It’s Just What We Do

florence_nightingale3According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, nearly a third of all practicing physicians are women. That’s no surprise. Because even though most of us are not trained medical professionals, we all have some sort of inherent trait inside us that drives us to take care of people. I don’t know why. We just do.

So some of us embrace that trait, combine it with intelligence, diligence, and a whole lot of education, and become doctors, nurses and medical technicians. The rest of us lack the formal education yet somehow become pseudo-nurses and care givers for our own loved ones, learning as we go along. It is a role we rarely ask for or even want. But we embrace it, combine it with our multi-tasking abilities and our Everyready Bunny energy levels, and do what we have to do.

I think virtually every RW I know is currently caring for special people in their lives who need them. It may be young children, who routinely need boo-boo’s tended, teens who need emotional guidance, handicapped siblings or cousins who need support, ill friends who need comfort, or aging parents or grandparents who need extra help.   No matter who it is, or what the need, we don our invisible Florence Nightingale costumes and jump in to the fray. And, I should add, this is all done while we are holding down jobs and family life.

Today was the perfect illustration of this R.W. Nightingale Phenomenon. I started my day talking to a friend at work about her trip the day before to get her son some specialized medical care and equipment. I heard from another friend about some health issues with her parents, and what she was doing to help them. At lunch time, I met my handicapped brother at the oral surgeon’s office to help him through some follow up work done after a recent surgery. After work, I picked up my son from a counseling session, and went home to tend to my husband who found out from the doctor today that he has pneumonia. The nurse at my brother’s assisted living facility called to have a discussion with me about his new medication. I texted with one of my BFF’s, who happens to be a doctor, who had come home after a more than 12+ hour day to take care of her family and check on her aging parents. And finally, not to be left out, I did a medical foot-bath treatment on my dog who has some issues with the webbing between his toes.

Certainly, as we get older, the medical needs of our loved ones, and even ourselves, increase. But this caregiving role is not reserved for us mature R.W.’s. I know several younger women who are either taking care of children with special needs or illnesses, or older generational family members who are aging and declining – and sometimes, they are dealing with both at the same time.

Every step of the way, we are learning, we are asking questions, we fumble along as we are having to make decisions, and we are trying to stay positive and strong because others need us to be there for them. Yes it is exhausting, often frustrating, and frequently stressful. But our care giving roles also complete us, fulfill us and make us who we are. Best of all, we have each other to lean on for support.

Tonight, as I texted my BFF, I told her that I was pouring myself an adult beverage, and I was taking extra vitamins. I thought that would be an effective combination for my evening. She texted back “as a Doctor, I approve.”

At the end of the day, we all need to take off the nurse’s uniform and believe that we are doing the best we can. And rest assured that we have indeed, in some small way, made a difference in someone’s life.

“I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”  — Florence Nightingale.

 

 

 

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Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…and benjamin, and jane and thelma and…

color-nail-polishBack in 1785, the English poet William Cowper wrote “Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.”   If Mr. Cowper could have seen into the future 200 years, I wonder if he would have changed that to “Variety’s the very spice of life, yet it overwhelms us in excess.”

In our modern world, we love having extensive choices and options all at our finger tips. Here in the United States especially, we are lucky and privileged to rarely feel that we are lacking in possibilities. It is a beautiful thing to be able to pick and choose everything from what we wear to how we spend our free time, to any number of goods we purchase.

Yet I wonder if at some point, when does so much turn into too much?   Simply walk down the breakfast food lane in a grocery store, and the cereal boxes literally run the entire length of the aisle. Is it really necessary to have so many options that it can take 15 minutes to make a selection? This past weekend I realized that the second place contender in the Ridiculous Quantity of Varieties race is the frozen meals section. The cooler units are bulging with cardboard boxes containing heat ‘n eat meals from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender, Swanson, and other brands I’ve never heard of. I found myself standing there, staring through the glass trying to pick out a couple to use as lunches for work, or for after school snacks for my son. Another woman came up behind me and I apologized for dawdling. She and I agreed that if there were just three to choose from, we’d be on our way much faster. When I was a kid, the only options were “tv dinners” by Hungry Man, Morton and Banquet. And they all basically looked like turkey or meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Speaking of food, one of the fastest ways to overwhelm me in a restaurant is to hand me a bound, multi-page menu. This really seems to be a trend at this point. Gone are the days of a single-sided laminated card with a handful of options. Now it is like opening up a bedtime story book with several chapters. Gosh, don’t feel pressured while the waiter is standing next to you, ready to take your order, and you are only on page 8 and have not even had a chance to narrow down your preferences. You finally make your selection, close the cover of the food novel in your lap, and then realize there are two supplemental publications on the table, telling tall tales of available beverages and desserts.

