International Day of Happiness 2015 – Friday, March 20

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Rev your happy engines, because March 20, 2015 is the official “International Day of Happiness!”

You can visit the official site here.

On the website, they have a downloadable document of ways you can enjoy and contribute.

Here are few suggestions:

  • Do something kind for others
  • Volunteer
  • Get to know your neighbors!
  • Look for the good in others around you

There are a ton of ideas of how to get involved in fun ways on the official site (linked above). Follow the hashtag #happyacts on Twitter for even more inspiration and ideas!

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 

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Sweet Dreams! Sleep Awareness Week™

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It’s already that time of year again: spring forward, or Daylight Saving Time. This is not the fun one, where you gain an hour – but the dreaded one, where you lose an entire hour of sleep. Boo.

This past week was the official Sleep Awareness Week™ – a campaign for public awareness of the importance of sleep.  I’m not going to argue with the value of that, but I think most of us already know how important a good night’s rest is!

Still, it’s a great idea, and their website has some great sleep tips and tools you can use, so check it out!

I used to battle insomnia, so I’ve got some handy tricks up my sleeve I’d like to share with you as well. My repertoire is one that uses all the senses, so let’s approach it like that.

Sight

This one is very hard for me, but I can’t lie, it helps!

If you can shut off the TV or computer an hour before you go to bed, thus giving your eyes a much-deserved rest, your body will be in a much better state in which to relax into sleep.

Sound

If you’ve never tried audio recordings to help you get to sleep, you are in for a treat! Try a variety of sounds while you rest, such as:

  • Rain falling on a roof
  • Ocean waves
  • Forest sounds
  • Soft, classical music
  • White noise

In today’s world, you don’t have to get in your car, drive to the mall and find a “record store” (in quotes because nobody says that anymore) to find something like this.

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You can download single tracks, albums and apps right onto your phone, so you’re always set for a good night’s sleep.

And of course, there is my standby favorite, guided meditation downloads specifically geared for getting to sleep. I’m always telling people to try one – they are quite simply miraculous!

Taste

Try some calming hot tea before bedtime (not too much, you don’t want to have to wake up to relieve yourself, or that defeats the purpose!).

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Make sure it is naturally decaffeinated herbal tea for best results.

My favorite hot tea in the whole world for bedtime is aptly named “Sleepytime Tea,” by Celestial Seasonings. All of their teas are divine. Even if you don’t consider yourself a tea person, give it a try. I didn’t think I was until I found this brand.

I love tea so much now that I even enjoy Earl Gray tea, which I thought was disgusting when I first tried it 20 years ago. Still, nothing can keep me from my full-octane-nuclear-strength coffee in the morning. Woe to the person who steps between me and my beloved Kuerig, which doses me by the hour.

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My children have memorized the mantra “don’t make eye contact with mom” – they know this by heart as a rule to abide by before I have my first cup of joe in the morning.

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Pure freshly laundered cotton sheets were a given when I was a child. Maybe that is why I never put up a fuss about bedtime, because my bed linens were blissfully soft and comfy.

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Today, even when I try to purchase “fancy pants” sheets, they just don’t have the same feeling.  I stole some from my mom, I admit. Shhh, don’t tell her.

I did some web searching and found this interesting post that addresses this topic, with some tips and ideas. I’m bookmarking it for when my mom finds out I took her extra sheets.

So find yourself the best, comfiest bedding linens you can – they don’t have to be expensive (from what I hear – see that post above), but even if they are, save up, because getting a good night’s rest is worth the investment.

A good mattress is important as well – but I find that to be a boring topic, and I figure if you need a new mattress you can do what I do and just Google some reviews online.

Smell

I am a sucker for linen sprays – I love them so much, I can’t even begin to tell you how obsessed I am with them.

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I received some lavender linen bed spray as a gift at least 20 years ago, and that is when my addiction started. You can find bed sprays in every scent imaginable, but I’d advise you stick to the ones that will actually calm you.

If you purchase one with an invigorating citrus scent, do not blame me when you can’t sleep (but you can send it to me if you don’t want it – I’ll just spray it everywhere else).

Here are some of my favorites.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling Martha Stewart-like, I’ll even make my own – it’s pretty easy actually!

