6 Steps to Taking a Year-Long Sabbatical (Every Decade)

[Welcome my friend Ms. Montana today! She recently released a new eBook on the 6 steps to taking a year off every decade, and I asked her if she’d be willing to give us a teaser of it here so we can all learn too ;) She obliged, and now we get to read it today – yay! Hope it helps!]

The idea of a gap year seems to be reserved for the college age. But that hasn’t stopped us.

My husband and I have 5 little kids and we just finished a yearlong sabbatical. I’m 34 and this marks the 4th time we have taken a break from the 9-5 to pursue a big dream or goal.

Here’s the count so far:

  1. I took an extra month off of work when I was 24 to travel coast to coast with my best friend.
  2. My husband, Mr. Montana, took a 6 month gap between jobs in which we bought and renovated two houses.
  3. Two years after that, he took a month off so we could do a large renovation on another rental property we had bought.
  4. Then last year we took our year long sabbatical. During that time, we traveled for 6 weeks with the kids. We did a full kitchen renovation. I started a blog. He went back to school. I started getting offers to do content marketing. Oh, I had a baby too. ;) Not exactly things you fit into a long weekend.

“How do you afford to take a year off?”

This is the question we get asked all the time.

The process is actually rather simple. Not easy. But simple. Whether you want to take a year or two off so you can custom build a house or a month to study Spanish in Spain, there are 6 basic steps. Here is the short and skinny.

Step #1: Figure out the Focus

What do you actually want to do? There are hundreds of options. By narrowing it down, it will help you figure out your budget and start planning and dreaming. The more clear this picture is in your mind, the more focus and inspiration you will have to power through the other steps.

So what could you do?

I think it’s best to focus on dreams and goals so big they can’t fit alongside your day job. You have grown these dreams as much as possible while working, but this goal needs more space to take it to the next level. There is only so much you can do in your evenings, weekends, and vacation days.

I like to be able to lean into the season of life I am currently in. That cross country road trip I took my best friend? That is never going to happen again. She runs a big nonprofit. I have 5 little kids now. We are lucky if we can find 24 hours to get away, let alone 24 days. I’m so glad we did that in our early 20’s because those days are long gone now. In this year off, there were other opportunities that couldn’t wait either (or we just didn’t want to wait anymore!).

Some great options to wet your whistle:

  • Writing a book
  • Building a business or transitioning into a new industry
  • Touring with a band or doing a 30 city book/speaking tour
  • A physical challenge; biking across Europe, hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 3 month sailing trip
  • Volunteering for a nonprofit overseas
  • Building or flipping/renovating a house
  • Visiting every national park in the US

Step #2: Create an A La Carte Price List

Once you know what you want your focus to be, start looking at how much this will cost. I like to create a price list, kind of like a restaurant menu. It helps keep my motivation focused by seeing the potential of each dollar I save.

We did a 6 week road trip this summer with the whole family. I had actually created that price list about 4 years ago, because this has been a dream of mine for a long time. Here is a sample.

Item Cost
Camper $5,000
Gas for 1,000 miles $150
Admission to Bear Adventure $79
1 night camping $20 (national park)
1 night camping $45 (RV park)
1 activity for 5 people $30
Daily average cost $75

Create this same a la cart price list for your dream. I set up a special saving account and labeled it “dream fund.” Every time I could stash $45 in my account, I knew that would afford me one night of camping in a full service RV park. $5,000 from our tax refund would pay for the camper. $150 in birthday money would cover 1,000 miles of gas.

You don’t have to list every expense. But add as many as you can think of and a variety of price points. Make it specific. Then for each amount of money you stash away into your “dream fund” you know exactly that that will help pay for.  You saved $20 by packing your lunch this week? What part of your dream will that help pay for? Does that pay for your admission into the Colosseum in Rome? Is it a tango lesson in Ecuador? Let’s not despise the small things, but celebrate each win as bringing us one step closer to our dreams.

Step #3: Save

If you want a year off every decade, you will need to save an extra 10-15% of your take home pay. That’s it.  Stashing away an extra 10-15% could give you the flexibility to accomplish a huge dream or goal every 10 years. If you want a month off next year, save about 20% depending on your extra expenses. Steps #4, #5 and #6 will help you come up with the extra cash you will need to cover the expenses.