Of course these are all First World Problems, and we need to be grateful for all we have. But really, isn’t there some point where it just isn’t necessary to have more and more of something? This evening I decided to treat my sad stubby fingernails to a manicure. As I sat down, the nail technician handed me the available options of Gel Nail color. There were literally approximately 130 colors to choose from. And that was just for that variety of polish. It did not include the regular, acrylic, 3-D designs, and who knows what else. Come on, ladies, can’t we find a color we like out of, say, 50?  That would still be enough to choose a different color for nearly every week of the year.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m faced with so many options and choices, I start to glaze over. I start to long for the days when we had 4 TV channels, simple dinner selections, and a handful of cosmetics from Avon. I start to wish I had an angel on my shoulder who would whisper “pick that one”, and I’d be happy with that choice. I’m not sure if the multitude of possibilities in front of us every day is a sign that we all have a touch of ADD, or that we all are desperate to carve out our own unique style, or we just get bored really, really easily. No matter the reason, there seems to be no end in sight. Literally.

So rather than fight it, perhaps I need to channel my inner Mae West, and her famous assertion that “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

After all, tonight I chose nail color #102.

 

 

 

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We Are What We….

oreo thinsLike many real women, I put a fairly good amount of effort into trying to make healthy food choices. I eat lots of veggies and fruit, I avoid breaded and fried foods, I cook with low- or no-fat ingredients, I limit eating desserts, and don’t really remember the last time I sat down to a big ol’ bowl of ice cream.

But I’m no health food angel. I’m a snacker. I have a tremendous sweet tooth. Chocolate and I have had a love affair since I was a child. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a baked good that I didn’t like. You get the picture.

I am impressed by, and in awe of, you women out there who have the strength and willpower to adhere to strict diets of no fat, no sugar, no carbs, high protein foods. This is why you look thin and muscular and will continue to feel good well into your 90’s, and why I have a progressively developing “mom shape” and will probably go to the cookie counter in heaven much sooner than you.

What I have come to believe is that even when we try hard to behave for the most part, there are just going to be times in our daily lives when we have to understand that moods, environmental influences and self-control issues will drive us to make poor choices. And we just have to be ok with that.

On a recent chick’s weekend, one of my BFFs sweetly (get it? sweetly?) brought a package of Oreo Thins to contribute to our festivities. After all, we enjoy our treats, yet we all want to watch our girlish figures. Funny thing, the container was never opened. However, we did partake of a dinner out at an Italian restaurant, and some fresh baked brownies. I found out later that my BFF kindly left me the Oreo Thins rather than taking them home with her. Funny thing, the container has still not been opened.

Out of curiosity, I compared the label on the package of Thins with the label on the nearly-empty package of Double Stuffed Oreos that happens to be in my cupboard. (Gosh, don’t know how THOSE got in there!). Surprisingly, nowhere on the Thins package is there any wording that indicates they are lower fat, or better for you, than a regular Oreo. Just by virtue of being called “Thin”, my mind had assumed they were “healthier”.   I did determine that one could eat 4 of the Thins and consume one gram less fat and one gram less sugar than eating 2 Double Stuffed. Not a whole lot of difference. So really, the only thing being taken away is the white stuff in the middle. Who doesn’t like the white stuff?  If I’m going to make the choice to eat an Oreo, let’s go all the way.

