How to Put a Bad Day in Perspective

What could have been a wonderful Sunday simply wasn’t to be. In fact, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The morning schedule looked all clear, so I rose early to attack a photo project for a relative. Sitting at my desktop computer at 7 am, I started scrolling through photos to make my selections.

And then, I heard a tree fall – this time not on my home — saw a bright flash and watched the computer screen go dark.

photo (7)It’s not unusual, on this heavily wooded island, for tree branches to fall on power lines. So, three or four times a year, we lose our electricity source – usually for 12 to 18 hours, but sometimes for several days, and once for a full week.

I knew what the day held: no computer power, no internet, no hot water.

I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I checked the newspaper’s weather report, and noted that the torrential rainfall should continue for several days.

So, the plants I purchased at Home Depot would spend another day in their plastic containers. The weeds would have another week to flourish in the garden. The lawn’s edges would remain ragged.

Walking past the laundry room, I realized that I had forgotten to move the crammed dark load from the washer into the drier. It would remain soaked for another day.

Fortunately, my cell phone was working. So, I texted my oldest son, who is awaiting knee surgery that will derail his college football plans, at least for the near future. I feel terrible for him, as football has served as a wonderful focus for his energy and dreams.

Next, my daughter and I drove to the health club to shower and get ready for our National Charity League chapter’s senior celebration. (While it was a hassle to haul everything to the gym, we do recognize we are fortunate to have somewhere to find warm showers, blow driers and bright lights.)

The luncheon was lovely, I went to a chocolate tasting afterwards, and our family later enjoyed a dinner out together. The day was definitely on an upswing.

Back at home, we settled into the living room, turned on the gas fireplace and read books by candlelight. It actually felt wonderful to unplug for an evening.

And then the call came: news that a young man we know had died suddenly. My heart aches for my son, who was good friends with the guy, as well as for his parents and our community at large.

Images of this young man are vivid in my mind. I can see him at our kitchen table, where he sat for countless meals and discussions about life. Whenever he entered our home, he filled every room with his positive energy, charm and broad smile. He was, as one friend just said, “a big teddy bear.”

Suddenly, the power outage, the rain, the musty clothes and the delayed projects seemed incredibly trivial. This young man will never see another day, and his family will never feel whole again.

My day was just a tough one, and some days are like that. Even in Australia. At least I have the promise of tomorrow.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 5 May 2014
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I Walk in My Mother’s Socks

Note: Permission Slips is grateful to present this guest post by Lisa Bell Pachnos, a Chicago-area native, Northwestern University graduate and mother of three in New Jersey. She wrote this in August 2012, nine months after her mother, Sue Bell, had died. (The photo is of Lisa and Sue.)

Towards the middle of her life, my mother became a fitness freak. Beforehand, when I was a child, she told me that she rarely gave a thought to exercise. “My legs were just there to hold up the rest of my body,” she told me on a day when I had complimented her on the muscles that were now bulging from her calves.

blog - lisa and momOnce she began an exercise regimen, my mother was remarkable in her dedication. She rose before dawn most days and drove herself to the fitness center. Or, on days when she elected to stay at home, she could be found in the basement lifting weights, rolling on an exercise ball, executing complicated lunges or using the elliptical trainer. Even on weekends at Lake Geneva, she worked out with an exercise ball in the living room or took brisk walks around the neighborhood. Amazingly, she could carry on a conversation while in the midst of these exertions.

All of us have a part of ourselves, physically, in which we are disappointed. For my father, it has always been his thighs (a story for another time). For my mother, it was her “tummy.” Try as she might, she could never achieve the six-pack abs that she desired. Years later, it was that awareness of her abdomen that alerted her to the cancer growing inside of her long before it would have been detected by someone less self-aware.

Now, nine months after my mother passed away, I treasure everything that I inherited from her, such as jewelry, clothing, trinkets, and strangely enough, some of her socks. Oddly, it is the socks that I use the most often and that evoke the strongest memories.

Unlike many people, I find summertime extremely challenging. While working from home during the school year has countless benefits, working from home during the summer months creates stress. It’s a constant tug-of-war between the needs of my children and the needs of my workplace. Person time is fleeting at best.