Step #4: Find Extra Cash

There are a few kinds of extra cash. Which ones you choose will depend on your long-term plans. If you just want a month off and then go back to life as normal, maybe you put in some extra hours to save up. If you want this to be a lifestyle change, and want the freedom to regularly take time away from your 9-5, creating some passive income will be a tremendous help. As would creating a side hustle that you enjoy and is flexible.

  1. Passive income: Creating income sources that aren’t dependent on you showing up for work is the golden goose. We own two rentals that cover 1/3 of all our living expenses. Just that income would allow us to take a year off after every 2 years, if we wanted. Just a little bit of passive income adds a lot of flexibility.
  2. Side work: This might be something you do while you are saving up for your time off. And it could also be something you use to supplement your income during your time away from the 9-5. I did a bit of freelance work during our year off, which became the inspiration for launching a content marketing company instead of going back to a traditional job. J. Money’s Side Hustle Series here is great for ideas too.
  3. Extra cash: All those extra little piles of cash that flow into our lives. Christmas bonuses, birthday cards, tax returns, or babysitting our friends’ kids on a Friday night.

Step #5: Pay Off Your Debt

Paying off your debt will give you a 2x advantage. Your expenses will be lower, and you can save faster. If you want the ability to step away from paid employment on a semi consistent basis, being debt free is a huge advantage! We were able to pay cash for our home, and not having that mortgage is a game changer.

Step #6: Keep Expenses Low

Your dreams might be expensive, but your basic expenses don’t need to be.

Low expenses are the jet fuel to custom design your life. It allows you to take more time off. It lets you be choosy about the work you do. It gives you flexibility to save more, have more adventures and give more.

Don’t trade away your biggest dreams for small lifestyle upgrades!

Without a mortgage (or car loan or student loans) our monthly nut is $650 to cover all our fixed expenses (property taxes, utilities, life/car/house/dental insurance, gym membership, netflix, internet, etc) . We really have to live it up to spend $3,000 a month. We can give more money away. We can buy classic cars. Jet fuel, I tell ya!

We have lived these 6 steps. We dreamed. We planned. We created extra income. We live debt free. And we have low expenses. (Our family of 7 spent $30,000 in 2016. Plus charitable giving.)

On my blog I have a free PDF about how you can use these 6 steps to take a year off every 10 years. If you are serious about creating more financial freedom for yourself, you can get it here.

Everyone thought we were a little crazy to take a year off when we have 5 little kids. I think it’s a little crazy more people don’t do it. Because at the end of the day, it really wasn’t a year “off”, but more like a year “on.” Running full speed toward our biggest dreams, goals, adventure, and finding that custom created ideal life.

I’ll admit there is a certain intensity to our lives. I’m not willing to waste a single year, just spinning our wheels or maintaining the status quo. There is too much we want to do. We have big plans and dreams, and I am not going to put them off ’till we are 60. Each season of our life has opportunities that might expire or pass us by. So we make hay while the sun shines.

What will you do?

Ms. Montana is a writer, speaker and that strange friend who loves to talk about money.  She has traveled through 27 countries, adopted 4 kids, had 2 bio kids, lived abroad, bought and renovated 3 homes, all while being married to her best friend for almost 15 years. She enjoys books, hot tea, and growing Brandywine tomatoes. You will find her at Montana Money Adventures where she talks about creating financial freedom, adventure, and generous living.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Need more convincing about taking time off for yourself? Try on this post next ;) Why Taking a Sabbatical Was The Best Money I Ever Spent


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  1. Mrs. Mad Money Monster | @madmoneymonster February 3, 2017 at 6:10 AM

    I once saw Stefan Sagmeistee speak of doing this very thing. He encouraged people to move 5 years of retirement up and diaperse them throughout your working life, instead of keeping them all until the end when you’re old.

    It was moving, and so was your post. I did a mini break last summer when we took a 2-week family vacation. That was huge for me, since it was the real vacation I had in about a decade. I would love to do longer trips but first, I need to jettison the 9-5 and create enough passive income to live this lifestyle.

