Flower blooming in hard circumstances

By Molly Butler

I hope everyone had safe and happy holidays. We made some lovely memories, even though we gathered virtually.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone. The physical, financial, and mental toll is undeniable. It feels like a year of loss. Memories left unmade. Opportunities lost. Loved ones lost. And I don’t want to minimize that loss with a cheap, positive turnaround. I won’t write off 2020 with a “everything happens for a reason” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The grief many of us feel after this difficult year needs to be felt. For the preciousness you lost this year, I am so, very sorry.

What I want for myself, for my loved ones, for my country, for the world, for you, is a new year of growth. I want everything that happened to us in 2020 to be transformed; into a deeper understanding of our world, our politics, greater compassion for those who struggle, keener perception of those in power, into fuel for change, into a fierce determination, that this is our one, precious life. Live it now.

We must learn how to make friends with our hardships and challenges. They are there to help us; they are natural opportunities for deeper understanding and transformation, bringing us more joy and peace as we learn to work with them. Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We must learn how to make friends with our hardships and challenges. They are there to help us; they are natural opportunities for deeper understanding and transformation, bringing us more joy and peace as we learn to work with them.” Life will never be the same after the hardships of 2020. Now is the time to transform.

New Year’s Eve

I found some virtual ways to ring in the New Year. The Minnesota Children’s Museum is taking their annual New Year Party virtual. You can enjoy “Sparklerama” from the comfort of your home! This free live streamed event will begin at 7pm. Register here. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is counting down to the new year with 21 videos of zoo animals playing. Check out the adorable countdown on their website.

Kato Karaoke is hosting Online Trivia in the Time of Covid-19. This 2020 version of their traditional pub quiz, Tacos & Trivia, has that modern twist. There will be 5 rounds of trivia, 10 questions per round. This virtual game will be held on Zoom with breakout rooms for your team.  The virtual room opens at 6:15pm and trivia starts at 6:30pm. Good luck! Then, Mankato Playhouse is hosting a virtual party to ring in the New Year! Starting at 9 pm you can join them online to celebrate with local bands and artists for an evening of music, laughs, and entertainment.

New Year’s Day

Yellowstone Rim Runners is hosting a New Year’s Day run starting at Riverfront Park in Mankato. Route and distance will be determined day-of to allow for any changes in weather, but runners and walkers of all levels are welcome.

New Year, new hobbies! Winter is just beginning so it’s a good idea to dig into some winter hobbies. The Mankato Curling Club is providing a beginners and refreshers Learn to Curl class. You can learn more and register here. Grab your skis or snowboard; Mount Kato is open New Year’s Day and all weekend.

Bonus: Resolution Weekend

Instead of the usual list of ideas for your weekend, I wanted to make the first weekend of the year an opportunity for you to re-calibrate and plan for a great year ahead. I am a fan of making resolutions and setting goals. Creating intentions is a great step towards personal growth. George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

I think my most rewarding resolution was when I spent the New Year in Florida with my family. My resolution was inadvisably vague, to “Say yes more.” It was shortly after New Year’s Day and my dad asked if I wanted to learn to throw the bait net while he was fishing. I said yes and ended up catching more snook than the fishermen who’d been out all day, and I even made friends with a Great Egret, who still comes to say hi whenever I fish there. But that’s a whole big fish story for another time. The point is, New Year’s resolutions can be great.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. George Bernard Shaw

However, as many of us have learned the hard way, a year is a long time frame and many goals are forgotten or fizzle out. My “say yes more” was quickly forgotten, which is just as well. I’m more of a “learn to say no” gal. I have found a much more successful technique is to divide goals up into more manageable steps.

So, I’ve compiled a list of 30-day challenges, one year’s worth of them in fact. You can mix and match a few areas you want to build on, then, as you complete one challenge, you can begin another. Not everything you do for 30 days will stick, but some can become permanent parts of your lifestyle. Use these building blocks to create yourself.


