Tag Archives: personal growth

Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

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The Other Side of the Couch – Best-Laid Plans  

 

I am a planner.  Identifying goals, making decisions about the best way to reach those goals, choosing among a variety of strategies are all easy for me.  I have rarely been a person who struggles with decision-making; in truth, it could be said that I sometimes make decisions too quickly – and reap the consequences!  However, in general I find the process of planning useful and rewarding.  I am comfortable with planning ahead; I like buying season tickets to the symphony or to a theater company.  I have rarely thought something like, “I don’t know whether I will want to do X in three weeks” – instead, if it is on my calendar and I have planned to do it, I do it.

I know that there are others in this world to whom the idea of planning what one is going to do in three weeks, or a week, or even tomorrow, is anathema.  “How am I going to know how I will feel at that point?”  “Let’s play it by ear.” (This last one is designed to make people like myself crazy.)  To these individuals the experience of spontaneity is of high value.  Checking in with one’s self in the moment, asking what is going on for you right now, being willing to listen to the moment-to-moment inner knowing that can guide decision-making, is paramount.

Most of us live somewhere in between these two extremes.  One of the dimensions measured by the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI – www.meyersbriggs.org) is that of comfort with planning vs. comfort with spontaneity (the J-P dimension).  Not surprisingly, I am pretty far toward the J side.  One of the things I appreciate about the MBTI information is that neither of these positions is wrong.  The information about one’s self is helpful in understanding self and in understanding others.

A recent set of experiences, however, has helped me to challenge my own natural preference for planning.

I got a new knee.

Prior to this very significant surgery, I laid plans to manage what I perceived to be all contingencies.  Knowing I would be out of work for a time, I arranged coverage for clients who would need it.  I borrowed or bought equipment that I would need for recovery.  I estimated the time I would be out of the office and planed with my clients accordingly.  Everything was in order.

However – best-laid plans.

This phrase, well-known for its reference to the poem, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, essentially says that even the best-laid plans can be overturned by external and unexpected events.  The mouse’s nest was torn apart by an unexpected plow, and my plans for an easy and uneventful recovery were challenged by the realities of a very hard operation and some unexpected complications that have extended the timeline well beyond what I had hoped.

So – I am NOT yet back at work; I am NOT yet driving; I am NOT yet fully recovered after one month (which was my plan, even though I was told that the acute recovery period is generally six to eight weeks with a right knee replacement).  MY plan was to beat the odds, be the superstar patient who was off pain medication in two weeks, driving in three, and back to full functioning in four.

Well, my friends, today is four weeks, and I am not doing any of those things. While I am certainly on the road to recovery, the time line is longer, perhaps, even than the average recovery would be.

Today, therefore, I am living into the other side of the MBTI dimension – the side that focuses on present moment.  I am asking myself questions like – “What do you need right this minute?”  “What would help right now?”  While I still must plan such things as rides to Physical Therapy, I am much more in the moment than I am used to being.  I am finding it strange, but strangely comforting as well.

Perhaps I will grow through this experience into being a more balanced person, who both plans, and allows herself to know that sometimes plans don’t work out, and that’s ok.

Where do you fall on this continuum?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Ever Felt Like a Misfit?

It’s Halloween, the only celebration when misfits are the “in” crowd.  After all, Halloween is about misfits like witches and warlocks.  But you don’t have to be a witch or warlock to feel like a misfit.

I’ve often felt like a misfit.  My family moved often which meant my siblings and I were the new kids on the block at a lot of schools.  New kids at school are automatically misfits because they don’t have common experiences with the other kids in the class. In college being a misfit didn’t matter quite as much because I wasn’t the only misfit wandering around campus.

In my last year of law school, I went to see the career placement ladies about helping me to find a job after I graduated. The ladies in the career placement office told me that my GPA was so lousy that I would probably never be able to get a job as a lawyer.  What did I say in response?

I reminded the ladies that George B. McClellan graduated at the top of his West Point class and he couldn’t win a battle. On the other hand, Ulysses S. Grant almost flunked out of West Point and he won the war. Who would you rather have working for you, I asked? Clearly the ladies were not history majors or Civil War buffs because they weren’t persuaded by my argument. I found a lawyer job without their help.

In my career, I’ve also gone to work for a few companies that left me feeling like a misfit.  I remember one company where I spent the first year hoping I’d fit in with my colleagues. I spent my second year wondering why I wasn’t fitting in. By my third year, I just wanted to get the heck out of there.  I found another job after a short search.