Some time ago, my son and I were on a road trip together, and we paused at a rest stop. We went in to the convenience store area to get a beverage. I was tired of drinking plain water, and wanted something else. However, the selection at this stop was limited. My options were basically either highly sugared fruit drinks or diet soda. I was torn, and said to my son that I wasn’t sure which to pick, something with tons of sugar, or something with tons of chemicals. Without missing a beat, he said “Well, it depends. Do you want to get diabetes, or cancer?”   We of course giggled about this most of the way home.   Besides proving that he and I share a somewhat sick sense of humor, I realized he was right about my choices. If I was making a conscious decision to NOT have water, then I just had to be ok with my guilty selection of something unhealthy.

I was reminded of this today when I realized I was browsing the menu sign at Dunkin Donuts, trying to pick a healthy option. When I realized what I was doing, my internal monologue went something like this: “You realize you willingly came in to a place where the word DONUT is literally in the name, right? There are no healthy options. You have already selected a beverage that likely contains a week’s worth of sugar. Just pick out that big fat muffin calling your name, recognize your lack of willpower and move on.”

After making a less-than-healthy choice, I always do the same age-old R.W. bartering system with myself. If I eat this now, I’ll walk an extra mile or go to an extra workout, or I’ll eat a salad for dinner, or….. I love how I fool myself into believing that makes it all better.

Tonight my husband is away and it is just my son and me at home. I got home late from work. I am throwing a pizza in the oven and making myself a big salad. I figure if I eat more salad than pizza, I’ll be in good behavior mode. And at least I didn’t do takeout. Ah, yes, all in the name of balance.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally break out one of those Thins for dessert.

 

 

 

 

 

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Roughly Translated…

sticker,375x360We live in a world of cyberslang, internet acronyms, and a whole generation of youth who communicate via abbreviations, meme’s and emoji’s. Somewhere along the way, a new language emerged, full of LOL, BRB and YOLO. Nothing makes me feel older than having to ask my teenage son what a group of seemingly nonsensical letters means.

I have news though… that generation is not the only one with a secret language. We R.W.’s of a certain age have our own particular ways of communicating. We have a deep understanding of each other’s daily challenges, and have our own code phrases and words that we use as a form of support and commiseration. My BFFs and I have developed a few key idioms which if overheard may not make sense to our male counterparts. But we get it.

In the spirit of partial disclosure, I will share a few examples of our lingo here, which will sound quite familiar to just about any other R.W..  Some day, however, our dialect could become as rampant as Textese, and at that point, the men and youth in our lives will need a dictionary to keep up:

PC:    Translation: Plot Change!   Use: During a conversation, random thoughts or loss of words will create a diversion in the original direction of the discussion. Rather than stumble with apologies in losing track of what was being said, simply declare PC!  and move on. This is also a handy reference for all of the twists and turns we encounter every day in our busy lives and our sudden need to adapt to new issues and emergencies.

WLTSL:   Translation: We Live The Same Life.   Use: When texting to find out if a R.W. friend needs anything while you are out running errands, and you find out she has also just done the exact same stops at the pharmacy, grocery store, and Target. OR, you find out another R.W. is playing a similarly rabid game of beat the clock and you run into each other while ordering take out because there was just no time to make a real dinner.

INE:   Translation: It Never Ends.   Use: Somewhat related to WLTSL, INE represents the never-ending crisis management, personal calamities and time pressures we cope with. This is most widely used in reference to ongoing family emergencies and issues, like when caring for an elderly or disabled loved one, or having teenagers in the house.

WTEBAD:   Translation: Will There Ever Be A Day.   Use: When commiserating and venting, while wishfully looking toward the mystical future when everything will be easier. Examples: Will There Ever Be A Day when we aren’t tired? Will There Ever Be A Day when I’m not double-booked? Will There Ever Be A Day when we can be ladies who lunch?

ASA:   Translation: Another Sign of Age.   Use: When finding a new wrinkle or grey hair while looking in the mirror on a given morning, or trying to stand up after sitting for an extended period of time to discover your knees and back have seized up. Frequently followed by GOS: Getting Old Sucks.

And, finally, my favorite:

USM:   Translation: You Slay Me.   Use: When another R.W. has you laughing so hard you are glad to have worn a panty liner, or she has amazed you with some quirky behavior or idea that you are too shy to commit yourself. Variations include That Slays Me, and I Slay Me. Because after all, even with our challenges and craziness, life is funny. And sometimes we just crack ourselves up.

TTFN.

