Change, Memoir, Personal

Unpack Your Bags

In one of our women’s meetings at church, our teacher brought in a suitcase and rolled it around the room.

She asked, “How many of you have unpacked your bags?”

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She confessed that she has lived here for years and never mentally or emotionally unpacked her bags.

She said when we don’t unpack our bags, we live with one foot out the door. 

I wasn’t the only woman in the room thinking,”This lesson is for me.”

I heard women whispering, “This is for me.” And saw others nodding their heads as if it applied to them too.

Maybe carrying around our metaphorical packed bags gives us an escape clause or an excuse to hold back, and make fewer commitments.

The question then is what are we missing if we trek through life with a packed bag –always feeling like our circumstances are temporary?

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When we think we’re on our way out of a community, a job, a relationship, or any other situation or commitment, we automatically hold back and contribute less, which of course means, we get less.

Our teacher advised, “Whether you are going to be here for one week, one year, or the rest of your life–unpack your bags.”

I thought about that while walking one morning because sometimes I miss the familiar sights, sounds, and faces of my old life.

I wondered if after eight months whether I’ve unpacked my bags completely.

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When I see a friend volunteering at the White House Easter Egg roll or other friends going to Washington Nationals games; or groups of friends celebrating a birthday in one of my favorite restaurants without me, I get a little nostalgic — not desperately homesick like I made a drastic mistake in moving, just a little wistful.

While thinking about this on my walk, my thoughts were interrupted by the quacking of a beautiful duck floating in a pond, and then a chirp of a fascinating, unfamiliar bird.

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I stopped to look around and was awed by my new scenery.

I thought about the new sounds, places and faces I’m now appreciating, and I realized that unpacking is probably a process, not a one-time event.

Maybe we all need to continually work at unpacking because we don’t want to miss anything on our journeys, wherever those journeys take us.

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Brené Brown said in her book Rising Strong “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Sometimes it takes courage to show up, and it seems easier to live life with your bags packed, with one foot out the door just in case…

But, what do we gain when we choose that kind of timid, fearful, cautionary life?

I want to be like my friend, Laura, who has moved frequently, and after every move, has said, “That was my favorite place!”

Every place becomes her favorite because she fully unpacks her bags wherever she goes and she decides every new place and new experience will be her favorite.

I read about a military family that learned that the difference between misery and happiness is unpacking your bag and settling down—whether for days, months, or years.

They learned that if they believed they could be in a place for many years, they were happier. They invested more of themselves and in turn, had deeper relationships and better experiences all around.

This lesson applies not just to physically moving, but to all the areas of our lives where we hold back and carry around that symbolic tightly packed bag.

I love this bit of Buddah wisdom: “Be where you are…otherwise you will miss your life.”

Change, Personal, Uncategorized

Let New Adventures Begin

A “For Sale” sign is sitting on our front lawn.

IMG_6238Surreal.

I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C. area since I was a senior in college.

That was a long time ago.

I came here — like many others — for an internship on Capitol Hill.

And, I was smitten.

What better place to live for someone with a love of journalism, politics, and people?

When I got off the plane at National Airport, I watched for a woman named Claire holding a sign that said “Garn.”

Garn–  U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah — my new boss.

I had no idea then, at age 22, how that one summer on Capitol Hill would change the course of my life.

Coming from the dry climate of Utah, I felt like I’d entered a steamy sauna when I stepped out of the airport into the humid subtropical climate of Washington, D.C.

That was just the beginning of the changes I would experience.

Claire drove me to the U.S. Capitol, where, believe it or not, we drove right up to the front steps.

No security barriers needed then.

I got out and tipped my head back to take in the grandeur of that magnificent, historic building.

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“This is where you’ll be working. This is where it all happens,” she said.

Pinch me now, I thought.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

What did I ever do to deserve such a privilege?

All I knew is that I would work hard every minute of every day to be worthy of it.

From that moment on, I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.

So, how did this “For Sale” sign end up on my lawn?

I wish I had a clear and concise answer to that question.

All I know is that one minute I was telling Doug I’d never leave here, and the next we were talking to a realtor, preparing to leave.