Nighty night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite

What sick person came up with the “don’t let the bedbugs bite” part of that little ditty? Seriously, that’s just cruel. It caused me some anxiety growing up. Bugs? What bugs? There are bugs in my bed?

I just leave that part out and tell my kids “night night, sleep tight, angels watch you through the night.”

May the angels watch over you tonight as you try out some new methods to get a good night’s sleep!

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If you have any ideas, tips, recommendations, please share them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 2, 2015 is Read Across America day

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“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” – Joseph Addison, author

Head’s up everyone – or, should I say, heads down, into a book? Monday, March 2 is “Read Across America Day,” inspired by Dr. Seuss. He would have been 111 years old on March 2 – and every year (for 18 years now!) his birth date is celebrated by encouraging and motivating children and teens to read.

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I don’t see why adults can’t celebrate as well, so I’m going to celebrate too, by starting a new book. I haven’t decided which one – and I’m open to suggestion!

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I’m also going to see if my 12 year old daughter will indulge me by letting me read aloud to her – I miss those days so much!

Parents, there are so many ways you can make this day fun for your child (and you too!), you can find lots of ideas at the Seussville website here.

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As they say,

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

I’d also add, you are never too old, too wacky or too wild to try a new book yourself! Maybe try to find some precious alone-time to relax with a comfy blanket and some coffee, hot tea or hot cocoa and settle in with a juicy novel. I can think of no better treat myself.

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Goodreads is always a good source for ideas, by the way. They offer lots of suggestions by genre, so it’s easy to find something right up your alley.

You can get more info about this day of reading celebration at the official website. Have fun and happy reading!

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Postcrossing – global postcard exchange for fun!

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Who doesn’t love getting something special in the mailbox? If you are looking for a quick pick-me-up kind of hobby, have I got an idea for you!

I joined a site called www.postcrossing.com a couple of years ago, and now I have hundreds of postcards from all over the globe.

I’ve gotten cards from Argentina, Belarus, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Israel, Korea, Lithuania, Mozambique, Peru, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine...and that’s just off the top of my head!

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The motto of Postcrossing is:

 

“Send a postcard and receive a postcard from a random person in the world!”

 

The Postcrossing Project

People (like you and me!) can send and receive postcards from all over the world, for free (except for the cost of the stamps). When you send out a postcard, you will get one from a random Postcrosser from somewhere, anywhere.

You can choose to include the U.S.A., but you don’t have to if you prefer to just receive postcards from other countries.

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Sounds good, but how does it work?

After joining the site (it’s free!), you request to send a postcard. The website will display (and send you an email) with the address of another member and a Postcard ID –  then you mail a postcard to that member, with the Postcard ID prominently clearly written on it so they can register that they received it.

When the other Postcrosser member receives your card, they then register it using the Postcard ID you wrote on their postcard. When your first recipient registers your card –you then get a postcard from another user.

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You are next in line for the next person across the globe who requests to send a postcard!

How many cards you can send and receive goes up incrementally. If you want to send a lot, you can get a lot – it’s really up to you.

Give it a try!

I urge you to at least try this for a bit – you can send as many or as few as you like. Some people just do a few a year – I’ve gotten up to where I send and receive about 10 – 12 a month.

My mailbox is quite happy – and our postal carrier has commented on how lucky I am! I told her I wasn’t lucky, and explained about the website. She seemed interested, so maybe I’ve already recruited one other Postcrosser.

There’s nothing in it for me to refer other people – I just love to tell others when I find something new and fun to do and/or experience.

So head on over to www.postcrossing.com and check it out.

Happy Postcrossing!

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Random Acts of Kindness – more meaningful than you may know

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I will never forget the first time I was the lucky recipient of a “RAK” – a “Random Act of Kindness.”  It was a couple of years ago.

The day unfolded almost like a scene from a gritty TV drama: it was rainy, dreary and miserably cold, and I was in a rotten mood.

I was in pain, I was angry, frightened, and sad – you name it.  I had just received some awful news at the doctor, and I was crying like a three-year -old – the kind of cry where you just scream and rant and don’t bother wiping your tears away.