    Thanks for the motivation!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    1. J. Money February 3, 2017 at 7:28 AM

      Love that idea!!! You wouldn’t be so hard pressed to retire so fast either with all those breaks throughout your career… And you might even get *better* at your job(s) too taking all that time off, gasp!

  2. Band of Savers February 3, 2017 at 7:26 AM

    Loved the ideas and the information. Definitely things to think about. I’ve always been afraid to walk away from my job for an extended period of time because of the fear of not being able to find a comparable job when I come back to the market. Part of me loves the simple security that comes by continuing to do what you’ve always done, pat of me can’t wait for the opportunity to break away from the grind. So I end up feeling pulled in two separate ways.

    Goal #1 right now though is to pay off the mortgage so that we don’t have that liability looming over us and can looking into taking time off without the fear of the mortgage.

    1. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 9:05 AM

      Finding another job was a little scary for us as well. In the end, Mr. Mt ended up getting a few unsolicited offers, all better than his last job. A strong job economy helped, but he also keep in touch, did breakfast dates, and stopped by to chat with old coworkers. I think the fact that he wasn’t working and off doing cool things, actually kept him more top of mind than if had stayed in the same old job.

  3. Full Time Finance February 3, 2017 at 7:43 AM

    It’s a great idea if your life and career can support it. I’m a big proponent of enjoying your life as you go, and this is a great example. I actually get 20 days a year vacation in my current job. We’re considering hoarding that time and taking a month off to tour the US. I have a co-worker who did just that. My point is you might not even need to take a leave from work to do this at some point in your life.

    1. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 9:09 AM

      When Mr. Mt was in the Army he saved up 70 days of leave before we were stationed in Europe. We took a few 3 week trips, and it was awesome. We did a US road trip this summer for 6 weeks which was SO good. I think we will do 4 weeks this summer. =)

  4. Joe February 3, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    Wow, this is a great idea. At my old work, we used to be able to take about 3 months off every 7 years. That was a really great benefit. Employees come back refreshed and they are more productive. Of course, some of us never went back after such a nice break.
    Now, I’m on a permanent sabbatical. ;)

    1. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 9:12 AM

      Ha! I love it. =) I do think that is a great benefit, and I really wish more employers would get behind it. Even if the time was partly self funded. A person would only have to save 1-2% of their pay to cover that time off.

  5. Freedom 40 Plan February 3, 2017 at 7:56 AM

    I was able to take a one month sabbatical last September and have to say that it was amazing. Being able to completely disconnect from work for a long period of time is so much more revitalizing than just a week off. A year sounds even better – but for those who can’t manage that, look at something smaller, but also awesome.

  6. Go Finance Yourself! February 3, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    “Don’t trade away your biggest dreams for small lifestyle upgrades!”

    I really like this quote. I think so many people search for happiness by accumulating stuff. In my opinion, chasing after big goals/dreams will lead to much more happiness. Both during the process of chasing it and once you achieve it.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    1. J. Money February 6, 2017 at 4:40 PM

      That was my favorite line from it too :)

  7. Josh @MoneyBuffalo February 3, 2017 at 8:33 AM

    We just finished a gap year ourselves. Most of the time was spent building our house as you mentioned & I spent my “free” time learning new skills to change jobs as well.

    A lot of people thought we were crazy because it’s unconventional for 30-year olds (not college students) to do it. We knew if we didn’t do it now, we wouldn’t do it later.

    It’s always great to hear others doing, especially from large families.

    We followed several of the tips you had as well. Saving at least 10% of our income, being debt-free, and keeping expenses low.

    1. J. Money February 6, 2017 at 4:41 PM

      Baller!! I used to think becoming a full-time blogger would be like a sabbatical – but nope, haha… Who knew self-employment would actually take work? :)

  8. Max Your Freedom February 3, 2017 at 8:49 AM

    I think more and more people will be doing what you’re describing in the future, in some type of variation. We’ll be doing gap summers every year to balance out the grind with some fun and exploration. The fact you’re doing it with all your kids is a heroic achievement, congrats!

  9. Mrs. Picky Pincher February 3, 2017 at 10:12 AM

    I had no idea you take regular sabbaticals, Ms. Montana! That’s awesome! I feel like I’d be a lot less burnt out if I were able to schedule in regular breaks. Year-long breaks. ;) It’s great because you get a taste of early retirement and are able to do many of the things you can’t do while working a 9-to-5. I’m curious, though–do the sabbaticals prolong your permanent FIRE date?