 

 

 

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The Dr. Will Be With You Shortly…

waiting-doctors-office-s3-medium_newThis afternoon as I drove to a Doctor’s appointment, I pondered on how no matter what type of doctor, or what type of appointment we have, the process is always pretty much the same. It could be for a routine physical, it could be for the flu, it could be for an injured knee, or like me today, it could be for a pre-colonoscopy consultation. (Oh boy, I can barely contain my excitement over reaching this milestone.) Whatever the reason, the experience yields few surprises.

After finding the doctor’s office, which sometimes can be a bit like a treasure hunt when visiting for the first time, there is the fun of finding a parking spot. I try to remember that since I’m going into a medical facility, it is healthy for me to walk from the far end of the parking lot.   The next step of course is entering the waiting room and checking in at the front desk. Most of the registration desks provide the staff with some sort of germ-barrier-security-privacy sliding glass window. I’m not really sure why. Is whatever they are typing into their computers, or discussing with each other, or filing in their drawers, really that confidential that they must be blocked from patients?   Do they realize we can still hear them? And if it is to protect them from germs from the sickies entering the room, as soon as they slide that window open, they are no longer safe, so that point is mute. Anyway, after the awkwardness of standing on the other side of the glass until they notice you, the glass is slid aside with that loose-glass-against-metal grinding sound. Then come the usual questions, confirming your name, address, birth date, and the request to see and make a copy of your insurance card. Soon the clipboard with forms to sign is handed through. You grab the clipboard and pen that have probably had at least 50 other hands on them that day, and go sit down to complete the paperwork.

If this is a first-time visit, you had better come prepared with insurance information, social security numbers, family story, list of medications, health history, blood type, great-grandfather’s middle name, what you had for breakfast, and your pet’s birthdate. Also be prepared to sign your name almost as many times as you would when buying a house.   With any luck, you’ll finish your paperwork with enough time to spare to take in your surroundings.

Most waiting rooms have some sort of sparse artwork, all designed to make you wish you were wherever the place pictured on the wall is, and not where you actually are. Some of the fancier waiting rooms have soothing bubbling fish tanks for your relaxation and enjoyment. I like to glance at the selection of magazines on the side tables, but rarely pick any up to look through – again, because I figure at least 365 germy hands have held them. I’m not germaphobic by nature, but hey – it is a doctor’s waiting room. Who knows what has been through there just before you.   I find it interesting to view the variety of publications, and issue dates. Recently I was in a waiting room for an appointment for my son, and they had National Geographic on the table – current issues. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a National Geographic, and started browsing. I realized that if someday I ever had the time to actually read through one whole issue, I would enjoy it. But that is kind of like reading a new novel every month.

The other interesting observation to make in waiting rooms of course is the other folks occupying the same space. It is a microcosm of people all there for their own reasons and needs. Today when I arrived, there were only two others in the room. One was an elderly man reading one of the available magazines, the other was a man who had fallen asleep in the corner. I took that as a bad sign. Either he had been waiting so long to be seen that he had drifted off, or the person he came with had been inside for a long time. Or, maybe, this was the first chance he’d had to sit down and rest all day. I totally get that.

Eventually someone (generally a female nurse or technician) opens a door and calls your name. After passing through the door, the very first thing they all seem to wjoke13ant to do is make you step up on the scale. I hate this part. Really? Must I? I step up and instantly start trying to calculate how much my clothing and shoes must weigh to make myself feel better about the number that appears.

From there, you move to the inner sanctum, the exam room. The nurse runs through your information yet again, and checks vitals. Off she scurries, and there you are. Waiting. Alone. With even fewer magazines. Often while you are wearing a baggy johnny with a back draft. Tick Tock. You listen for noises outside in the hallway to try to guess if the footsteps and voice you are hearing could be the doctor. How disappointing when you hear the doctor enter the exam room next to you, and not yours. There have been times when the office is so quiet, I have begun to wonder if they forgot I was there. How long should I wait?   Should I poke my head out the door? What if they pack up and go home, will the cleaning staff find me still sitting here, swinging my feet, reading about diseases on the infographics on the wall?

