough of the indoors, the Woodlands Resort shuttle took us to nearby Market Street to enjoy some shopping and dinner at Tommy Bahamas restaurant.

4. Good Food and Conversation

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We had a late and lazy lunch in the resort’s dining room. With great views of the property…we enjoyed yummy chicken lettuce wraps. We laughed, acted silly and took our time enjoying our meal. This is a rare treat in our world of rushing from band practice to cheer leading and lacrosse in the evenings. It was really relaxing. Next time we might not even leave our room…we might just put on a good movie and order room service!

What are your tips for making the best of bad weather on vacation?

Many thanks to the Woodlands Resort for treating us to a nice stay at their resort. While some of our expenses were covered in order for us to review the property, all of the thoughts and opinions (and lazy Saturday afternoon) are all my own!

 

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Summer Road Trips with Savings From Shell Fuel Rewards Network

Are  you taking a family vacation this summer?

StillLivingTheDream DisneyWorldTangled

Since we just took a big one in May to Disney World and I’m going on a once in a lifetime trip abroad to Paris with my mom and sisters this summer, we plan on taking several short getaways within driving distance while the kids are out of school.

Call us old school, but we like to pack up the ol’ family truckster (mini van) and hit the road Griswold style. In addition to saving money on plane tickets, you can create a lot of memories when traveling in the car. Spending time together on the road can be a great family bonding experience as you navigate road maps, plan on road side stops for food and quickie sight seeing (gotta see the world’s largest ball of string if you’re passing by, right?!) and play travel games like “I Spy” and the oldie but goodie license plate game.

We now even laugh about those constant and annoying backseat cries of  ”are we there yet?” or “Annie’s touching me!” from the kids on our trip to Colorado and South Dakota last summer.

It’s a rite of passage for kids to complain about long stretches of time spent confined to a small space with just one’s siblings and parents….the very thing you’ll remember with fondness later in life.

StillLivingTheDream Aquatica

Luckily our home base of Houston is also close to many places that are great for a weekend getaway…especially the Hill Country. We take a trip to San Antonio several times a year and especially love the River Walk and SeaWorld and Aquatica. In fact, we just got back from attending a mini blogging conference called AdventureCon hosted by SeaWorld. While I learned more about mobile apps and photography, Ed and the kids enjoyed time in the parks. When I was finished I joined them for time in the sun and water and to enjoy the new SeaWorld show, Pet’s Ahoy. We just love Aquatica and SeaWorld and going to these parks is always on our Summer Family Bucket List.

StillLivingTheDream fuel rewards network logo

While traveling by car is less expensive then plane, gas is certainly an expense. I’m always looking for ways to save money and I recently heard about The Shell Fuel Rewards Network program that helps people pay less for gas. I received a loaded Fuel Rewards Network Card so I could experience the savings and how the program works.

Here’s the skinny about the Fuel Rewards Network Program:

  1. To earn up to 75 cents a gallon (for up to 20 gallons of gas per vehicle/per visit) at Shell stations, you start by signing up at fuelrewards.com.
  2. You can get your card online (they mail it you) or you can get it at a participating Shell station.
  3. You must activate the card online before using

You save money per gallon by presenting the card when you:

  1. make purchases for convenience store products, car washes and auto services at Shell stations
  2. dine at more than 10,000 participating restaurants (you earn 10 cents a gallon for every $50 you spend!) We were excited to find out that one of our favorite restaurants close to home participates. You can view the entire list and search by zipcode online at fuelrewards.com.
  3. shop online at 700+ stores including Best Buy and Gap (earn 5 cents a gallon for every $50 you spend plus some merchants offer two to time times rewards to save you even more!)

We signed up and are earning rewards with purchases and almost to a rewards savings of $2.50 off a gallon. Last time I filled the minivan up when almost on empty, I put in 18.2 gallons and gas was $3.28 a gallon.

With the fuel rewards network savings, I will only pay 78 cents a gallon; a total of $14.20 for a FULL tank of gas. This would normally cost $59.70 – a savings of $45.50!

Since your card resets back to zero after you fill up (whether it’s 1 or 20 gallons) it’s best that you go with a low tank.  Some people even bring a gas can to fill up as well if they can’t  hit 20 gallons by filling up their tank. Smart!