  10. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 10:29 AM

    It’s funny, I think taking the breaks has actually speed up our FI date, by a lot! In break #2, we were able to buy our first home with cash because it needed work (work we could do because Mr. Mt wasn’t working) and because we did that so inexpensively, we were able to buy our first rental and fix that one up ourselves. Even in this last year off, we only did 2 projects (totally about 30 days total) but it increased our passive income by $125 a month/$1500 year. We would have had to save $38,000 to create that income at a 4% withdrawal, and Mr. Mt left a job paying $32,500 year. I have no plans for the RE part of FIRE. But I describe us as “work optional” where we don’t have to do any work we don’t really want to do. So we get to pick and choose what ever work sounds interesting, meaningful and fulling, even if it doesn’t pay well.

    A lot of cool things can open up if we just have the time to look around and try them.

    1. J. Money February 6, 2017 at 4:42 PM

      That’s pretty wild!!

  11. Smart Provisions February 3, 2017 at 11:52 AM

    Love the idea, Ms. Montana.

    At my work, we are able to take off 2 months at a time by using up our PTO hours for the year. I usually take off the last two months to go travel or hang out with the family. It helps keep me from burning out.

  12. Primal Prosperity February 3, 2017 at 12:04 PM

    I love the idea of the ‘season of your life’. That is so true and so important. I did things in my 20’s that I wouldn’t want to spend too much time and effort on now, so I’m glad I did them at that time.

    I also like your “year on”. I’m going to be writing a post about taking “a leave of presence”.

    We are going to be traveling (or I like to call it journeying) for a few months around the globe starting in January 2018. Can’t wait!

  13. Nita February 3, 2017 at 1:02 PM

    Doing a smaller version of this isn’t as difficult as one my think. My family and I took a 21 day vacation. We planned this every 3 years (a 3 week vacation over a holiday period that gave us more time off from work) and accomplished it 3 times. Now that we moved to one of the places we visited for our sabbatical, not taking off for another 7 years is the deal for us now, but we don’t mind since we are living where we’d want to vacation and although it’s not vacation, it’s a great lifestyle.

  14. Fiscally Free February 3, 2017 at 1:33 PM

    Do you have any advice for those with normal jobs on how to get your employer on-board withe these extended breaks?

    1. Fiscally Free February 3, 2017 at 1:35 PM

      I just re-read my comment and it seems a little aggressive. Not intended. I think regular sabbaticals are a great idea if you can pull it off.

      1. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 9:30 PM

        I think it’s mostly about timing and having the money set aside a head of time. Twice our works allowed us a month off of unpaid leave. Once was between jobs where we just took more time. And the last one Mr. Mt had to turn in his notice to get the time. We had a plan that worked out in him getting a number of really good job offers during our time off. And some employers, if you are in really good standing, with work you, or be open to rehiring after your time off. And the comment wasn’t aggressive at all. =) I want to do a follow up PDF that deals with those strategies.

  15. Financial Panther February 3, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    I love this idea! But question, is this something we can do even if we just work for the man? Most employers won’t let people just take a 1 year sabbatical (they should, but they won’t). My biggest fear is having trouble getting a new gig because of a 1 year gap. I suppose that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker – if you have skills you can get yourself a new job anytime, but we lawyers are a conservative bunch.

    1. Ms. Montana February 3, 2017 at 9:37 PM

      Mr. Mt had to resign to get this time off. But there are a few things that we did that made him even more employable. For one, he emailed all his professional associates in his field before he left to pass on the new contact info for his replacement, and his personal contact info. He said something like, “I will be taking a break because we are really excited to do…it’s been a dream for a long time. I look forward to continuing in….line of work after my year off. Of course, if some amazing job comes along before then, please feel free to pass it on to me.” And all of a sudden, everyone thought of him when jobs would come open. He had way more offers than he ever did while working. And better offers! Having a really solid financial cushion helped take some of the fear out of it.