We thought we would live and die here, and be buried in the quaint little cemetery up the street.

Until one day, that vision of our future changed.

It was like we were used to looking into a kaleidoscope at something clear and beautiful and compelling.

Because we liked what we saw, we never bothered to twist the cylinder and see the many other beautiful patterns that could be created.

Then, one day, for reasons we still don’t understand, we decided to twist the cylinder ever so slightly.

What we discovered was that all the bits of glass gently realigned, presenting a whole new pattern, and a reflection of light we’d never imagined.

Since we missed the old pattern, we kept twisting the cylinder, trying to get back to the one we knew so well — the one that felt most comfortable to us.

But it wasn’t there anymore. The beads, pebbles, and bits of glass were all different.

So we decided to examine the new reflection a little more carefully.

And, that’s how we ended up with a “For Sale” sign in our yard.

So, call us crazy, but if our house sells, we’re packing up our pioneer carts and trekking back across the plains to live in the high desert of Utah.

Oh, there have been tears — lots of them — and there will be many more, I’m sure.

How can you leave a place you love so dearly and not be sad?

Like Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

We’ve debated this move endlessly for months because it’s not just leaving a place that is our home, it’s leaving friends that are our family.

I’ve always loved the comforting counsel of  Gordon B. Hinckley. His words have led me through many transitions in life.

So, I’m trusting his words again: “Those who move forward with a HAPPY SPIRIT will find that things will always work out.”

I’m counting on that.

Maybe it will be like our friend Brian said — “Oh, everything will work out. You’ll love it. You’ll enjoy being with your family, and having a new adventure. Then, you’ll get it out of your system, and come back.”

Touché

But for now, there is a “For Sale” sign in our yard, and our lives could be turned upside down any minute.

Or, like one friend said, “Maybe your lives will be turned right side up.”

Yeah, let’s go with that for now…

Whatever happens, it will be an adventure.

So, we will work on our happy spirits, and look forward to new adventures.

In the meantime, anybody interested in a great house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.
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This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized

Weight Watchers Embarrassment

I’ve debated whether to share this embarrassing experience, but here goes…

Last week, I went to Weight Watchers.

That’s not even the embarrassing part.

After Weight Watchers, I went to the car repair shop, the grocery store, and Costco.

When I got home, I realized I never took off my Weight Watchers nametag.

Hello world! My name is Laurie.

I am a Weight Watcher.

I try not to advertise this because, for me, living the WW lifestyle is like slogging through mud.

Progress is slow and imperceptible, which makes talking about it very unpleasant.

Conversations go something like this:

You’re on Weight Watchers?

Yes

How much have you lost?

One pound

How long have you been on it?

A long time.

And that’s all you’ve lost?

Yes, thank you.

How much do you want to lose?

A lot.

How long is it going to take you?

The rest of my life and into eternity, thank you very much.

 Now let me back up to the Weight Watcher meeting that launched my horrible, no good, very bad day.

We were challenged to fit indulgences into our eating plan.

The logic is if you eat what you love, you won’t feel deprived and quit.

A lot of people said they eat a piece of Dove chocolate for their daily dose of deliciousness.

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I left the meeting determined to eat chocolate.

So now, let’s review what happened in light of the WW Chocolate Challenge.

First, at the car place, the friendly customer service guy told me his life story.

He’s part Iranian, part Turkish, and married a Latino. They have a five-month old baby girl, and said she’s a pretty good sleeper. He showed me pictures of her on his phone.

And, can you believe he hasn’t been to Turkey since he was two years old? He wants to go back soon.

As you can see, we established some rapport over the counter while discussing my wiper blades, oil change and tire rotations.

So, you think he might have mentioned the nametag, right?

No, he did not.

As I was leaving to get my loaner car, he said, “Do you want a snack from the snack room? We have some chips and candy bars.”

Remembering the chocolate challenge, I caved at the word “candy,” and took the fun-sized SNICKERS for the road.

But, wait a minute.

He saw my big old nametag, didn’t know about the chocolate challenge, and, still offered me candy and chips?

You call that good customer service?

I do not.