  • Water Challenge: This is one of the 30-day challenges I picked up a month or so ago and I quickly learned; unless you’re actively trying to drink enough water every day, chances are, you aren’t getting enough. I now have a 64oz bottle I refill every morning, and sometimes I even drink two in a day. I was shocked at how much my energy increased and my need for caffeine decreased.
  • Eat Your Veggies Challenge: Add two servings of vegetables to your day, every day, for one month. This will either be a cup of salad greens or a half cup of cooked veggies. My favorite part of this challenge is trying new things and getting creative. Who knew spinach could be so versatile?
  • 10,000 Steps Challenge: Use your phone, an app, or a smart watch to track your steps with a goal of 10k a day. Each step adds up. Just walking 10,000 steps a day burns 400-500 calories, much easier than running 4-5 miles!
  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep is vital for mental and physical well being. If you struggle to get in 8 hours, dedicate a month to experimenting with new sleeping habits. Put screens away an hour before bed. Have a wind-down routine. Keep your bedding refreshed and invest in a new pillow or room spray. Then, in the morning, make sure you aren’t checking your phone immediately. I used to have a rule about not checking my phone until after I’d had my first cup of coffee, and it really helped me start the day right.


  • Declutter Challenge: A messy home steals your peace of mind. You can use a pre-made plan like this one or divide your own needs into 30 days. Make sure to include things you forget or put off (for me it’s cleaning the oven and decluttering the fridge.) I always find that when I get one cleaning job finished, the rest are easier to start.
  • Read every day: Whether it’s re-reading an old favorite or something from one of the online book clubs you can choose to join in 2021, reading a little every day will make you feel sharper and will give your mind a break from our technology heavy world. Bonus: you can combine this with a wind-down routine for better sleep.
  • Meditation Challenge: There are countless apps and YouTube videos to guide and assist in meditation. Find what works for you and set a goal of 30 days of meditation. I like to use the Plum Village app which has guided meditations as well as a mindfulness bell.
  • Productivity Challenge: Maybe you’re struggling to focus while working or studying from home. Maybe you have a project like a book or a paper that needs to be tackled a piece at a time. Pick a productivity system like the Pomodoro Technique, Kanban or a planner if you don’t already use one.


  • Get Outside Challenge: This one is only for the brave, but as a former dogwalker, I can tell you there are no excuses. Getting outside is possible 365 days a year, as long as you have the right gear. My fiancé got his bike winterized with the help of Nicollet Bike & Ski and River Valley Running helped me find gear for winter running. The land of 10,000 lakes has so many wonderful winter hobbies to enjoy outside: skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding, skating, or even just a quick walk through the neighborhood. Getting outside will boost your mood and feed your soul.
  • Random Acts of Kindness Challenge: This one is inspired by my mom, who is always surprising me with a “Oh, I signed us up for…” before whisking me off to her latest volunteering adventure. Each small good deed makes the world a slightly better place. You can go big, by donating money to a cause or serving a meal at Connections Shelter, or start with something small, like giving a compliment or writing a letter of thanks. A list of ideas is available here.
  • Self-Awareness Challenge: The term “self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days. People often associate it with a spa day, maybe a face mask and some wine. But true self-care is hard, rigorous work. It takes patience and love. Getting to know and understand yourself is an act of love. Get a fresh journal. It helps to accompany this work with a fitting book from the self-help genre. I have used Feeling Good by David Burns, M.D. and The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. But you can pick whatever book speaks to you. Emotional Intelligence by David Larson which is specifically written for a 30-day challenge.  Then, for thirty days, dedicate real time to reading, thinking, and journaling about yourself. The homework can be tough, but the growth is worth is.
  • Make a Day Challenge: This one is inspired by my day, who is always cooking up something strange and exciting in his shop. There are two rules: 1. You must make something every day and 2. You must give it away. Not monetize it, not sell it on Facebook, not hoard it for yourself. Make it and share it with the world, just for the sake of doing so. Maybe you haven’t drawn since high school art class; time to get out your sketch book! Has that cookbook been gathering dust? Cook up something and feed your friends. This challenge is for anyone plagued with “I can’t” or “it’s not good enough” mindset. You’re as creative and able as anyone else! Embrace it and have fun!

For the preciousness you lost this year, I am so, very sorry.

I hope a few of these ideas speak to you and you’re as motivated as I am to make 2021 a year of growth, strength, and transformation. Remember, you can always create your own challenge catered to your own goals. After all, the point is not to become someone else’s ideal, the point is to create the best version of you.

Just remember to make goals realistic, each day attainable, forgive yourself for off-days, and love where you are at now. Thank you, readers, for sharing your time and energy with me in 2020. Have a great New Year.


Weekend High Notes is a regular feature by Molly Butler. Molly covers weekend events, live music, and culture in the Greater Mankato Area. Suggestions are welcome using the MankatoLIFE contact form.