Finally, the doctor hustles in, lab coat and stethoscope swinging. That moment has arrived when it is “all about me.” However, this by far will be the briefest portion of the entire experience. Exam done, questions answered, and the doc is on her way. After you’ve gathered your belongings, you become a bit disoriented leaving the inner sanctum because you didn’t notice so many doors as you came in. Following bread crumbs and signs, you find your way back to where you started. Time to check out, pay up, and schedule the next appointment. From this angle, the staff members at the front desk are no longer protected by sliding windows.   Must be they figure once you’ve made it that far, privacy is no longer needed. They know everything about you by now anyway, just as you’ve likely heard about what they had for lunch and which new computer system is giving them issues.

Eventually, you are on your way. As you put on your coat and find a safe place to put your appointment reminder card, which you know you will lose anyway, you feel like you accomplished something, and are hopefully feeling better. I took care of myself. I’m all set until the next appointment. Yay me. 

Then you realize you have just used up 2 hours of PTO for a 14 minute exam.

 

 

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Ready for Bed?

go to bed

Last night while my hubby and I were watching House of Cards (we are only on episode 5 in the new season, so no spoiler comments please!), there was a very brief scene showing Frank and Claire, in their oh-so-dysfunctional-way, going through their before-bedtime routine. It made me think of a great scene in the old movie Sleepless in Seattle, where Meg Ryan’s and Bill Pullman’s characters are very methodically going through their preparing-for-bed process. The song playing in the background is “Making Whoopee”, while they act like a stereotypical old married couple, going through their usual paces, not even speaking, before calling it a night.

We are all creatures of habit, and we all have certain routines we go through without even thinking about it – especially at the end of the day as we prepare for bed. The steps we take become ritualistic. Mess with the process, and our whole night’s rhythm can be thrown off.

In our house, when my husband is ready for bed, he heads upstairs. Like a typical real woman, that is my cue to make my last rounds. I get the dog out for his last pee stop, blow out the kitchen candle, do any last chores like switching laundry into the dryer, confirm that the doors are locked, shut off the lights, make sure the garage door is down, and check on our son.

But that’s just the start of the ritual. By the time I get upstairs, my husband is usually already in bed, either asleep, watching TV, reading, or getting his last Facebook update. Once I’m finally ready to truly get prepared for bed, I have a 7-step process, which I do in the same order, every night, without fail. (Don’t laugh, I know you all have your own procedures too. )   I brush teeth, floss, take my medication, wash my face, brush out my hair, pee, and moisturize.  I never leave a step out. Unless, of course, there is an issue like I’ve run out of floss. Since I’m a bit fanatical about my dental care, that throws me off, and I just don’t feel right. It ruins my whole bedtime feng shui. So you can bet there’s always a spare roll of floss in the drawer. Don’t mess with my routine.

Of course, once we actually climb into bed, there are other routines – like reading, tv watching, and… um, other activities. Which can also follow a certain routine. But I’m not going down that road here, because this isn’t that kind of blog. (sorry).

So we all have our rituals — our regular, every day processes. Does this mean that we are boring? We lack excitement? We are robots? On the contrary. We spend the majority of our days reacting, rushing, worrying, deciding, hurrying and solving. We need our moments when we don’t have to think. When we don’t have to hurry. There is comfort in the routine, there is a calm in the mundane.   It is our way of letting our brains and our bodies prepare for shut down.

It is easy to take our daily routines for granted, and not give them a second thought. But in a world that is too often in chaos, too often in the grips of fear or loss, when so many are battling illnesses or disabilities, or God Forbid, falling victim to atrocities, we need to embrace “boring.”   Let’s be thankful for even the little things. Tonight, when I retrace the same steps I take every night, when I kiss my son’s head, when I get ready in a clean and well lit bathroom, when I happily use my floss, and when I get to crawl under the covers in my comfy bed, I will be thankful for what I can do, and what I have.

Even if it is just a silly routine.

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Celebration or Ambivelance?