Next up is the grocery store, where, of course, I rose to the morning’s WW challenge and bought a bag of Dove Promises.

I can only imagine what that clerk thought as she scanned it, while noticing I looked like a Weight Watchers billboard.

Then there was Costco.

I wish I could say I ignored the old people in hairnets handing out food samples.

I did not.

I sampled a chip with guacamole on one aisle, a pretzel on the next, and ended with a sip of yogurt before I left.

Again, I can only imagine what people thought as they saw me stuffing myself with snacks while sporting that not-so-subtle WW nametag.

My errands ended up costing me a good number of WW points, and a lot of embarrassment.

But, wait, there’s more…

Later, that afternoon, Mr. Snickers Saboteur called to tell me my car was ready for pick-up.

“It’s very important to me that you give me a 10 on the customer service survey. So, is there anything else I can do to make sure you’re satisfied with our service?”

“Wait a minute. Did you see the badge I was wearing?”

“Yes.”

“So, you saw the WW nametag, let me leave still wearing it, and gave me a Snickers?”

“Um, yes, I guess I did. So, does this mean you’re going to give me a zero instead of a 10?”

“Probably.”

I hung up the phone and thought, “what’s the matter with people?”

It should be a rule that if customers come in wearing WW nametags, you should tell them before they embarrass themselves by eating things like chocolate and chips and guacamole while wearing a flashing neon sign that says, “I’m a Weight Watcher.”

No, that man handing out Snickers to Weight Watchers members is definitely not getting a 10 because if I blame him, I feel a little less embarrassed…

Just a little.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal

Blah-Grr

Dear loyal blog readers,

Lately I have been a blah-grrr.

As in, I feel too blah to blog.

Grrr.

I blame it on winter.

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I’m cold.

And, I’ve been mourning the loss of the Braverman family on NBC’s Parenthood.

I don’t watch much TV so it upsets me that the only show I really love ended.

I haven’t been able to think straight since Zeek’s heart attack.

Parenthood

Okay so that’s only part of the problem.

It’s also J-a-n-u-a-r-y.

Longest month of the year, well except for the supposedly shortest month of

F—e—b—r—u—a—r—y.

January means New Year’s resolutions.

Goal-setting.

I am tired of setting goals and trying to be better.

Let everyone else challenge themselves to “the next level” or “dive into their passions” or “live the life of their dreams,” or “maximize their performance.”

Whatever.

I’ve always been a fairly ambitious person and goals have been a big part of my life.

But, right now, my most ambitious goal is to put my sunglasses back in their case after I wear them so they won’t get scratched.

You. Think. I’m. Kidding.

Maybe aging is the culprit here but when I read things about setting big, hairy, audacious goals, I just want to take a nap.

In fact, taking an occasional nap seems like another good goal for 2015.

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So, there you have it, hold me to it, dear readers.

In 2015 I am going to take good care of my sunglasses and take a few naps.

I’m also not going to finish books I don’t like.

Too many great books in the world for me to suffer through the ones that only hold a vague promise of getting better soon.

So, goodbye to Anna Quindlen’s book Still Life With Bread Crumbs.

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Other readers may love you, but I don’t.

So you’re going to the donation bin so that someone else can try to love you.

And, I’m not going to have a weight loss goal either.

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Nope. Not this year.

If it by some miracle it happens, fantastic.

But it’s not a goal.

I’m not writing it down, posting inspiring quotes around my house or taping pictures of perfect women on the fridge to motivate me.

No siree.

No SMART goals for me this year.

I’m going to be happy as a slacker.

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My sister sent me the perfect quote to support me in my quest of slacker-ness.

“Dieting is easy. It’s like riding a bike. And the bike’s on fire. And the ground’s on fire. And everything’s on fire because you’re in hell.”

Got that right.

This year is going to be different.

Happy New Year.

I hope I’ve been a source of great inspiration to you all.

If not that, a dose of my reality.

About Me, Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized, Writing

Exploding Head Syndrome

I’ve ignored this poor blog a lot lately.

I could say I’ve been too busy, but that seems shallow.