So lately, to carve out that time, I have been donning my mother’s socks and rising during the gray light of dawn. I stride outside in those socks, plus my own sneakers and other clothes, of course, and start walking along our quiet street. Occasionally, I am joined by other two-legged creatures on bikes or on foot. However, I am usually accompanied by critters with four legs or wings.

This quiet time allows me to plan my day, ponder my weaknesses, make notes to myself–which I email to my computer via my phone–and otherwise breathe.

I am grateful for the lessons my mother continues to give to me — even through something as inconsequential as the socks she wore during exercise.

– Lisa Bell Pachnos, for Permission Slips, 28 April 2014
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Who Wants Less Stress and More Happiness?

This Huffington Post article provided a great jumpstart to my day. I’m moving forward this morning, more mindful of reducing my stress and increasing my happiness. My guess is this info graphic will do the same for you:

Enjoy your day!

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 23 April 2014

Doggone It

Many of you read Carol’s recent post announcing her hiatus from Permission Slips blogging (click here if you missed it).

I miss her already, and suspect that our loyal readers do, too.

Blog puppyCarol’s life is very full, raising the new puppy pictured here, managing a family that includes four children, ages 13 – 21, coaching the local high school’s JV girls tennis team, serving as an adviser to several start-up businesses, helping out with her family’s organic farm and playing tennis as often as she can.

I don’t know how she found the time to blog at all.

However, I think Carol enjoyed writing about the world around her. She is much more interested in politics, brain development, local government and sports than I am, and I believe readers enjoyed “hearing” her unique perspectives.

Personally, I liked it best when she wrote from the heart. Some of my favorite “Carol Posts” are listed here (click on the titles to read each post):

Carol and my friendship dates back more than a dozen years. Back then, our children were enrolled in the same Montessori preschool, but it was rare for parents to interact as many were dropping and picking up children on the way to and from work.

In early 2000, Carol’s third child attended my third son’s birthday party at a local play space. She approached me and said, “Everyone keeps telling me we need to get to know each other. I see you’re pregnant with your fourth child [due four months later], and I just found out I’m pregnant with my fourth.”

We immediately understood each other.

Since our kids are roughly the same ages, we started crossing paths more and more – at first-grade basketball games (her daughter was the only girl on the team), T-ball practices, PTA meetings, swim club events and while pushing full carts down supermarket aisles.

Our families became fast friends. After all, who else would invite a family of five or six to dinner?

And then, we started taking “Girlfriend Getaways” together (click here to read about one of our trips). This photo was taken on our Blog carol linda paris2005 trip to Paris, when I had my “mommy braces” (friends from Paris and London are at the photo’s right side).

After our third getaway, in response to friends who kept asking, “How do you do it?” we conceived of a book promoting and explaining the concept.

We attended a publishing conference in New York, secured an agent and met for hours each week to write our book proposal and sample chapters.

While our proposal was well received, publishers told us the timing wasn’t right – in the midst of a depressed economy – for a book about non-essential travel with friends.

So, we retooled our idea several times, and eventually decided to write a blog about frazzled women like us. We fine-tuned the blog’s concept as the time passed, and decided to keep it going as long as we were having fun and had something to say.

Three and a half years later, I’m still not sure where PermissionSlips is headed. We have a stable base of readers, get great feedback (mostly through emails and live conversations, not necessarily in the blog’s comments section) and seem to come up with fresh ideas each week. But I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort to expand the readership or try to turn the posts into a book.

Nevertheless, since I have made a career out of writing, I’m not ready to stop blogging. At the same time, I do get tired of hearing myself “talk” every week, so would really welcome submissions from others. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please let me know. The only requirement? Clear, concise writing that promotes some kind of “permission” (usually relating to the idea, “Give yourself a break.”).

And, please, if you have ideas for future posts, but don’t want to write them yourself, let me know. My goal is to make PermissionSlips as “user-friendly” and interactive as possible, for as long as I have the energy to keep it going.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 21 April 2014
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Would You Work 24/7 for Free?