The Fuel Rewards Network is also offered at Shell in ADDITION to the Kroger rewards program which is awesome and will save you even more cash! You can use the mobile app to check your reward balance so you can see how far you are to reaching maximum savings!

With the Fuel Rewards Network program, I can afford more weekend road trips to SeaWorld and other fun places! Since it started in 2012, customers have saved about $68 million in savings at Shell. Are you one of them? How else do you save money for road trips with your family?

I was given a pre-loaded Fuel Rewards Network card in order to review for this post but received no other compensation. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Enjoy a Bug-Free Summer With A Prize Pack From Cutter (Giveaway)

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Thank you Cutter for sponsoring this compensated post and giveaway!

I went to the park to drop off Annie for swim practice last night without spraying Cutter Insect Repellent on first.

Big. Mistake.

Seven mosquito bites in five minutes. At least someone loves me, right?!

Did you read my post from earlier this week about how we spent our (bug-free) Memorial Day Weekend thanks to Cutter?

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A Giveaway!

Yup. Mosquitoes are definitely here in Houston. Are they bad where you live? Want to give them the heave-ho with products from Cutter…for free? I’ve got a great giveaway for you. A Cutter Prize Pack worth $55.00.

Here is what one, lucky Still Living The Dream reader will receive:

  1. Cutter Natural Personal Insect Repellent
  2. Cutter Dry Personal Insect Repellent
  3. Cutter Skinsations Personal Insect Repellent
  4. Cutter Unscented Backwoods Repellent
  5. 2 Cutter Backyard Bug Control Sprays
  6. 4 Cutter CitroGuardTM candles

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment stating why you hate mosquitoes. Easy-peasy! One person will be selected at random on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. CST.

Want more chances? I get it. Mosquito bites stink and you want it to stop. Leave a separate comment for each additional thing you do below!

  1. Follow Still Living The Dream on Pinterest
  2. Follow Still Living The Dream on Twitter
  3. Like Still Living The Dream on Facebook
  4. Like Cutter on Facebook
  5. Follow Cutter on Pinterest
  6. Tweet this: “Mosquitoes bite. I want to win a Cutter Prize Pack so I can enjoy the summer outdoors, bug-free! http://bit.ly/19th2Lz @jpatrickcomm”

This post was sponsored by Cutter. While I received compensation and products to review, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

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We Are Doing The 2013 Summer Bucket List Challenge! (Happy Family Movement)

summer bucket list challenge main photo

Last year when I heard about the Summer Family Bucket List Challenge by The Happy Family Movement, I immediately signed up. We sat down together as a family and brainstormed things we wanted to do during summer vacation. (You can see my list here)

The challenge is back this summer and you can sign up here. We did! It officially begins on May 20, 2013 and you can enter to win prizes, get inspired by other family’s bucket lists, view adventure guides as well as have access to other travel resources. There’s even a facebook community you can join!

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Colorado Summer Road Trip

Last year I made a garland with each activity listed on a separate index card attached with a mini clothespin. After we did the activity, we’d put up something from the activity by the card (like a program, ticket stub, photo or brochure) and by the end of the summer we had a very fun, visual way to remember our summer vacation! I decided to do something similar this year as well.

The year before last, without a plan in place, the summer ended in a blink of an eye and all those things we had in our brains that we wanted to do, never got done. While we didn’t accomplish EVERYTHING on our bucket list last summer, we did most of them and I really have the Summer Bucket List Challenge to thank.

We are so excited about this year and my kids (my 7-year-old daughter, Annie, and 11-year-old son, Jackson), my husband and I are already thinking about fun things to do with the extra time off. We are crossing a BIG bucket list item off our list before summer even starts. We have a trip to DisneyWorld planned in May! We’ve never been and we are so excited! I also have a bucket list trip  to Paris in June planned with my mom and two sisters. It’s always been my mom’s dream to go. She is retiring this year and we are taking her abroad to celebrate the beginning of the new journey in her life!

But the bucket list challenge isn’t just about big vacations and high-dollar trips. In fact, it’s more about the little things that we feel we’ll always have time to do so we never really do them…like taking a picnic in the park, a bike ride on the beach… or a neighborhood walk to feed the ducks! You can in this post see we crossed this one off our list right as summer started (and you can get a glimpse of the my index card garland)!