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Really dignified scene, if you can imagine. I was just letting it all out with the music cranked up in my car.

I remember I had on some angry music like AC/DC – it went very well with my mood. I didn’t even compose myself at stoplights, like I usually do if I’m screeching along with the music. I really didn’t care if anyone saw me.

I was in 100% full self-pity mode. WOE. IS. ME. I think we’ve all been there, right?

Anyway, so I decided to treat myself to a yummy Starbucks Latte to warm up and make myself feel better (shhh, don’t tell me how many calories are in them – I don’t care).

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I made my order, and coasted up to the drive-through window. As I rolled down my window, the pretty blonde barista (with bright red lipstick – I remember these things) said

 “the customer in front of you paid for your order, you’re good to go!”

…with a big smile, as she handed me my latte.

I was stunned. It took me a second to process what she was saying, and when it hit – I felt an amazing sense of joy and gratefulness just wash over me. My cheeks actually started warming up!

I took the latte from her hand, and said something dorky like

 “OH! Okay, that’s um – how cool is that?! Thank you for doing…well, I mean thanks!”

I felt a unique mixture of surprise, slight awkward embarrassment, and just a dash of that feeling you get as a kid when you first see the gifts Santa left you under the Christmas tree.

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That sounds quite dramatic, I know – but that is precisely what I felt in that moment. A stranger just….randomly…..decided to buy my latte! I had heard of “RAKs” – but had never been the recipient of one.

It really does restore your faith in humanity, as the saying goes.

My rotten day was transformed – SNAP – just like that. I was in the best mood. So much so, that when I got home, the first thing I told my husband was about the RAK, not about the doctor visit. That had become secondary in my mind, just a pesky irritation.

What had loomed so monstrously in my mind had been hit with a shrink-ray gun, just because some random stranger decided to buy my latte.

There are a couple of takeaways from this, from where I’m sitting.

  • Doing something kind for a stranger, even just a small gesture, can completely make their day. It can change the course of their entire day – think about that for a moment!
  • Our minds are weird. Really weird. They can be our best friend, and our worst enemy. That’s not news to you, I know that. But I don’t know that I’ve ever actually felt that, in real time – until that moment.

I am at a total loss as to explain how I could go from complete and utter misery, to be filled with profound joy and gratefulness – in an instant.

In an instant.

So that RAK didn’t just change my day, it changed my outlook. I have always “known” that if you change your thoughts, you can change your life (hat tip, Norman Vincent Peale).

But I didn’t “know know.” And now I do. It affects everything I do now. That very day, I took out my journal and made a list of RAKs I could start doing, immediately.

I wish so much that I could find that stranger in the light grey Honda CRV (again, I remember these odd things), and give them a big hug of gratefulness.

If you want in on this, and need some ideas – check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. The ideas are endless!

Who knows? You could end up making a tremendous positive change in someone’s life.

Even if it’s just a latte on a rainy day.

Happy RAK-ing!

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Self-improvement on your smartphone

Do you love reading books about self-improvement, self-help, motivation, and personal development? Do you own a smartphone?

You’re in luck then, because I’ve found Android and iPhone apps that bring you several of the classics, so you can access them at any time.

For Android users, they have this app that includes three of the top classics:

  • Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
  • As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen
  • Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz

Even better, it’s FREE!

 

 For iPhone users, they have this app that includes a whopping 60 self-help books for 99 cents:

  • Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca
  • Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
  • Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Acres of Diamonds, by Russell H. Conwell
  • The Art of Public Speaking, by Dale Carnegie
  • As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen
  • The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace Wattles
  • The Game of Life and How to Play it, by Florence S. Shinn
  • The Way to Wealth, by Benjamin Franklin
  • Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
  • And many more!

Happy reading!

 

 

 

Today is Love Your Pet Day!

In honor of the official “Love Your Pet Day,” I thought I’d share some pictures of my beloved furry companions!

