Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017

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Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!

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With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?

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Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!

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Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.

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Logged this geocache find!

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Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.

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Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.

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Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.

 

Why I’m biking in Iowa for cancer May 5, 2017

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Excited to be part of the team!

Twenty years ago this month, I walked into a clinic as a carefree 21-year-old three months shy of graduating from college. I walked out stunned and terrified as X-rays of my achy knee revealed a tumor growing in the lower part of my left femur. Less than three weeks later, I started chemo for osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. A surgery to replace part of my femur and tibia with titanium, my hair falling out, 13 months of chemo, hundreds of days spent in a hospital bed, 40+ blood transfusions later, I walked out of the hospital a cancer survivor.

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My life had dramatically taken a different direction than planned. Facing your own mortality at 21 forever changes you. In the past 20 years, so many lessons have been learned, challenges faced and overcome, tears shed, and laughter bubbled out. Part of this 20-year journey was becoming an advocate for other people touched by cancer. From mentoring patients to meeting with legislators in Lansing and DC to speaking about young adult survivorship around the country, I am blessed and grateful to be alive to help others through their journeys. While a cancer diagnosis will always bring fear, uncertainty and anxiety, I hope to be able to help alleviate a little of those feelings by making sure programs, services and support are available to everyone.

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Which is a big reason that I’ve supported LIVESTRONG for many years. LIVESTRONG provides a multitude of programs and services to people affected by cancer (Read about some of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs). Many of you know I was so excited to be selected as a LIVESTRONG Leader volunteer this year, allowing me to take an even more active role in advocating for cancer survivors.

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So I decided that, in recognition of my 20-year cancer diagnosis and my

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Miss this sweet man.

commitment/belief in LIVESTRONG’s mission, I’m joining Team LIVESTRONG in a week-long bike ride across Iowa in July. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, is the world’s oldest, longest and largest recreational bicycle touring event. Thousands of people from around the country and world attend this annual event. You bike from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, camping at host towns each night, enjoying music, food, drinks and great company.

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For the past decade, LIVESTRONG has participated in RAGBRAI, usually hosting a team of 70+ cyclists who raise over $100K each year for these important programs and services. This year, the route is a mere 402 miles, the third flattest and shortest route in RAGBRAI history. I simply laugh when people say this! That is still a LOT of miles to bike! The first day is 62 miles (one moment please while I take some deep, calming breaths….ok, I’m back). My surgeon and I decided that I won’t ride every day, as it’s too much on my left leg with the titanium. Our goal is three days and if my leg feels good after a rest day, I can add another.

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Logging some miles to prep!

If you read my blog about my lovely new road bike, you learned about my experience with Team LIVESTRONG at RAGBRAI last summer and how each member touched by heart and inspired me. From the other survivors to the caregivers to those who lost someone dear to cancer to those who rode just because it’s for a good cause and fun….these people are why I’m registered. And besides, 2017 is My.Best.Year.Ever. So why not bike across Iowa??

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Some of this ride is admittedly personal. Before cancer, I ran miles, rode horses and rarely backed down from a physical challenge. Cancer rocked my world in so many ways. Today, I am consciously aware of the rod in my leg and risks associated with hurting that leg (including losing it). Cancer can still, 20 years later, flood me with anxiety, sadness and frustration. Some days I have to turn from watching someone ride a horse, run, play tennis because I miss these so much. But I know how fortunate I am to have both of my legs. I focus on what I can do – ride a bike, hike in the woods, have dance parties and so much more.

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So in July, I’ll ride to remind myself that cancer can never take my determination, strength, laughter and love of life. I’ll ride for the hundreds of friends who make my tribe courageous and full of life, the many friends and family who cancer took too soon, and my sweet, brave dad who continues to be my hero and always in my mind and heart, even if cancer robbed us of him.

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If you want to support my (crazy) endeavor, please consider donating to Team LIVESTRONG via this link. Any amount supports people affected by cancer. To add a little fun (because life has to be full of fun!), every $10 donation increment will get your name entered into a drawing to win a bag full of Michigan-made goodies (think Saunders, Better Made, McClure’s, etc) from me. I’ll even ship so no need to be local.