What have I learned from my experiences as a misfit?

  1. Never keep a job just for the paycheck. If you’re miserable because you don’t fit into the corporate culture or your co-workers are obnoxious to you, go find another place to be successful.
  2. I learned new skills at each job that helped me get the next job. So learn what you can and then move on if the environment makes you feel like a misfit.
  3. No one is really a misfit. We simply haven’t found the place where we fit in.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers with up to 50 employees to create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the company’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without the annoying bureaucracy.

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The Other Side of the Couch – “What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like”

 

On Monday, October 2, 2017, I woke to the news of yet another mass shooting, the worst in our nation’s history.  My reaction to this news was disturbing, because at first I felt nothing other than a weary sadness and a sense of “another one”.  Where was the horror, the anger, the disbelief, the sorrow?  Have I become so desensitized to violence that I cannot react to such carnage?

I know that one of the first reactions to extraordinarily painful events is often shock.  We go on automatic pilot for a while, just to survive.  Trauma does that, both physically and emotionally.  As the week wore on, and the details of this event permeated the nation’s consciousness, as the stories of the victims and the lack of a known motive for the shooter became available, the protective walls came down.  The tears and sadness followed, along with the need/hope/wish to do something.

So many times when friends or acquaintances or strangers are in need, when a death has occurred, I hear people say – I say myself – my thoughts and prayers are with you.

My friend, Beth Pattillo, writes award-winning romance and women’s fiction. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a group spiritual director. She can be found online at www.bethpattillo.com.  Beth wrote a poem in response to the all the recent tragedies our world has experienced that spoke to me.  She has given me permission to share it with Her Savvy readers.

What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like

People lined up at blood banks
Texted donations
Cases of bottled water and container ships with MREs
Mosquito spray and goggles and strangers taking in strangers
More than words on a social media account
A kindness done every day
Not for the feel-good but for the other
Quiet, when we examine our hearts and listen for God
Who will tell us whether we are the problem or the solution
Refraining from violent thoughts, words, and actions
A displaced shelter dog adopted to a new home
A cake for a neighbor who is a first responder or medical provider
A refusal to engage in hatred
Hands and feet that do the work of goodness and walk the path with
Those who are in pain, in need, in turmoil
Love in action, in practice, in point of fact—
A giving of self, a giving up of self
Unsecured existence made secure
Not in ourselves but in something greater than ourselves

— Beth Pattillo

May we all find the way to love in action in these perilous times.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Chicken. Pigeon. Cat. Dog.

                                                                         

Chicken.

Pigeon.

Cat.

Dog.

How would you categorize these animals?

Years ago, an anthropology professor of mine posed this question. It was based on the experiences of one of her students who came from Africa. He was smart with excellent grades but he repeatedly failed biology.

One day, he suddenly leaped up from his desk and yelled, “I’ve got it!” He wrote “chicken, pigeon, cat, dog” on the board and asked his classmates to sort them into categories.  American students instantly grouped together the chicken and pigeon because they are birds and the cat and dog because they are household pets.

“Wrong,” he said, “here’s how they should be grouped. Chicken and dog belong together because if you feed them, they will stay at home. Pigeon and cat go together because if you feed them, they may still leave home to go wandering”.

We group animals, people, and things in specific ways based on our cultural expectations. Our cultural expectations are based on assumptions that are so old, so ingrained they are invisible just like the air we breathe. These assumptions then shape our world view.

When our assumptions are harmless, like how to categorize four common animals, it’s mildly amusing. But some assumptions lead to the “us v. “them” world view.  We are convinced that our world view is the “right” view because we never want to question our assumptions.

That’s why it’s naïve to believe that different groups of people can overcome their differences simply by talking to each other.  That’s also why it is so difficult to overcome prejudices.  The earthquake that reshapes our assumptions is internal.

I’ve been fascinated by the question of cultural expectations ever since my anthropology professor posed her question to a classroom of college kids who thought they were really smart but who couldn’t see the assumptions that shaped their cultural expectations.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you see? Feel free to share, but please……give Her Savvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – A Storm Passes  

 

A friend and I were recently eating lunch at a popular Nashville restaurant.

We often sit toward the back of the restaurant, and this is also the area that many of the families with young children choose.  As we sat down and were served our meal, a little girl, perhaps four or five, dissolved into loud sobs.  Her distress intensified, as did the sound of her crying.