Some of the items we didn’t get to like fishing and visiting the observatory have made it on this year’s list. Annie  has been bugging me since last summer to learn to sew and I keep telling her “when we have more time”. So, you guessed it, it’s on our  2013 summer bucket list and we plan to take a class together in July.

Since I work from home full-time and my husband works from home part-time, we have more flexibility to do things like take a family bike ride or a short swim at the neighborhood pool. Our lives have changed a bit since last summer, too. I lost 55 pounds and embarked on a healthier lifestyle which we have all embraced. We ran our first fun run together last weekend and we have many items on our list this year that are more physically challenging then ever before (like participating in a mud run, going water skiing and trying to parasail).

Really though, the items on the list aren’t the most important things about the summer bucket list. Whether or not we go fishing this year (although we hope to!) isn’t what it’s really about (at least to us). What it means to us is to make time to do things together as a family. So many times during the school year we get going in a million directions with homework and after-school activities like scouts and sports… we don’t have time to really visit. Carving out time to do things together during the summer months when time is more on our side is a great way to re-connect. Even planning the outing or trip together can be a fun time in itself!

(If a visit to Aquatica or SeaWorld is on your Summer Bucket List, visit about our trip last year here when we crossed it off our list. We included tips that might help you plan your visit!)

The Patrick Family’s 2013 Summer Bucket List

summer bucket list challenge collage

Ice Cream Cone free printable tag artwork by Amy Moss
  1. Go to the beach
  2. Go fishing
  3. Visit the observatory to see the stars
  4. Go water skiing
  5. Go bird watching
  6. Do a mud run
  7. Go parasailing
  8. Participate in 2 family fun runs
  9. Learn to sew
  10. Sculpt with clay
  11. Keep a journal
  12. Have “date nights” both time for mom and dad to go out alone, plus time for each parent to spend time with each child doing something fun
  13. See a concert with lawn seats at The Woodlands Pavilion
  14. Invite a different family over for dinner every couple of weeks
  15. Have a talent show
  16. Pitch a tent in the backyard and “go camping” Make smores and tell ghost stories.
  17. Face our Fears – pick a thing we  each have always wanted to do but were afraid to … and try it
  18. Go snorkeling
  19. Go to Aquatica and try out some new adventures in San Antonio while we are in town
  20. Go to the Drive-In Movies
I was not compensated for this post. I’m just sharing  great summer resources available because I love the program and want you to have the best summer ever!
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The Odd Life of Timothy Green Trailer and Summer Fun Kit

I am excited to see this film which comes out on August 15, 2012.

About a unique boy who comes from the garden, Academy Award®–nominated director/writer Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life,” What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”) brings enchantment to the screen with “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”

It’s the inspiring, magical story of a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim—and their small town of Stanleyville—learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts.

Summer Family Fun Activities!

I’ll be seeing the preview before it hits the theatres and I’ll let you know what I think. In the meantime  - enjoy this Summer Fun Kit inspired by the movie which includes cookie and cupcake recipes,  leaf, photo album and paper flower crafts and other fun things to do together as a family. Enjoy!

Are you looking forward to the film?

 

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Summer Fun: Feeding the Ducks!

While we were at the library last week, I made little cards with each of our Summer Family Bucket List items on them.

 

We hung them up on the living room wall above the sofa so we can see them everyday.

Yesterday, we were getting ready to go the grocery store and the kids said, “We want to do something FUN!!”

So we looked at the “family fun clothesline” and decided to get an extra sack of bread while at the store to feed the ducks on the way home.

Not every summer family fun moment needs to be an epic adventure like a weekend away to a theme park. Sometimes, stopping by the pond on the way home for 15 minutes can be pretty amazing.

For us, it had been awhile since we stopped to say hello to our neighborhood feathered friends.

Jackson and Annie named them all as they fed them. It was pretty fun.

What fun things have you done with your family spur-of-the-moment?

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10 Tips to Enjoy San Antonio’s New Water Park – Aquatica

We checked off two big Summer Family Bucket List items last weekend! Go to SeaWorld and Aquatica in San Antonio.