Love this now-viral clip, showing job applicants learning the requirements for the Director of Operations job many of us hold:

Yes, it’s a bit dramatic, but it does make an interesting point. Now, I’m not suggesting parents should get paid for their work at home, but no one minds a little acknowledgement…

-Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 17 April 2014

Heading Home

It started with the realization that my kids’ spring break aligned with my second son’s lacrosse game schedule. We could travel to Ohio for two Saturday games – and even a mid-week one, if we wanted – and spend the rest of the week visiting friends and family nearby.

Using the frequent flier miles and hotel points my husband has accrued through his travel-dependent job, we could enjoy a low-cost, multi-city trip away from home.

However, at some point I realized that “home” was at every stop along the way.

At my son’s college, it’s clear that after a somewhat bumpy year, he is finally acclimated and determined to stay for the duration. His younger brother, following a night in the dorm, seems surprised – and a bit awed: “Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him! His friends say he’s already a legend.”

I know that when my son stays in our house this summer, he will miss his new home.

food carts nycWhen we arrive in NYC, where I lived from ages 21 to 31, I take a deep breath and think, “I’m home.”

My New York home is full of yellow taxis, blaring car horns, crowded, stinky subways, thick accents, food carts, chewy bagels, brusque shopkeepers and honest, straightforward people. Strangers who strike up conversations on the #1 train. A deli owner who complains that his son is slacking on the job. Street performers who pull onlookers into the act.

Home in New York is friends who leave work early and take busses and trains to meet me for a drink. Friends from my first journalism job, my long-surviving book club, my summer rental in Connecticut. Friends who literally watched me grow up, stood beside me all the while and still offer love and support.

A few days later, as we drive to my hometown from O’Hare Airport, I think, “No, this is home.” The familiar yellow-brick bungalows. Super Dawg’s French fries. Dunkin’ Donuts.

My childhood house has belonged to other families for 30 years. My mother’s apartment still does not feel like home. My brother’s house – which once belonged to a high school friend – is a bit more comfortable, but still isn’t home.

Evanston has changed significantly over the years. The Central Street Baskin and Robbins shop, where I learned to scoop ice cream and count change, disappeared long ago. So did Herdrich’s, the Fotomat, Mr. Meyer’s shoe store and Uncle Ed’s grocery.

The Prudential bank, where I established my first account and procured my first set of dishes, is now a Starbucks.Field's clock

Marshall Field’s, where we purchased special clothes that weren’t available in the Sears Catalog, was converted to condos, a restaurant and small shops years ago. Betty’s of Winnetka, where we searched for Cotillion and Prom dresses, is gone.

I walk around as a stranger in a strange land. I don’t bump into people I know. I’m not familiar with most of the restaurants and stores.

And then, my niece leads me to Bennison’s bakery, where I used to buy chocolate donuts and smiley-face cookies on the way to the YMCA for swim team, gymnastics and Y-club meetings.

The donuts and cookies taste the same. The Y still stands.

Early one morning, my oldest and dearest friend – who I met when we were babies – joins me at the hotel for breakfast. Talking with Ann is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. They fit just right. They’re comfortable. They know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.

The waiter appears at our table, and smiles in recognition. He’s the same server that has brought my family orange juice during at least 15 annual visits. His warm smile feel like home.

The following day, another wonderful old friend drives in from Chicago for breakfast. As always, we speak openly and honestly about our joys and challenges, our dreams and disappointments. My daughter, fresh out of bed, stops by our table. “Did you know I met your mom when I was your age?” Chris asks Pea. Again, home.

rocks skylineThat afternoon, several family members – both Evanston- and Seattle-based – walk to the lakefront. After an excruciatingly long, cold, snowy winter, the sun has finally made an appearance. Northwestern students cavort in shorts and T-shirts. Birds chir and squirrels scramble for food.

Chicago’s impressive skyline emerges in the south.

We stop at the large rocks that line the coast. The same rocks I had played on as a child, waiting for a turn on the sailboat. The rocks where my friends and I congregated as teens, where I sat with boyfriends and then, years later, watched my own children play.