What happened next was amazing.

The child’s father, seated to her right, calmly pulled her chair closer to his, reached out, and gathered her into his arms, holding her close against his shoulder – and he just held her and let her cry.  He didn’t talk; he didn’t explain or tell her what to do; he didn’t tell her to pull herself together – he just held her and let her cry.

Within a couple of minutes the sobs began to diminish.  The child sat up, took some breaths, and soon got back to her own chair and her own meal.

The storm had passed.

We never really knew what precipitated her distress.  It could have been anything – hurt feelings, not liking her lunch, competing with her sister, wanting attention – we didn’t know.  What we did know, however, was that this father knew that if he let his daughter feel what she was feeling, without interfering or explaining or trying to change things, she would work it through.  And she did.

Children are so in touch with their feelings and their bodies – they know that they need to express the emotions that arise in them.   Our job is often to stay out of their way as they do so.  A child who has experienced a challenging moment has feelings arise and allows those feelings to move.  Loving presence is often the best thing we can offer.

What if the child were acting out – throwing things or harming self or others?  In that case, clear boundaries must be set, but loving presence as the child works through the experience is still needed.

I appreciated this father’s skill.  His daughter is being given a gift that will last a lifetime.  Would that all children could have that opportunity.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com .

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit.  Thanks!

 

 

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Living with Fear

Fear is a universal emotion.  Every person alive is afraid of something. It’s what we do next that matters most.

Fear can be a motivator. It drives us to meet our goals. But too much fear can overwhelm us, paralyzing our emotional and physical responses.  As a person who has experienced both these effects of fear, I wanted to know how other people managed their responses to fear.

I’m a history buff so I looked for historical examples. An excellent study in fear is provided by the men and women who were in the French Resistance in World War II.  Every Nazi-occupied country had resistance movements, of course. But the French are notable for their tradition of writing books about their political activities. As a result, the survivors of the French Resistance were more likely to write about their experiences than resisters in other European countries.

What a life they lived! Living in occupied France meant living with fear. The Gestapo could stop any person at any time and demand to see their identity papers. Resistance workers knew if they were detained in one of these street sweeps, their forged identity papers would probably not withstand scrutiny. Or their forged identity might already have been revealed by a tortured colleague or a collaborator. In either case, it meant their worst fear would come true; they would be arrested.

Another quick path to arrest was violating the nightly curfew.  Resistance workers constantly broke curfew to travel to rendezvous sites to retrieve supplies flown in on moonless nights. They also conducted most radio communications with their leaders in London at night. Resistance workers caught at rendezvous sites or with a radio could be shot “resisting arrest” or arrested and taken in for interrogation.

Interrogation meant torture and probable death. Resistance workers were tortured in an effort to make them name names since the Gestapo was attempting to wipe out all resistance efforts.  The standard rule for Resistance workers was that they should hold out for at least 48 hours under torture to allow other Resistance workers to move to new, unknown locations.

Many Resistance members died due to the torture. If they didn’t die while being tortured, they were sent to prison in France to await deportation to a concentration camp.  Resistance workers were not covered by The Hague or Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. They were not legally soldiers. They were legally defined as spies, criminals, or “enemy combatants”.  That meant they could be tortured, starved, murdered, or used as slave laborers.

Resistance activities could be deadly for a worker’s family. If the Gestapo knew or suspected the true identity of a Resistance worker, they would arrest family members of the Resistance worker.  Family members could be tortured, imprisoned, murdered, or deported to a death camp in retaliation for the Resistance worker’s activities.  Resistance workers knew they were jeopardizing the lives of their loved ones and this knowledge caused their greatest fear.

French Resistance workers lived with overwhelming fear that left psychological scars for the rest of their lives.  So why would anyone choose to join the Resistance when they could have kept their heads down and sat out the war?  Sitting out the war could have meant staying neutral, not collaborating, and waiting for it all to end.

French Resistance workers spanned the political spectrum from communist to fascist; but they had one thing in common. They were all French patriots. They wanted to end the occupation and free France.  That goal kept them going through deprivation, torture and fear.

Fear is often synonymous with weakness which is synonymous with cowardice in books and movies. That is wrong. Only an idiot or a liar claims to be constantly brave, never knowing fear. The bravest people are those who acknowledge their fear and still do their job.