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Thanks for your support and being part of this journey with me. Now I’m off to ride a bike!

 

Perfect book for history and horse lovers April 20, 2017

PerfectHorsebookI’ve been addicted to fiction books lately, as it’s sometimes nice to escape to new worlds and other ‘people’s’ stories. But when I was walking through the library the other day, a nonfiction book cover caught my eye and made me pause in the aisle. Many of you know that I’m a major horse lover so when I saw the cover for “The Perfect Horse,” with the beautiful head of a white horse along with military troops, I was intrigued. I’m happy I was!

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If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy the book as it takes place during World War II. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy this book as it tells the story of a daring rescue mission to protect some of the world’s priceless, purebred horses from the Nazis.

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“The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Betts is a true story of how Hitler sought to breed the perfect military horse by gathering some of the world’s finest purebreds. The book tells the tale of U.S. Army troops who took huge risks to rescue these horses at the end of the war, before the Russians, refugees or others could slaughter these horses for food or other.

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I found the book fascinating from the start. You learn about the different horse farms in Germany, Poland and Austria that bred Arabians and Lippizzaners. I loved learning about the prestigious and historic Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which has practiced classical equitation for nearly 450 years. The book also shares the history of the U.S. cavalry and their role in military actions.

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As much as I’m a horse lover, it was also horrifying to read how the Nazis looked the other way as millions of people were murdered while horses were treated with kindness and warmth at farms not far from concentration camps. It’s sickening to read how the Germans wanted purebred horses as much as purebred humans and would stop at nothing to accomplish this. I also was fascinated by the loyalty and duty many of the veterinarians, grooms, riders and farm managers felt for these horses, as they considered the horses national treasures. The book chronicles the decisions and challenges the farm directors faced while the war raged around the farms and the Germans began to lose.

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The book shares the stories of the many American troops who played a significant role in rescuing these horses from the Germans and before others could harm or kill the animals. These horses were among the finest purebreds in the world so it ultimately was important to try to rescue them as the war ended. To do this, Americans, Germans, Polish and other countrymen worked together to protect the stallions, mares and foals. Overall, this was a well-told story and interesting book.

 

A few miles at a time reaches a goal April 9, 2017

bikeshoesGarminbottleSometimes our good intentions go….a little unplanned. For instance, I had plans to get up with the sun today, after a rainy, dreary week, to be on the bike trails so I could ride some good miles. However, those good intentions didn’t go as planned because I wrenched my back yesterday and could hardly move by the time I went to bed.

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So I woke up, iced my still hurting back, drank a cup of coffee and watched the beautiful sun rise in the clear, blue sky. And took some Motrin, rub a cream on my lower back and put on my biking clothes. I thought I could ‘just try it.’ If my back hurt too much on the bike, I promised myself I would stop. And instead of the planned 20-30 miles, I set a goal of five. Instead of the bike trail, I stayed closer to home in case it got too uncomfortable.

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You know what? My back felt great! I cruised through a new neighborhood I recently discovered, enjoying the early morning hour that kept the streets fairly quiet. My body felt so good that my Garmin registered 10 miles before I knew it. I decided not to push my luck and headed home. Off the bike, I was pretty sore so I showered, iced my back again, stretched, ran errands, ate lunch….and decided to head back out on the bike because my back was feeling a little better and had felt fine on the bike.

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So I rode another 10 miles. This time was a bit more difficult as the wind had kicked up Rubybikeso it took more energy and effort to get the miles done. But I did it. I got home, stretched my legs and back, iced my back. I relaxed, read some of my current book, talked with friends….and got back on my bike. This time I did stick with five miles! And admittedly, the five miles might have pushed my back a little too much. I’m pretty tight and sore tonight.

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But I’m proud that I was still able to hit my mileage goal. It was a good lesson of breaking down a larger goal into smaller, manageable goals. It was also a good reminder that we need to listen to our body as to what we’re able to do, be happy with what we can accomplish, and not beat ourselves up if we don’t quite hit the original goal.