Blaze is our youngest. He is 6 months old now, but we discovered him while volunteering at PetSmart when he was barely 3 weeks old! He had been separated from his mom, and someone left him in a box with a message pleading for someone to care for him. We could not resist. We bottle fed him and kept him warm, gave him lots of love and kisses – and here he is today:

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Here is Kiki, she is the “matriarch” of our 4 cats. She is a marbled mixed Siamese. She was left behind when the city was evacuated for a hurricane. She waited at a shelter for 2 years, and when we found her (in 2010) it was love at first sight. She is hilarious – a real spunky, friendly personality – and she loves sitting up like a human, like this:

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Next up is Sally – this is technically my daughter’s cat – she is a gorgeous, regal medium-long haired grey tabby. She is very “alpha” for a cat, and the other pets (well, not Kiki) defer to her.

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Here is Kade – he is a big, BIG boy. He is the most laid back cat I’ve ever known, and he loves to cuddle. We believe he’s a Maine Coon mix because he is so naturally “big boned.” Although he does need watch his diet, admittedly. : )

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Last, but certainly not least, is our one canine buddy, JJ (our daughter named him after her favorite NFL player, J.J. Watt). He is a Doberman/German Shepherd mix – and he has the heart of a teddy bear. He is incredibly sweet, loves everyone, and brings so much joy to our lives. He came from a “street gang” of dogs that were rescued by the shelter my son volunteers for – he was starving, had all kinds of injuries, and had been shot in the leg (the 22 slug is still in his leg – it doesn’t bother him anymore though). He’s our greatest “success story,” by far!

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Hug your pets just a bit more today to let them know how much you love them – and to celebrate “Love Your Pet” day!

Magnificent Mandalas!

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Looking for a new hobby that is not only fun, but also helps you de-stress, find some personal bliss, and discover your calm center? Coloring mandalas is something you should try!

What is a mandala?

The mandala is a circular design that begins with a defined center, and from that center, it branches out into a variety of shapes and symbols.

 

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The word mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit. In Buddhism and Hinduism, it is a spiritual symbol representing the universe.

Coloring mandalas can be a meditative experience. The repetitive, soothing practice of creating them (or even just coloring pre-made ones) feels great – and even better – when you’re done you have yourself a work of art!

And no, you do not have to be an artist or even remotely gifted in drawing to enjoy coloring mandalas (or I wouldn’t be able to do them – I can’t even make a stick-man).

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You can make your own (how-to instructions linked below), or my preference, order pre-made mandala coloring books (who said coloring is just for kids?).

Check out these awesome resources:

  • Find some cool free mandalas to print out and color on printmanda.com.
  • Here is my favorite way: I use this coloring book that I order from Amazon – there are lots just like it. I frame my pages when done, they are so gorgeous!
  • If you are able to, I highly recommend ordering or purchasing Prismacolor colored pencils or markers – they are far superior to the kind you’d buy for school maps and such – and the colors turn out brilliantly! You can get them at their website, or in hobby and craft stores (like Hobby Lobby and Michaels).


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Have fun!

 

Peace from your smartphone? Yes!

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Not too long ago, many people thought of meditation as something only practiced by mystical gurus and New Age enthusiasts. Well, and The Beatles.

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More and more, people are catching on to the fact that meditation is a fantastic way to de-stress get some inner peace.   It doesn’t mean you have to sit still for an hour, and you don’t have to say “OM,”  I promise.

I urge anyone to give it a try – I can list medical benefits (there are many), but really my favorite thing about it is that it just feels good – I always feel refreshed and in a great mood whenever I do so (I’m up to twice a day now), and if I’m in a good mood – that means my whole family is in a good mood.

Talk about a win/win!


Phone it in!

Today’s phones are “smart” – but they can be irritating as well, with their constant blaring, buzzing notifications alerting you to calls, texts, emails, and other news.

But you can also turn off all the sounds and use it for meditation!

There are hundreds of apps available to download some instant peace – and even better, lots of them are free! Read on for the best of the bunch.


Meditation for stress

Feeling stressed out lately?

My favorite solution to stress is to go to my Android app Simply Being Guided Meditation,” created by Meditation Oasis. Also available on iPhone.

Mary Maddux is the voice behind it, and she is so reassuring and calm – just a lovely voice.

Side note: I’ve tested out probably 100 meditation apps (yeah, I’m addicted), and occasionally, I’ll hear some awful, irritating voice, and say NOPE and hit exit. I often wonder “who in the heck approved this?!”

