I had intended to give a full rundown on our trip to the Memphis Zoo, complete with Pics, but my camera died just as we entered the front gate. Still, here’s some thoughts on the trip:

–If you can find a nice day in January to go to the zoo, take advantage of it. There may have been two dozen other people there, so there were certainly no jostling crowds to contend with. There were a few animals we didn’t see that we would have like to have seen (like elephants), but we did see a lot more than we saw last year when we were there in weather so cold, even the polar bears were not allowed outside.

–Kindness is apparently a weird thing my family does. We received free tickets thanks to our debacle of a visit last year–five of them, in fact–and we used four of them today. The fifth my wife gave to another family that was walking up to the gate at the same time we were. They looked at it, and us, as though they didn’t understand what was going on. Are random acts of kindness so rare that people don’t know how to react to them?

–Children complain a lot less when there are zebras and giraffes around. Despite the rather cool temperatures today, my two younger children did not complain at all. Instead, they kept warm by eagerly running from exhibit to exhibit. Amy and I did the same.

–Two words: reticulated python. Three More Words: Big Ass Snake

After the zoo trip, we drove downtown to Le Bonheur Hospital to see a sick child from our church who has been in and out of various medical facilities for months. Everything he ingests, even water, comes right back up the emergency elevator. New doctors are getting involved this week, so hopefully they’ll have a name for Brady’s condition soon as, so far, they’ve all been stumped. If anyone out there knows any excellent pediatric gastroenterologists, send them our way.

Anyway, that’s all for today.

Old year done, new one begun. Sadly, most of my new goals will look a lot like the ones from last year, as I fell a bit short of most of them. I can’t call last year a total failure–far from it–but I’m really hoping to have a breakout year instead of a year where I miss everything by inches.

And so, here are my goals for the New Year:

Gain representation from a literary agent. I don’t care if I have a contract or not this year–in fact, I don’t expect one at all–but I would like to have the concern of representation off the table by the end of the year so I can focus on the writing more and the selling less. I felt good about my chances last year and I feel even better this year, so we’ll see how this one goes.

Sell a short story. I want to have at least one short story in a legitimate publication, either online or in print. It doesn’t necessarily have to pay anything, but I want that all-important credit that will make the first goal a little easier to meet.

Write a new novel. I have one in mind that I’ll be starting in the next couple of days and I’m looking forward to tackling something new. My genre fiction tends to incorporate lighter elements of fantasy and horror, focusing more on conflicts among the characters rather than whatever evil they are facing, so I’m hoping to use what I do best to succeed in something a little different, a little outside my comfort zone.

Write three or more decent short stories. I have a few ideas, but we’ll see how this goes. I don’t tend to think of stories in terms of only a few thousand words, but this is one area I really want to work on this coming year. If I can meet goal #2 in the process, all the better.

Get promoted at the day job. I’m due for this and this should be my year. So long as they can take my strong opinions (read big mouth) along with my ability, this should be an easy one.

Lose 25 pounds. If I can apply some of the discipline I use with my writing, I should be able to meet this challenge. I may not like, may go kicking and screaming all the way, but I’m tired of looking like Buddha and I want to do something about it.

Be more positive. I tend to hide behind that lie that all pessimistic people employ when confronted with the truth of their attitudes–“I’m a realist.” The problem with being a realist, particularly a realist in charge of others, is that people absorb that “realism” and pretty soon everyone is just as negative as you are. Well, no more. I’m going to be more positive because, dangit, I’m good enough to change this about myself. See? I’m improving already.

There will be other little mileposts, I’m sure, that I’ll throw up along the way, but this is the grand design for the year. I think all of them are attainable, if not inevitable. They mean a lot of work, but that’s something that I’ve proven not to be afraid of. What I am afraid of is carrying over the same goals to next year.

I left work on time for a change to see my youngest daughter and my son perform in the church Christmas Program. This year, my daughter actually had an important role, playing the part of the angel. She had several lines of dialogue (actually a monologue, but who cares?), sang in the chorus, and, in one song, did a solo.

Now, music does not run in my side of the family. We are all quite musically-challenged and in my increasingly infrequent visits to that place called “home” I heard my daughter practicing for her song on various occasions and understood that, while she is adorable and sweet, she has inherited my lack of musical talent. No problem, of course, she is talented in other areas, but she is eight and really wants to sing.

Showing up at the packed church (and it’s a rather large church for this rural area), I feared for her. The last thing I wanted was for her to open her mouth in front of three hundred or so people and sound like a lone Canadian goose flying overhead. I sat in the second row, behind my wife, and waited.

Her song, of which she sang the second verse, was near the end of the program. The other cast members with singing roles have varying degrees of vocal ability themselves, ranging from truly wonderful to the sound of cats being disemboweled, and I sat through all of it until the little girl with the angel-wings and the pipe-cleaner halo took center stage and opened her mouth.

I was amazed. The sound that had been coming through her nose as recently as two days ago now came out as pure and sweet as the character she was portraying. She never stumbled, never hesitated, never wavered. Every note was pure and clean and far beyond anything I had ever heard from her. I knew she had been working hard to prepare for the role, but I had no idea until she was standing up there dazzling the audience just how hard. When the program was over and the other parents and audience members came forward to offer their congratulations, I could see that some of them were nearly as shocked as I was.

My daughter was beaming, and deservedly so. There is a great sense of triumph that comes with exceeding everyone’s expectations, including your own. Especially your own. I felt the same thing when I finished my first novel and I’ve felt it with every one since. They say you never know what someone is capable of and, while it’s generally spoken in a negative sense, it also applies, as evidenced by my daughter’s hard work and success, to the best things in life as well. We never know what someone is capable of, but sometimes is a wonderful thing to find out.