  16. Jeff | VTX Capital February 3, 2017 at 9:11 PM

    This is incredibly inspiring! I can only imagine the awesome things I would do with a year off. This is the stuff they encourage us to go after in school.

  17. Physician on FIRE February 3, 2017 at 11:08 PM

    I’m looking to taking what we’ll call a sabbatical as soon as next summer. Of course, my job will be taken, and the sabbatical may become permanent, but we’ve set ourselves up to be OK either way.

    Cheers to living outside the box!

  18. ebene February 4, 2017 at 12:53 AM

    Very cool

    What camper did you get for that cheap that fit all you guys?

    1. Ms. Montana February 4, 2017 at 11:05 AM

      We actually ended up finding a large pop up camper with slide out for $4000. I wrote about all our trip expenses from our 6 week road trip here: http://www.montanamoneyadventures.com/6-week-road-trip-budget/

      The camper had 2 king sized beds (1 shared by me, Mr. Mt and the dog) (1 shared by our boys, 8 and 7), a full size bed (shared by our girls 4, and 3) and a twin that we set the baby bassinet on. Plus we could pull it with our mini van and got great gas mileage.

      1. ebene February 4, 2017 at 1:54 PM

        Do you know the name of the pop up?

        We have five kids too and have thought about this idea. I had no idea that a pop up could have so much sleeping room

        1. Ms. Montana February 5, 2017 at 9:39 PM

          I think it’s a fleetwood, coleman edition. But I’m not sure, and it’s buried in snow right now! Having the slide out really helps the space. It’s as heavy as our mini van would pull. But if you have a stronger rig, there are some really cool ones out there. http://www.forestriverinc.com/camping-trailers/rockwood-tent

  19. Kelly February 4, 2017 at 4:35 AM

    I think there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you plan it well and the experience is worthwhile. I’d definitely like to try take a month or two off to have this kind of experience.

  20. Daniel Palmer February 4, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    Great ideas- I really like how you’re putting your own spin on life rather than just living the life you’re ‘supposed’ to live. Personally, I think going back to work after a year off would drive me nuts, but that’s great that you’ve figured out what works for you!

  21. ZJ Thorne February 4, 2017 at 4:11 PM

    What a lovely thing to give your family and yourself.

  22. Dividend Growth Investor February 4, 2017 at 4:27 PM

    The idea of a sabbatical is a pretty neat one. It is amazing that you and your husband have been able to do things that really matter for you, using sabbaticals.

    At my wife’s work, they offer a month paid sabbatical after a decade of work. But after that she has to get back to work. This is where our saving and investing can pay off for an ultimate sabbatical that will last decades ;-)


  23. Chris @ Mindful Explorer February 5, 2017 at 2:51 PM

    Well done on setting your mind to creating the experiences Ms Montana
    Make a list and then start seeing what it will really take to accomplish it. Usually the only thing holding us back is the waste and inefficiency in our lives. if we are willing to give up the things that don’t matter in our daily lives then we can actually receive so much more through experience and self growth opportunities like a sabbatical.

  24. Daikuro @ SimplicityBlogger.com February 5, 2017 at 7:29 PM

    I love the idea. Unfortunately, not all jobs would allow something like this. I agree that it is important to take some time off work though for it will help you reset your mind and see what is important.

    1. Ms. Montana February 13, 2017 at 11:45 AM

      We were able to negotiate the 2 month long leaves. One we did between jobs, and one we had to quit a job to get. I think if people have saved up the money and are ready, a space might present its self.

  25. Darren February 5, 2017 at 11:32 PM

    “hiking the application trial?” – I want to know how I can hike that! ;)

    Great post though! Some stuff to think about, definitely.

    1. Ms. Montana February 6, 2017 at 11:11 AM

      Ha! =) You know it’s bad when 3 people proof a post and that still slips through. =)

    2. J. Money February 6, 2017 at 4:54 PM

      You have to submit your application and then we’ll tell you where you can put it ;)

  26. Mr. RIP February 6, 2017 at 5:35 AM

    Amazing post, I can’t help but dream about what I would do in next sabbatical.
    Problem with me, a FI seeker, is that a sabbatical now will postpone FI date by 3-5 years. Not sure it’s worth… but it’s tempting, it totally is…

    Btw, hiking the “application trial” made my day :D

    1. Ms. Montana February 6, 2017 at 11:13 AM

      I do what I can. =) Fortunately for you, typos are a strength of mine.