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I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and accomplished whatever goal you set!

 

10 activities for a fun girls night in April 5, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 4:00 pm
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I love my girlfriends. I love spending time with them, individually or as a group. I, of course, adore my guy friends too, yet there is something special about being surrounded with strong, funny, smart women. I’m fortunate to have many of these women in my life, women who build each other up, provide support, encouragement and love. These women cheer for me when things are going well, and hug me when things go south.

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I have girlfriends from all walks of life. Some who I’ve known since childhood, others I met in college, and others entered my life in the past few years or even months. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize the importance of maintaining strong relationships with many of these friends, and also come to understand that some friendships fade over time and it’s okay to move on. I cherish each as they touch my heart and teach a lesson in their own way.

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I’ve enjoyed many adventures with girlfriends over the years. From international getaways to road trips up north (northern Michigan, for you non-Michiganders!) to visits at the local coffee shops, there is laughter and fun to be found all over. And there’s also lots of fun to be had staying in for the evening. I recently enjoyed a fun night in with a small group of girlfriends, indulging in food, music, facials and girl talk. It was a wonderful night of connecting with friends and the much needed relaxation and laughter recharged my soul.

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Staying in with friends is an easy, cheap opportunity to have fun and connect/catch up. There are so many activities to enjoy so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. The biggest catch to a relaxing night in – ditch the technology. Leave your phone in your purse and instead tune into your friends. One of my favorite parts of my recent girls night in? Not one of us reached for our phone the entire night, ensuring that we were all tuned in and focused on connecting with each other.

  1. Cook new recipes. Sometimes the hostess will try a new dish or we each bring a dish to share.
  2. Choose a theme. Plan a spa party, fiesta night, ’80s theme. You can plan food, decorations, games and more around the theme.
  3. Wine tasting. Have everyone bring a bottle of wine to sample. You can even make it a theme, such as from certain locations (Michigan, Napa, etc.) or types (white,  Cabernet, Riesling, etc.).
  4. Facials. Who doesn’t love getting pampered??
  5. Games. There’s everything from cards to board games to video games and even ‘made up’ games (and drinking games if it’s that kind of night!).
  6. Movie night. There are some great girls’ movies! You can go ‘old school’ with movies like Dirty Dancing, 16 Candles, Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink. We also like Sex in the City, any Melissa McCarthy movie, Love Actually or sappy romances such as The Notebook.
  7. Plan an activity. Make cards, a holiday craft or vision board.
  8. Dance party. You all know I’m a big fan of music and breaking into random dance at any moment while I’m at home (or anywhere).
  9. Girl talk! My favorite of girl time is catching up on everyone’s lives. It’s a great time to reconnect. We always touch on topics across the spectrum, from love to career to celebrity crushes to hair styles to family to laundry detergent to recipes to exercise to favorite travel spots to lingerie to…..well, I don’t need to spill it all. You get it. Any topic is up for conversation.
  10. Pillow fight. Okay, I’m just kidding. I know some men reading this are wondering about the pillow fights that girls supposedly have at all sleepovers or gatherings (how did this idea ever start??) so I had to throw it in.
 

Riding into spring April 2, 2017

HHBike32017It was a long, physically tiring week. I pushed my leg (with a titanium rod) too much and the days of rain didn’t help. I felt exhausted enough that I assured my body a weekend of rest if I could get through it. And I had very good intentions to honor that assurance. Except then I didn’t. Because it was SO beautiful this weekend! Sunshine, warm temps, no rain, soft breezes. How can a nature lover be expected to stay indoors and not be active?? I needed some fresh air to clear my mind anyway.