Some of the rocks bear graffiti affirming couples, announcing feelings, marking occasions. They have been painted and repainted over the years, and yet, still tell the stories of many decades, of the passage of time.

It is then, and there, that I realize my home is not just located in one city; my home is where I feel strong memories and the love of forever friends and family.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 14 April 2014
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Despicable Mom

I was going to write about my daughter’s upcoming 14th birthday, an auspicious event that — I hear from many sources — will grant me entry into the “Despicable Mom” club.

Apparently, it happens all over the world. One day these darling little girls want to share information with their moms, try on their fancy dresses and high heels and act like little mommies when playing with dolls.

And then, poof, they wake up one day and hate all things related to motherhood. Especially the women who brought them into the world.

These formerly sweet young things roll their eyes. They sigh with exasperation. They question Mom’s fashion sense: “You aren’t going out wearing THAT, are you?” They embark on secret lives that take place via texts, Instagram posts and Snap Chats. Sneaky lives that depict Mom in a very unflattering light. They slam doors, leave tried-but-failed outfits in heaps on their bedroom floors and lock themselves in bathrooms for hours. At the school lunch table, outside lockers and in bus lines, they gather to discuss how stupid, mean and unreasonable their mothers have suddenly become.

If you don’t know a 14-year-old girl that fits that description, you haven’t looked very hard.

“Girls have to go through it,” my own mother said when I mentioned my dread. “Otherwise they would never move out. And you don’t want that, do you?”

Absolutely not. I love Pea enormously, but I do want her to go to college, launch a career, accomplish her goals and live happily ever after. Somewhere else.

My boys are very independent and the two that have entered college are doing very well…today. So, yes, I’m all about them moving on and out.

However, as it turns out, I may have a little more time with Pea by my side.

On Saturday, when my husband, Pea and our youngest son, Bodie, arrived at an 1830-ish bed and breakfast in Ohio, I looked at the fading woodwork, clouded windows and jagged rooftop and said, “Oooh, I hope it isn’t haunted.”

That was enough to send a certain super-mature, ready-for-makeup, high fashion and high school young lady into tears.

“I am NOT staying here,” she announced, planting herself, and her suitcase, in the middle of the root-rumpled sidewalk.

The rest of us mounted the steps and rang the bell. Pea reluctantly followed.

Our host, Tom, was anxious to tour us through the house and share a bit about its, and his late wife’s ancestors’, history. We learned about the vintage furniture, books and china, the house’s additions and the fact that the large eating area once served as an infirmary for the doctor who lived and worked there. Think Downton Abbey during World War I.

“Think about how many people must have died in this room,” Bodie said to Pea.

More tears.

Later, Tom told us he had been running the place alone for a decade, ever since his wife had died of a heart attack. In her sleep. In that home.

That was the proverbial last straw. Pea was ready to call a cab and find her own lodging. However, the $8 in her backpack wouldn’t have taken her far.

We climbed the stairs to the third floor, where we had reserved both bedrooms, each with a double bed and a single cot. The knotty pine floors creaked, the rafters had developed cracks, the upholstered chairs sagged and the wallpaper was just starting to peel.

I loved it all.

After we dined with our older son on the college campus, we decided to leave Bodie with him, to attend a party and sleep in his dorm. So, that left Pea with her choice of three beds, after my husband and I grabbed one of the doubles.

“I am NOT sleeping alone,” Pea stated. “After all those people died here, I’m sure their spirits are haunting the house.”

So, the three of us slipped on our jammies, climbed into bed and turned on the TV, which was showing “Modern Family.” Ironic, isn’t it?

It took about 45 seconds for my husband to fall asleep, and, after several minutes of jostling for space, Pea and I followed.

And then, in the middle of a deep slumber, something…or shall I say someone…woke me.

“I woke up thinking it was morning, but it’s only 11:30,” Pea said. “Now I can’t fall back asleep.”

“Well I can, and I will,” I replied.

“No!” Pea hissed. “I don’t want to be the only one up.”

So, a solid hour of tossing and turning ensued. Ain’t jet lag grand?

At some point, I whispered, “It’s too crowded and hot in this bed, and your dad is snoring. I’m moving to the other room.”