We go to SeaWorld in San Antonio every year (and I’ll be posting tips about how to enjoy this fabulous park soon as well) but this was our first time at the new Aquatica water park in San Antonio. I had a great time with several fellow Texas bloggers at AdventureCon, a mini-conference hosted by SeaWorld, learning about storytelling, photography and videos. But we also got a lot of time off to play with our families at the parks.

By now you’ve probably heard about Aquatica, an aquatic park with up-close animal experiences, high-speed thrills and relaxing, sandy beaches. Here’s what we enjoyed best about Aquatica (and some tips to make your visit great when you go!)

1. Get to the park early. We went to Aquatica on Sunday and were the first in line to get in when it opened at 10:00 a.m. I HIGHLY recommend getting there first thing so you can lay claim to one of the primo spots with shade for “home base”. We picked a spot on the beach by Big Surf Shores wave pool underneath one of the many big umbrellas. But after walking around the park I scouted out another great spot with a hammock in the shade right by the Whanau Waters pool. Next time we are going there for sure!

For $49.99, you can also rent two lounge chairs under an umbrella that also come with 4 bottles of water and sunblock. (Season pass holders get 20 percent off.)

2. Go to the Sting Ray Falls slide first. It’s a must-do four-seater family slide (riders must be 36″), but by far the longest wait we had that day (about one hour). At the end of the slide you pass under a tunnel with sting rays and tropical fish…so cool!

Sting Ray encounter at Discovery Cove in Orlando, now offered at Aquatica in San Antonio!

3. Experience the sting ray encounter at least once. For $25 a person (under 3 is free) your family can get in the water with the sting rays to feed and touch them. And a photo is included! We did this when we visit Aquatica/Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, last fall and it was a blast.

At our shady spot under the umbrella on the sand

4. Wear water shoes. We walked around in bare feet and some of the pavement was REALLY hot. We regretted it!

5. Spring for a locker. They are only $7 and we didn’t have to worry about our money and valuables being stolen while we were away from our chairs.

6. Pack Sunscreen and apply it often. I don’t care how many galloons of water you have falling on your head, Texas heat in the summer time is intense! Plus – some of the lines are directly in the sunlight and even though Loggerhead Lane (the winding river like ride) is a blast, there’s not much shade. Luckily I’m a Coppertone Water Moms Ambassador and had plenty on hand!

Good news if you have children that are several different ages/heights.

7. Walkabout Waters play area for little ones is right next to the big slides including HooRoo Run, Tassie’s Twisters and Walhalla Wave. So Ed would take Jackson (our 10-year old) down one or two slides while Annie (our 6-year-old) and I played at the Walkabout Waters….then we’d switch out.

Jackson on the way back to Houston after a full day at Aquatica!

8. Get cleaned up before you go home. They have a pretty nice restroom/changing area with showers in the front of the park by Mango Market for you to get ready for your ride home.

9. Get a waterproof camera. As is the case at almost every water type venue we go to, I never get many great photos because I’m afraid to carry my camera around. Next time we go, I’m going to bring something that can get wet so I can capture those moments when Jackson and Annie were screaming, “this is the best day EVER!”

10. Think about an evening at Aquatica. It seemed like at about 4:00 p.m. a lot of the early risers were packing up and going home and a new group were just arriving to enjoy the second half of the day. Aquatica is open until 9:00 p.m. (even as late as 10:00 p.m. on some nights). It would be great to come back and enjoy the early evening there when the sun isn’t as hot.

I received complimentary tickets to experience SeaWorld and Aquatica as part of my participation in the SeaWorld AdventureCon event. I did not receive any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Houston Summer Reading Programs For Kids

My kids and I love to read, especially while on vacation. So we went to the public library to check out some books and find out what’s going on there over the next couple of months. We are looking forward to catching a couple of author visits, a magic and juggling show and even a visit from a crocodile. (What?!!)

We also picked up information about the summer reading program they have there. Additionally, there are a few other places around town offering incentives to read during the summer break. Here’s the skinny on what we’ve found so far.

1. Barnes and Noble: Read any 8 books and record them in the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Imagination’s Destination Journal. Bring the completed journal back to the store by September 4, 2012, and choose a free book from the list. (The program is aimed at those entering first through sixth grades).