Not too busy to buy Lucky Charms and comb my troll doll's hair to help us win at Beach Bingo
Not too busy to buy Lucky Charms and comb my troll doll’s hair to help us win at Beach Bingo

Writing is something I love. It’s therapeutic for me.

So, when I’m not writing, something’s up and I know I need to stop and figure out what is going on with me.

Happily, I’ve figured it out.

I’ve been suffering from Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS).

This happens when I take on too much and my brain gets so full that it feels like it’s going to pop.

Really — burst like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Except, not pretty fireworks.

I can’t write if my head is too full.

It’s like trying to knit but not being able to find the beginning of the yarn ball.

I can’t access one thought and follow it from beginning to end because my ideas are tripping all over each other.

I wish I could say this doesn’t happen very often, but that would be a lie.

I give myself massive headaches from this Exploding Head Syndrome.

One of my greatest strengths is that I am a creative idea person.

That also is one of my greatest weaknesses.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one whose strengths can also be their weaknesses.)

I fall in love with good ideas, and I hate to let them go.

Idea: plant more of these beauties
Idea: plant more of these beauties

I get attached to my ideas.

They are like embryos with amazing potential and they beg to be nurtured.

But, how many ideas in embryo can one human being nurture at a time?

I mean, really? One, two, ten, a hundred? Forty-two million?

At some point, it has to stop because I have more ideas than time and energy.

It’s humbling and embarrassing, because you see, I want to do too much.

I hate limits, time constraints, and boundaries.

To quote my Mom, “It gripes me to death.”

(That means it makes her really annoyed.)

Yes, it gripes me to death that I can’t keep up with myself.

To that, my mom would say, “You wear me to a frazzle. When are you going to learn to slow down?”

Never, apparently.

I wear myself to a frazzle, and that too, gripes me to death.

I told Doug the other day that it’s hard being me. (I probably said it in a whiny, tired voice too.)

He didn’t sympathize. He said we all have things that make it hard to be us.

That was a weird sentence, wasn’t it?

But, I like the concept… we all have personality quirks and core characteristics that make us crazy.

It’s not just me, right? Please tell me it’s not just me.

You have your own ways that make you crazy, right?

Is anybody out there? Come on, fess up. Make me feel better.

Is it as hard being you as it is hard being me sometimes?

I was cursed with a “go-go-do-do” personality according to my mother.

That can be good and bad, but right now, for the purpose of this blog, it’s bad.

Very bad.

It leads to neglected blogs, headaches, indecision, and having to have a serious sit-down with my overactive mind.

EBS symptom: after searching everywhere, you find the salt and pepper in the fridge
EBS symptom: after searching everywhere, you find the salt and pepper in the fridge

Imagine the comedy in my conversation with my brain.

Me: Enough already. You are driving me mad. Stop with the ideas.

Brain: I can’t. The ideas are so good. I won’t let them go. You can act on all of them. Trust me. We can do this.

Me: No. Trusting you leads to migraines and endless to-do lists that I could wrap around the globe in long, messy, unkempt strands.

Brain: We’ve got this. Just get up earlier, go to bed later, quit exercising. Forget about healthy eating. Why do you need to file all those papers, pull weeds, do your laundry, talk in coherent sentences anyway? We don’t have time for all that nonsense. We have IDEAS that demand our time and attention.

This could go on forever, this back-and-forth debate with my overactive brain.

Bottom line is a neglected blog means a cluttered mind and a stressed out woman.

Stressed out women need new pink shoes.
Stressed out women need new pink shoes.

A stressed out woman leads to decreased productivity, and probably decreased popularity because people don’t like being around or working with a nonsensical, I-have-another-idea but I-can’t-keep-up-with-myself-woman.

And before I have yet another thought for this blog, I’m going to stop writing.

I am going to think of my ideas like city buses.

They come and they go.

I don’t need to hop on every bus in town and ride it to every random place it’s going.

So if you see me standing at a bus stop waving, you’ll know I’m practicing my new let-it-go approach to life.

And, now you can start singing that Frozen song —Let it Go –because that is what I’m going to do because…

That is one good idea!

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir, Personal, Relationships

How to Survive Breast Cancer

If you’re a loyal reader of my blog, you know I can’t let October slip by without mentioning breast cancer.