“Please, no,” Pea pleaded. “I’ll lie still.” She changed from her sweatpants and brand-new college sweatshirt into a t-shirt and shorts. Then she started poking at her father.

“Roll over. You’re snoring!”

Welcome to my world, Little Miss.

After being nudged one too many times, Dad grunted and moved to the cot. Pea spread into his former spot, and quickly fell back asleep.

I did not.

Soon after, I heard sirens in the distance, and wondered if my too-young-for-college-parties son was okay. I lay awake, waiting for a distress call from one of the boys.

Pea started snoring.

Yes, I’m ready for a little distance, and even a dose of temporary dislike, from the kids.

Linda Williams Rorem, 7 April 2014
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Blog It or Not?

When we conceived writing Permission Slips back in the “old” days of 2010 we had only a vague idea about blogging. Social media was an emerging avenue of communication and the term “Blogger” was not widely used nor understood. Digital media outlets were not even considered legitimate journalism by traditional news organizations. However, the numbers of readers and writers exponentially exploded and could not be ignored. Finally, in 2012 the Huffington Post became the first blog to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the tide turned permanently.

We found blogging to be an accessible, democratized way to share stories. Without a publisher operating as a gatekeeper, we had unfiltered freedom and loved it.

In preparation for our blog launch we interviewed dozens of women and medical experts in-depth. During this process we observed an unhealthy behavior pattern. Women were running themselves into the ground in an all-sacrificing quest for the sake of work, community and family. This common pattern negatively impacted their mental and physical well-being and relationships. The doctors we consulted were seeing this pattern emerge at an increasing rate in their practices and were alarmed.

Thus, our blog mission was born. We decided that through our writing we would give frazzled women permission to take better care of themselves. The feedback was positive immediately. We heard not only from women, but also from men who shared our blog with their wives, girlfriends and mothers.

The stories seemed to resonate and aid the navigation of life’s road bumps, challenges and joys.  It should come as no surprise that health, parenting and friendship have been our most popular topics over the years.

While we don’t receive loads of public comments on our site, we do get many heartfelt emails from readers each week. Some letters are long enough to be blogs in their own right. We believe this is indicative of our ability as writers to bring up universal topics that hit a nerve. Our readers may be active on Facebook and Twitter but they prefer to “share” their personal journeys privately.

In 2010, Linda and I wrote topics together. Eventually, we split off and used separate by-lines to aid our own freedom of expression and give readers a little variety. Readers have said they enjoy this format.

In the past few months I have been admittedly a little off-mission in my writings.

I felt a little burnt out and took some delightful side trips. I enjoyed blogging about the Olympics, Seahawks and other topics that are perhaps not top-of-mind for frazzled women. This has amounted to one giant permission for me to display my personal passion for sports. I am pretty certain that a few readers who decided to follow our blog after reading some of these stories are wondering why the masthead is pink.DSC00174

Today I am giving myself another permission – to take a break from blogging. Linda will take over most of the writing and I will guest blog on occasion. Thank you Linda for being a great editor and mentor. I must owe you private tennis lessons for life by now.

Thank you so much readers for all your “likes, ” encouragement and thoughtful emails through the years. I have truly enjoyed getting to know you.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 31, 2014

Spring Into a New Year

Last week marked the start of my favorite season, the appearance of sunnier skies and fragrant flowers, the 23rd anniversary of my marriage and the approach of Easter. For me, as for most people, springtime initiates deep cleansing and fresh starts.

Beautiful sunrises, clear skies and fresh air provide renewed energy and lead to more positive outlooks.

hyacinthsHouse windows open, letting in the scents of blossoming flowers and budding trees. Birds appear on windowsills and chirp as they fly to their new nests. Children squeal with delight while playing in their yards. Neighbors emerge from their homes and chat as they stroll in the evenings or work in their gardens.

Store shelves burst with gardening supplies, birdseed, short-sleeved clothes, Easter baskets and jelly beans.

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to Nowruz, the Persian/ Iranian New Year, which is celebrated on the first day of spring, commemorating the rebirth of nature. As the sun crosses the celestial equator, bringing night and day into balance, it seems a fitting time for fresh starts.