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And Ruby needed some loving. Um, yes, Ruby my bike. It’s been a few weeks since we shared a ride so today seemed like a wonderful day to get fresh air, test Ruby’s gears, and stretch my legs. The great news is that despite my leg aching all week (I mostly blame this on the ongoing rain and chilly temps, not the heavy lifting), it felt fine while riding. No pain, no ache. And I didn’t completely beat myself up….I stuck with a shorter ride of 10 miles. I didn’t even wear my cycling shoes so there wouldn’t be any pressure on my leg when I unclipped from the pedal (although my brain must be wired to clip now when I ride Ruby because I caught myself doing the motions every time I came to a stop! I’m sure I looked funny to passing cars).

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I recently discovered a nearby neighborhood and school are great for biking. The school is empty on the weekend and has a large parking lot and straightaway so I like to do some loops as I practice higher speeds, turning quickly and clipping/unclippping (not today). The neighborhood is usually fairly low on traffic, which makes it safer for biking. It was wonderful to see so many people outside enjoying Michigan’s spring weather. Neighbors were doing yard work, children were playing basketball and riding bikes, dogs were lounging on the lawn. I love this time of year when people start venturing outdoors and become a community again.

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It’s supposed to rain again this week so I’ll be sure to give my body some rest time. As long as Mother Nature doesn’t change her mind……

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What fun activity did you enjoy this weekend?

 

Celebrating 20 years of life after cancer March 30, 2017

Filed under: Cancer Tips,Life Lessons — Heather @ 8:05 am
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Find joy and peace in life.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that my 20-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis occurs in May. I usually celebrate my cancer anniversary as the day I finished treatment, free from hospitals, chemo and the terrifying weight of that disease (there’s still a weight but different than going through treatment). Recognizing my diagnosis is important to me too. Cancer changed my life. For better and worse. I was diagnosed at 21, on the cusp of becoming an independent adult, with all the excitement and hope for life that only a young adult can truly muster. Facing a disease will change anyone’s outlook on life but when you’re a young adult who doesn’t really know anything about the real world, it sets your life on a completely new path. For better and worse.

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Since it struck me that it’s been 20 years, vivid memories have come rushing back (of course). I recall the ache in my knee that taunted me sporadically for more than a year, yet I kept canceling doctor appointments because college fun (um, and studies) kept me busy. I hear the quiet warning in my head wondering why my knee was hurting more consistently. I can feel the stunned anxiety and stir of fear when the doctor at the urgent care center explained my knee x-ray showed a possible tumor. I remember the guilt of making my parents and sisters worry so much and assuring them that I would be okay, then sobbing in fear in the privacy of my bedroom. I see myself holding a basin as my nurse started my first chemo drip (it took a few more days to begin puking my guts out from the poison). I feel my hair falling out in clumps. I know the determination of making my leg muscles work again so I could walk after surgery replaced my femur with titanium.

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Through these memories, many others also surface. The kindness and determination of my surgeon, oncologists, nurses and medical team. The outpouring of support and love from family, friends and even strangers who saw a bald young woman on crutches for so many months. The bonding with other cancer survivors. The deepening of an appreciation for the simple things in life (fresh air, blue skies, flowers, hugs, pressing my face into a horse’s mane, the kiss of my little niece, eating without throwing up). The strength and courage that grew in my heart. The new love of life that blossomed in my soul. The friends who came into my life, thanks to cancer, and who touched my heart in ways I will never forget. The adventures and opportunities that have arisen from being called a cancer survivor.

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Travel to fun places, like Ireland!

I recently wrote of advice that I would share with my 21-year old self as she underwent chemo and surgery. Someone once told me that I should ‘move on’ from cancer. That’s a tough thing to do since I AM a cancer survivor. I didn’t ask for the title but it’s part of who I am. And, frankly, I am so very thankful to call myself a survivor because the alternative sucks. Cancer impacted my life, for better and worse. There is no doubt.  My entire life path changed due to my cancer diagnosis at 21, then again when my dad died from the disease. But I can’t say that it’s been all bad. Maybe that’s because I won’t let it. My attitude, thoughts and actions have tried to be positive and purposeful. It’s the best I can do. Throughout the past 20 years, I have learned some positive lessons. I share some of these with you as we walk through life:

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  • Give thanks every morning you wake that you are alive to enjoy another day. Count at least three blessings before bed. There is always something to be grateful for in your life.
  • Laugh as much as possible. Laughter really is one of the best medicines.
  • Surround yourself with positive people (and yes, you can still be a realist and positive).
  • Smell the flowers. Even the stinky ones. Flowers are a beautiful symbol of new life.
  • Be active. Find an activity you enjoy and do it. Moving your body keeps you healthy, physically fit and helps you enjoy life.  I stay as active as my leg allows and have found many activities that I enjoy so don’t feel like I’m working out!
  • Don’t skip regular doctor appointments and preventive screenings, including skin, colorectal, cervical and breast cancer screenings.
  • Embrace love. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Take a chance, knowing that love, even in fairy tales, isn’t always easy. But it will be worth it when you find the right person.
  • Travel outside of your hometown, current city and state. Learn about other cultures.
  • See a live play or musical at least once at a community theater, on Broadway, wherever. Appreciate the talent, story and magic behind these performances.
  • Have dance parties – with yourself, friends, kids, pets. I usually was the first one on the dance floor at clubs during college, which is surprising when I think back since I was incredibly shy any other time. Even now I catch myself dancing while cooking in the kitchen, at work when I need a break (behind my closed office door!), folding laundry, hanging with my nieces and nephew, or whenever the urge hits. Just get lost in the music and fun.
  • Know that it’s okay to fail sometimes. The greatest lesson is what you learn.
  • Take lots of pictures and be in lots of pictures. Capturing great memories, trips, people and moments in your life can bring joy in the future. While I have hundreds of pictures on my smartphone and digital camera, I also print and frame many of my favorite memories and people to see throughout my home. I love walking by those frames and smiling at the reminders of those moments.
  • Volunteer in your community. Helping others is, of course, the right thing to do in today’s society (at least in my humble opinion). We are all fortunate in our lives in one way or antother so I’m a believer that we ALL can give back in some way. People need to know there is kindness still in the world. Plus, helping others often helps yourself – it brings gratitude and joy. Trust me.
  • Pay attention to politics. Decisions are made by a small number of people that greatly affect, both positively and negatively, millions of people. Including you and me. Know what’s happening in your local community, in your state and at the federal level. Don’t be afraid to contact your elected officials. We still live in a democracy. They work for us.
  • Make peace with the people who hurt you. You don’t necessarily have to verbally say it, but at least learn to let go of anger and hurt. Forgiving someone ultimately heals you and allows you to move on with freedom and an open heart.
  • Face your fears. We often learn great lessons by recognizing why something or someone stirs fear and uncertainty. Fear sometimes is the red flag that we need to pay attention, and other times, it’s a hindrance to great success, happiness and love. Listen to your emotions to determine why you feel the fear and then face it.
  • Be okay with alone time. In a society that makes it easy to be connected ALL THE TIME, it sometimes feels like my brain is always connected and overloaded. I need quiet time to regroup and refresh my brain and emotions. I love nothing more than having ‘me’ time to read, hike, bike, write, garden or even simply sit on the deck feeling the warmth of the sun and soft breeze. Whether I’m single or in a relationship, I need that ‘me’ time every so often. I think it’s important for everyone to appreciate alone time.
  • Learn something new every month. Try a new recipe, practice some words in a foreign language, read a book, play the guitar or piano, visit an art museum, listen to a new band. Whatever your interests, expand your knowledge and you’ll expand your fun and enjoyment of life.
  • Make friends of all ages and backgrounds. When I make a mental list of my friends, it pleases me to know they fit into an incredibly wide age bracket, have varying education and professional occupations, are talented in a variety of activities, are both genders, married and single, children and childless, and have experienced a myriad of life circumstances that make each person unique and special. They all bring such different perspectives of life and fill my heart with different appreciation.
  • Appreciate your life. We only get one body and one life. Make the most of it. Enjoy every day. Choose joy, love, kindness, happiness and hope.
 

 
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