ShamrockI’m a bit ambivalent about St. Patrick’s Day. I have nothing against it. But I don’t whole-heartedly and excitedly embrace it, either. I figure this is mostly because, as far as I know, I have not one drop of Irish in me. Other than by relation to my husband, who has enough Irish in him to enjoy a glass of Jameson’s with his annual plate of corned beef and cabbage. I’m quite sure that if I was Irish, I’d be all in and I’d celebrate this festive day full throttle. After all, I’m still waiting for someone to create Swiss-Scottish-English-and-whatever-else day – or, perhaps, let’s just make it Melting Pot Day, so the rest of us who are made up of a veritable cornucopia of cultural backgrounds can all have a “celebrate my heritage” day.

I appreciate the festive nature of those who do make this day special. I join along to a certain extent, by donning one of my only green blouses for the day, and by allowing my kitchen to smell like cooked cabbage. But otherwise, I consider this day of celebration to be just that – a fun day for those who want to make it fun, whether they are Irish or not. It is not a holiday. It is, like many others, an Excuse Day. It is one of those days of the year, like Halloween, Valentines Day, and Mother’s Day, where we have the “excuse” to have some fun, relax a bit more, dress funny, drink or eat more than usual, or profess our true love as if it is any more important on that special day than any other. It is an excuse for us Real Women to kick into high gear with our creativity. It is also an excuse for retail establishments to make more income off of cards, flowers, gifts and candy. Or, in the case especially of St. Patty’s day, for the liquor stores and bars to raise their profit margins.

Although they aren’t truly “holidays”, I do think there is tremendous value in these celebratory days, no matter to what extent we each get into celebrating them. People seem to treat each other a bit kinder for 24 hours.We smile and accept each other no matter how we are dressed, or how we are acting. Our focus shifts, even if just briefly, from daily challenges like dreary weather, stress and worries, to things like shamrocks, hearts, flowers, and special dinners.

Sometimes, life events can happen during these days that can change how we feel about them. Natural disasters, crimes, illness and personal hardships can happen no matter what the calendar says, and can dare to mess with our fun. Our automatic reaction when things go bad on an Excuse Day is to withdraw from the festivities and happiness. We begin to resent those who are still having fun and partying, or may even resent the day itself. All too easily we can let Celebratory Day become Sad Day, Sour Day, or Angry Day. And we risk losing the boost we so desperately need.

One year ago, my dad passed away. On St. Patrick’s Day. Now forever to me, this won’t be just St. Patrick’s Day. It is also unfortunately an anniversary of the day this earth lost an amazing man. And as much as I’m tempted to sit home and wallow in sorrow, and be angry at every green-beer drinking, leprechaun-looking happy person, I realize that is not the right thing to do. Even though my Dad was mostly Scottish, with no Irish blood in him either, he really liked this day. He was always happy to have a reason to party, to have fun, to get together with friends, to celebrate an Excuse Day. Would he want me crying and moping around the house? No way. Would he want me to do something like put on a silly sparkly hat, laugh a lot, pour a good drink and make a special meal for dinner? You bet he would.

Similarly, many years ago, my mom passed away two weeks before Christmas. Devastating? Yes, completely. But losing her then didn’t mean I should spend every future Christmas draped in black with a big bucket of bah-humbug. Quite the opposite. My mom embraced Christmas on a turbo-sized level. She decorated every inch of the house, she reveled in the cookie making, the gift-giving, every bit of the holiday. One of the very last things I did with mom was put together an Advent wreath. I remember her telling me that I needed to do most of the work on it because it would be up to me from now on to continue the tradition. At the time, I didn’t want to believe her. I didn’t want to accept that cancer was winning. I wanted to believe she’s be around for a whole lot more advent wreaths. But she wasn’t. And I know that what she really meant was “don’t you dare give up the fun and the celebration.” So I haven’t. I have continued to carry on her tradition of embracing that holiday on a turbo-sized level. I love it, and I think of her in everything I do, hoping she is having fun watching me.

And today, I had a very similar feeling as I did my best to pretend that I’m just a little bit Irish. As I scooped up the corned beef and poured myself a drink, I felt my Dad grinning from ear to ear. Sure, when bad things happen on happy days, we need to take time to mourn, or repair, or gain strength. But then we need to allow ourselves the chance to find joy in silliness again, take comfort in the friendliness and smiles of others, and use those Excuse Days for a bit of an escape from every day normalcy. 

“The more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”   – Oprah Winfrey

 

 

 

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