That is the lesson about living with fear that I learned from the French Resistance. We are all afraid of something. But if we don’t allow fear to stop us, we can do anything that we want and reach any goal.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Why We Write   

 

What is it about writing?

Writing is not innate.  While speaking as a form of communication is part of the developmental trajectory of the human being, writing (and its companion, reading) must be learned.  That learning process takes years and requires practice.  How many high school students have labored over the five-paragraph essay or complained about learning expository writing?

The physical process of writing is becoming a lost art as more and more people who write depend on the keyboard and computer.  Experts debate both sides of this issue.  Some say cursive should continue to be taught; others say opting for print is the best.  A third group says the focus needs to be on keyboarding.  As a left-handed writer whose handwriting was already shaky, the final blow was taking speedwriting after college – the result is that anyone who attempts to read my handwriting often needs translation.

And yet – the process of using language to write may have therapeutic results. As a professional counselor I often recommend exercises that involve writing.  If you are a worrier, keep a pad and pen beside your bed, and if you wake up and are worrying, get those worries out of you and onto paper.  This process sometimes will help you calm down and return to sleep.  If you have unfinished business with someone that cannot be safely or reasonably addressed with the person, write a letter to that person – a letter that you may never choose to send –  to reach some degree of closure.  If you are engaged in a process of self-exploration, the experience of keeping a journal may help you deepen your journey.

For me the essence of writing is connection.  I write because I have a thought, an experience, or a way of seeing that I want to share with others.  Bringing whatever this is out of myself and into a form in which I share it with others who may be interested, may respond, may be touched or moved or shaken, is for me part of the larger journey of being in community with other human beings.

I write because I have something to say. Writing feels like the creation of something bigger than myself.  I don’t know where my words go, where they land, what impact they have, but in bringing them out of myself and offering them to a larger world, I am engaged in the process of creation.  I don’t assume that my words are great literature or that they are life-changing.  They may just be my words – and that is ok, too.   I offer them as they are – and for my reader, they can be taken in whatever way the reader chooses.

Solace, comfort, joy – struggle, pain, despair – writing can be all those things to the writer and to the reader.

Is writing a part of your life?  Does it play a role?  Has it helped you?  Harmed you?  Open the door to this process and see where it might take you.  You could be surprised!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Finding Hope and Inspiration in a Life Well Lived

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These days it’s hard to feel inspired.  I wake up each morning worried and anxious about what new, manufactured, crisis was created while I slept.  I check the news outlets I believe are reliable so that I can try and anticipate what will come today, and I struggle not to panic and to keep focused on my personal goals.  It’s a challenge I’ve never faced, this difficulty feeling optimistic and inspired.

Last week’s New York Times published an Op-ed by David Leonhardt.  It was a eulogy of sorts for former PepsiCo executive Brenda Barnes.  Barnes made news 20 years ago when she quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom.  She died a couple of weeks ago, at the young age of 63, following a stroke.  After reading her story, I felt a spark of inspiration mixed with some hope.  You see, Barnes started the dialogue about work/life balance.  She was proof that it is possible to craft a meaningful life filled with work, parenting and personal growth.  She paved the way and while there is still much work to be done in the area of equal pay and workplace supported parenting, she elevated the topic.

To be fair, Barnes’ path was incredibly atypical.  After raising her kids, she was able to move back into the workforce as chief executive of Sara Lee.  Her legacy is carried through her middle child, 28-year-old daughter Erin.  She herself left a lucrative job a few years ago, so she could care for her ailing mother and today is pursuing a nursing career, one she finds more meaningful and adaptive to family life.  Erin acknowledges her mother’s unique opportunities, but the message remains the same.  At a family memorial for her mother, she implored everyone to remember her mother’s insistence that we not work too hard.

So why does Brenda Barnes’ life give me some hope and inspiration?  I also made life choices based on spending time with my children.  Sometimes I wonder, “what if,” but most of the time I’m happy with my choices.  Of course I’m just a few years younger than Barnes, so perhaps the path wasn’t as clear for me as it is for my daughter.  But therein lies my hope and inspiration.  I am hopeful that, thanks to women like Brenda Barnes, this next generation will move the needle farther.  Although women continue to pay a higher price for parenthood and making choices, I’m hopeful our voices are stronger and that we will continue to push harder.  I am inspired by Barnes’ story and of her lasting message that work isn’t everything, that life is precious and often too short, so it’s important to find meaning and purpose and, ultimately, love.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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