So you can be assured my recommendations are tested personally by me, and will only list those that pass the “annoying factor” with flying colors.

OK so back to Meditation Oasis. With this app, you have several choices for background sounds (or not) and session length. It’s available on both iPhone and Android, with a free version available as well!

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Meditation for confidence

A great app for this is aptly named: “Build Confidence” – and it delivers. For less than $3.00 (Android or iPhone) you can put your headphones on, chill out, and get your daily dose of…

“I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and doggone it – people like me.”

(hat tip Stuart Smalley of SNL)


Meditation to help you get to sleep

Insomnia is awful. As a former insomniac, if you suffer with this – you have my deepest empathy.

But there is hope, because there’s an app for that!

Relax & Sleep by Glenn Harrold  is one of the best meditative (and self-hypnotic) apps for sleep out there. Harrold has a marvelously soothing voice. It’s also available for your iPhone.

Background tones are subtle, understated, and calming. Don’t be surprised if you never get to hear the entire thing, because you’ll be asleep before it’s finished!

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Even better, you can download this app for FREEEE!

All of Glenn Harrold’s apps are great – check out his website for more goodies.

I hope you try some of these (or other) apps and give meditation a try – if you do, let me know how it goes.

Or, if you have other meditation apps you love, please share your tips!

 

 

You don’t have to be miserable, because SCIENCE!

Book Review:How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything!” by Albert Ellis, Ph. D.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Well if that’s not a catchy title, I don’t know what is! I found this gem one day while researching cognitive psychology online. I lit up with excitement because, when studying for my Bachelor’s degree in psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy was one of my favorite topics to study.

In fact, the author of this book, Albert Ellis, is pretty much considered the “father” of cognitive-behavioral therapies. Way back in 1955, he developed what is known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Okay, okay, so this is getting dry and boring already, I get it!

However, when you take a peek behind all the jargon, you get a remarkably fresh, exciting, and most importantly – easy to implement – way to deal with any kind of misery or emotional upset.

Delving into REBT could take months of intense study, however, Ellis knows how to get the prime bits delivered in a quick, no-nonsense style.

According to Ellis, it boils down to “rational coping,” and it consists of three main strategies:

  • Unconditional Self-Acceptance (rather than conditional self-esteem).
  • Unconditional Other-Acceptance (rather than judging others)
  • Unconditional Life-Acceptance (rather than judging it as “good” vs. “bad”)


It is made very clear in the book that Ellis does not advocate a “Pollyannish” positive-thinking-all-the-damn-time-no-matter-what-even-if-it-kills-me type attitude. Far from that.

In fact, this book turns the entire “positive thinking” ethos on its head. To quote from his introduction, regarding goals of the book:

“It (the book) rigorously stays with and promotes scientific thinking, reason, and reality, and it strictly avoids what many self-help books carelessly counsel today – huge amounts of mysticism and utopianism.”

That’s certainly refreshing, right?

I recommend actually reading the introduction to this book. I usually skip them to get to the “good parts.” But in this book, every part is good!

Ellis takes the reader through an explanation of how his book differs from other self-help books, then proceeds to teach you how to approach life conditions scientifically. I don’t like that word, “scientifically” – it makes me think, oh good grief – I’m going to fall asleep now.

However, Ellis makes it easy for us, the dear readers. He writes in an engaging and very often humorous style that is easy to digest.

The book then goes on to detail 14 REBT “insights” – chapters that give you tons of ammo to deal with pretty much any problem you can think of.

To wrap it all up, there is an appendix entitled “The Biological Basis of Human Rationality” (which sounds a lot drier than it actually is).

This is the kind of book I keep where I can refer to it at a moment’s notice, because my only complaint (and it’s a valid one) is that while the strategies are extremely effective, and have helped me immensely – well, they don’t “stick” very well. Meaning, I have to review the insights regularly to keep the ideas fresh and applicable to my life.

Still, it is a book I highly recommend. This is not a “check it out from the library” type read – you’ll definitely want to keep it on your shelf for reference.

Don’t take my word for it, get a copy of it for yourself to find out how you can refuse to make yourself miserable about anything – yes, anything!

 

 

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