2. Half Price Books: Kids ages 14 and under can earn $5.00 to spend at Half Price Books by reading 15 minutes each day for a month. After kids log 300 minutes, bring in the completed log to the store to get your reward. One reader per age group each month gets a top reader prize as well: a $20 Half Price Books gift card.

3. HEB: Kids in Texas who read 10 books and log them on the HEB Summer Reading Club form can receive a prize (looks like it might be a t-shirt). Just mail the form to the HEBuddy 2012 Summer Reading Program , 10530 Sentinel, San Antonio, Texas 78217 by October 1, 2012, and they’ll mail the prize to you.

4. Harris County Public Library: The “Get A Clue” Program this year is for kids, teens and adults. You register online here. Children will get a cool ‘Get a Clue @ HCPL’ wristband just for registering and children who read or listen to 10 books or log 500 minutes of reading/listening time will receive a free book, teens who read or listen to 5 books or log 600 minutes of reading/listening time will get a USB flashdrive wristband and adults who read or listen to 5 books or log 600 minutes will be entered in random drawings to win a Kindle Fire, a Nook Tablet or a $30.00 bookstore gift card at conclusion of the program.

Of course, the real prize is becoming a better reader. Watching my kids enjoy a good book makes my heart smile!

Do you know of any other reading programs?

 

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Boot Camp Day Three – A Step In The Dark

I’m on my second week of boot camp, day three.

It’s kind of been a surreal experience because it’s so early. This is what I walk up to at 5:00 a.m.

That big ball of yellow in the upper left hand corner is a big street light….casting a weird haze over the darkness of the side street by the park where we work out.

I like it because I can barely make out the faces of those working out by me, which means they can’t really see me. And that gives me a lot of comfort. Because I’m fairly certain the sight of me working out isn’t that pretty!

Going from lunges into jumping jacks then to push-ups and crunches, basketball jumps, high knees and running sprints….I’m definitely pushing myself in ways that I haven’t in years. And except for the occasional glance up to my friend, Patti, for support or to the trainer for explanation (“you want me to do WHAT?!!)  - I don’t chit chat. It’s not a social thing for me (which is weird because I make everything social).

From 5:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday I concentrate fully on getting myself back to where I know I can be.

But it’s hard. Being there means and going through the motions is making me face the fact that I have let myself get so out of shape. When we have to run laps, I have to stop and walk to catch my breath. When we do push-ups I can’t finish them all. Even when we do jumping jacks (albeit a lot of them!) I can feel the pain in the arches of my feet.

It’s going to be a long road. I have a journey to take that I know will eventually need to include more than boot camp twice a week.

But this step in the dark is a start.

The beginning of good things to come.

Have you taken a step out of your comfort zone lately? Has it been scary? How do you feel after taking the leap? 

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Boot Camp Day Two

Life List #45 – Get Healthy. 

So I got up again at 4:30 a.m. again today and went to boot camp.

Day two – check. Yay.

But I’m starting to believe that the challenge in completing this month will be less about the “getting up early” and more about “the intense workout”. Maybe it’s because it’s only five hours since I finished this morning’s 50-minute exercise and I’m having trouble walking.

And standing.

And exerting any kind of energy. It hurts to type this, for pete’s sake. And I don’t remember working out my fingertips specifically.

So I’m starting to worry a little. But I’m not giving up. I even purchased a new pair of running shoes yesterday since my previous pair were about four years old and made my arches hurt. (By the way – when did running shoes get so expensive?!) Anyways I was really happy to have them this morning when I was one of the first to fall out of the plank position and had to “run” a lap as punishment. Yes – I used quotes around “run”. Because I’m not sure you could call what I did a “run”. But I made it around a full lap. And I didn’t puke.

That was “fun”.

Day two of boot camp is also day one of summer vacation, by the way. So needless to say we haven’t had a chance to fall into our summer schedule/rhythm yet.  I’ve only had to put out three fights between my almost first-grader and almost fifth-grader.

Thankfully they don’t know that I can’t chase them yet. If they find out…I’m toast. Please don’t tell them.

How’s your summer going so far?! Moving any mountains? Making any progress towards your goals?

Day-by-day, my friends. Day-by-day.

(ouch. hand cramp)

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