 

It has to be done.

 

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and everything is pink.

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo credit: Deepatheawesome)

 

 

Everything.

 

Yesterday I went to my favorite bookstore in Buxton, N.C. and talked to my favorite bookstore owner, Gee Gee.

 

She calls me her “sister” because we share a history of breast cancer.

 

It’s good to talk to other breast cancer survivors. It helps me feel normal.

 

Let me clarify.

 

It makes me feel normal in my abnormalities.

 

If I’ve learned anything from Gee Gee and others, it’s that breast cancer is never really over. Yes, the treatments and surgeries can recede into the past but the scars stay forever.

 

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” I told her yesterday. She nodded her head, fully understanding what I meant.

 

“Have you read Alice Hoffman’s book about how to survive breast cancer?”

 

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I didn’t even know Alice Hoffman had breast cancer. Apparently she kept it a secret, at least to her reading “public.”

 

Gee Gee sold me the book at her cost. “My gift to you. You have to have it,” she said.

 

Gee Gee is a wisp of a woman, about 60 years old, addicted to reading, the sun, and bikinis. She swears she’ll wear a bikini until the day she dies, which won’t be for a long time, because she’s fiercely determined to live.

 

I brought the book home and read it immediately out on the deck while Doug and his handyman friend, Burt, tried to figure out how to get the fireplace ready for the winter.

 

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Hoffman’s survival tips are a little different from mine, so, I decided to share my own:

 

  1. Pray. Pray like your life depends on it because it does. Accept the prayers of others and believe they are being heard. Just believing that God hears your prayers and the heartfelt prayers of all your friends and family on your behalf breathes hope into your distraught soul.
  2. Read, study, and cleave to inspiring words. I read the Doctrine and Covenants, one of my church’s books of scripture. It gave me prescriptions for survival and helped me learn how to endure well, and how to feel God near me. I held tight to words like these:”For I will go before [you]. I will be on your right hand and on your left and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
  3. Let people help you in their own unique, wonderful, generous ways. And, see deep into their caring compassionate hearts and be grateful. The outpouring of love and support is life-sustaining.
  4. Ask for help. Realize that there is no quick or easy way out and you will only get through it by asking for help when you need it. I remember when my friend Cindy took Sara and I shopping for Sara’s Homecoming dress. I spent most of the time running into the bathroom because I was so sick while Cindy helped Sara. I never could have made that shopping trip without her.
  5. Have a vision to propel you forward. For me, I envisioned myself at the beach with my family. In the worst moments, I held on to that vision. I imagined the smell of the ocean, the sunshine on my skin, some soft hair starting to grow back on my head, and being out of the chemo fog, fully enjoying my beautiful daughters and sweet husband. My friends supported my vision by giving me beach gifts after every treatment. I came home to find flip-flops one week, a beach bag the next, books, and more to help me keep my vision clear in my mind.
  6. Listen to music that soothes your weary soul.
  7. Cry — loud and hard; and pound your fists on the bed to get out your anger and fear. Then, pray and ask God to carry your burden for a while.
  8. Get outside and move your body. Even if you can only walk to the mailbox, do it. Feel the sun bathe your tender, sore skin, and put one foot in front of the other.  Remind yourself you will not always feel like you are curled up in a tight ball.
  9. Decide what’s important. After a cancer diagnosis, your world suddenly narrows and you can only do what is essential. For me, if I could only do one thing a day, I wanted to go to Annie’s soccer game or voice recital or Sara’s cheerleading competition.  And I wanted to make dinner and eat with my family every night. That’s it. No time or strength for anything else. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray and made many 30-minute meals.
  10. Every time someone asks how you’re doing, say “Great!” Even if they look at you like they don’t recognize you because your face is so puffy and your skins looks jaundice or they see painful sores all over your arms and hands, just smile and act like you are fine. It’s the “fake it til you make it” philosophy, and it works.

 

If these don’t work, visit Gee Gee at the bookstore. She’ll lead you to a great book, call you her sister, and make you feel like she understands exactly what you’re going through. Or pick up Alice Hoffman’s book “Survival Lessons.”

 

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