  27. Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto February 6, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    Ms Montana and J$!! Two of my favoritist people, together on one site! And, talking about how to enjoy life and take time off work!!

    All is right with the world today!

    Congrats, Ms. Montana. Great post. Really interesting to hear your “back story”, and your great advice on how others can do the same!!

    1. J. Money February 6, 2017 at 4:55 PM

      Glad you approve, good sir ;)

  28. laura ann February 6, 2017 at 5:37 PM

    If you have a gov. job or work for a company, they give you vacation time. Only the wealthy and self employed can take all this time off. Few can in reality. How do bills get paid then?

    1. Ms. Montana February 13, 2017 at 11:48 AM

      If you want to check out my free PDF, it can give some extra info on the practical side of saving up the money. I think it just takes time. If you are looking at taking a few months or year off in 10 years, then you don’t have to save a ton extra every month. Plus in 10 years, you might be able to create a good source of passive income. Over the last 15 years, our combined household income has varied between $30,000-$70,000 a year. And we have 5 kids. So I wouldn’t say it’s impossible on an average income. It just takes some intention.

  29. Mystery Money Man February 9, 2017 at 12:05 AM

    This is such an inspiring read, thanks Ms. M, and J$ for making it happen! I’m going to have to give the idea some thought, for sure. In my case, my employer would honour a 12 month leave of absence, but they likely wouldn’t guarantee that I would return to the same position or location.

  30. Mustard Seed Money February 11, 2017 at 8:27 PM

    Amazing post!!! I would love to take a sabbatical from work and clear my head to recharge and think about my purpose in life. I definitely will be pouring over your .pdf and doing some re-evaluating :)

  31. Stephonee February 12, 2017 at 10:41 PM

    This is awesome! I love this line of thinking. :D

    The “monthly nut” thing is a really great way to look at it. I was just looking at our monthly nut for comparison… big difference! We live in a high cost of living area (the same one as J Money, haha), so it’s going to be a pretty significant difference. And we’re somewhat okay with that, since we live here specifically because we couldn’t do the work we do anywhere else in the world, and we love it.

    Still, only $650 a month?!? Our health insurance alone (for mom, dad, and newborn baby) is more than that – and it’s a high deductible plan, so we’re paying for much of the care costs themselves on top of it. How do you manage to keep health insurance costs out of your monthly nut?

    1. Ms. Montana February 13, 2017 at 11:54 AM

      We lived out that way for a while too. There are some really cool work opportunities, but it is pricey. I was able to volunteer with International Justice Mission while we lived there, which was so amazing! We were really fortunate to keep our health coverage as part of a military retirement. We still have copay’s, and deductibles but not a monthly charge for it. I have to pay for dental, which is $60 a month. And Mr. Mt pays for life insurance. With everything else, we are really mindful of the monthly obligation. I would rather have lots of margin and extra cash for fun stuff than big bills, if we can help it.

      1. Stephonee February 14, 2017 at 9:48 AM

        That’s great! Thank you for the reply. I can’t wait until we find some way to reduce that health insurance cost – it’s our second biggest, after housing. Gotta tackle those big line items to get the monthly nut down!

      2. J. Money February 23, 2017 at 3:03 PM

        Never head of International Justice Mission until Googling just now – wow. Incredible organization!

        1. Ms. Montana April 4, 2017 at 5:24 PM

          They do AMAZING work! It’s a crew of the smartest, most talented and dedicated folks I know. I was amazed they even let me through the doors to be honest. =) They are all WAY out of my league.

  32. Kate @ Making it Rain February 17, 2017 at 1:13 PM

    Love, love, love this post! I first read about Tim Ferriss’ mini-retirements a few years back and realized I had already been unwittingly taking mini-retirements! My life and career have changed significantly since then, limiting my travel and mobility, and I have struggled with re-framing my time and priorities so that I can continue to include breaks and travel throughout my career. Having a solid planner like this one is going to be a HUGE help! Thank you!

    1. J. Money February 23, 2017 at 3:02 PM

      Nice!! Great blog name too ;)