Apparently Nowruz has its roots in the religious traditions of Zoroastrianism, which dates back to the 6th century BC and later influenced Judaism, Islam and Christianity. According to Wikipedia, “the religion states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay.”

Preparations for Nowruz include a major house cleaning (Khouneh Tekouni – shaking of the home) and the purchase of new clothes and spring flowers, such as hyacinths and tulips. It seems spring cleaning is a universal concept.

In addition, Nowruz promotes time to honor family and friendships with short visits and gifts. Wikipedia tells me that “whatever a eastercandyperson does on Nowruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Nowruz, then the new year will be a good one.” I grew up with similar versions of that concept: “Do unto others…” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

When my friend told me about this Persian high holiday, she showed me her family’s Haft-Sin – or seven S’s – table display. The array includes seven items, all starting with the letter “S” in Persian, symbolizing such virtues as age and patience, love, affluence and health.

I like to think of spring as the start of a new year, too. A new year of marriage and life, with a clean home, a colorful garden and thoughts of health, happiness, patience, love and good deeds, I wish the same for you, dear friends and readers.

Oh, and I give myself – and you – permission to dip into the jelly beans a bit early. I’m already on my third bag.

Linda Williams Rorem, 24 March 2014
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College Admissions Hunger Games

Over the next few weeks thousands of high school seniors across the country will be receiving news of college acceptances.  Some students will be elated after getting accepted by their first choice school. Others will be heartbroken after receiving a “no” from their dream school.  Both students and parents will try to make sense of a selection process that can appear quite arbitrary.

They have good reasons to feel this way as highly selective schools have thousands more applicants than slots available leading to the oft repeated mantra in college admissions communications, “Sorry, we reject more qualified applicants than we can accept.”

There has been a simultaneous escalation in the number of applications received by schools and the number of applications prospective college students submit. The phenomenon is driven by a system that equates college value with selectivity measured by a low admissions rate.

Since colleges are incentivized to drive up the number of applicants they deploy a variety of tactics to achieve this goal. The most basic tactic is advertising to students via glossy brochures and post cards after obtaining home mailing addresses from PSAT, SAT and ACT test registrations. Schools may also entice applicants by waiving fees or sending a partially complete application that requires merely a signature. The college doesn’t need to care about the quality of the applicant, simply the grand total of admissions solicitations

It is no wonder that college admissions are starting to feel like an academic “Hunger Games.” Colleges select “Tributes” from different “Districts” guided by student application “targets” and admission “yields.” There is no denying who the “Victors” are in this scenario – the schools and college admissions advisors – not the students.

The students incur the expense of applying to multiple schools with admissions rates that border on a lottery-style chance of winning. In 2013, schools such as Stanford and Harvard accepted only 5.7% of students who applied in a pool of 35,000 to 38,000 applicants. Happy college admissions games, the odds are never in your favor.

Exacerbating the matter, the phenomenon is no longer exclusive to private universities. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) received an eye-popping 105,000 applicants for admission to the fall 2014 freshman class.

The college admissions business is further fueled by the proliferation of private for-hire college admissions consultants and coaches. While many parents are happy to delegate the stress of the process to a non-emotionally vested outsider; the use of coaches may only serve to feed the monster. After all, counselors benefit by demonstrating the admission results of their clients. They are able to capitalize on parents’ lack of time and fear that their child will not “get into the best school.”  A recent article in the Huffington Post claimed that “In 2013, 26 percent of all college applicants — three times as many as in 2003, hired a “private admissions consultant” or an “independent educational consultant (IEC)” to assist with their college applications.”

The new era of college admissions can seem daunting and perhaps a bit discouraging at first but there is hope.  I am on my third round in this game. After observing my own college-aged children and their friends only one thing seems to hold true. If a student is happy and has found a good fit at their college they will thrive regardless of the institution. Go ahead and open up those emails from college admissions offices in the next few weeks and don’t take it as a self-worth referendum. The happy and satisfied adults I know have many traits in common – the one they don’t share is where they went to school.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 17, 2014

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