Midweek Mirth

One of the misconceptions about being a Christian is non-Christians think we don’t know how to have fun or have a sense of humor. Trust me, if the Big Guy can have a sense of humor when it comes to dealing with us mere mortals, so can we.

The difference for Christians is we don’t have to debase ourselves or others to generate a smile. Laughter at life or ourselves is a gift from God.

So, let’s smile a little!

The Bonus

Faced with hard times, the company offered a bonus of $1,000 to any employee who could come up with a way of saving money. The bonus went to a young woman in accounting who suggested limiting future bonuses to $10.

And now for the bonus …

Knowing Noah

A young boy liked nothing better than to sit on his grandfather’s knee and have stories read to him. One day after a story about Noah’s ark and how Noah led pairs of animals to the safety of the ark the little boy asked, “Granddad, you are very old, were you in Noah’s ark?”

“Oh, no”, said Granddad.

“In that case, how come you didn’t drown when the flood came?”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner. — Red Skelton

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Let’s Talk Dialogue

So, you want to write a book. We have been tackling the five Ws and the H … that’s What, When, Where, Why. Who, and How. We’ve already delved into the five W’s — What, When, Where, Why, and Who. And we’ve already started discussing the odd letter — H — How. We discussed the basics of journaling, poetry, and prose — all part of the How.

One of the hardest things for a writer, however, is dialogue, also part of the How. There are a couple of reasons why.

First, we write differently than we speak. As writers we want the words to flow correctly. As speakers we talk in dialects with fractured sentences and almost non-existent form. We might even have a tendency to ramble or speak over each other all the time. You might hear “um” and “er” a lot and conversations often jump from one topic to another (and back again) with no warning.

That’s fine in the real world — we don’t even notice it — but hopeless for dialogue in a novel. Writing dialogue isn’t about replicating a real-life conversation. It’s about giving an impression of it. And, yes, improving on it.

If fiction is like real life with the dull bits taken out, the same thing is true of fictional conversations. So the role of the writer is to select what’s important and distill it to its very essence.

Dialogue should also have a meaning. It could be a chance at giving information. It can be a source of conflict. It can help develop your characters. But, above all, it has to move your story forward.

Dialogue should also be concise. Never use ten words when five words will do. And if you can get the job done in three words – or even with a simple gesture like a shrug – so much the better.

Why is being concise so important?

Because it keeps readers reading. If they get bored with a rambling dialogue they will either skip over it and perhaps miss some vital clues to your story line or, worse case, simply stop reading.

It is important, however, to put your characters in character when they speak. For example, you wouldn’t have an uneducated slave speaking the King’s English or a new immigrant speaking full, coherent sentences. You wouldn’t have a Northerner use “y’all” unless they had Southern roots.

Make sure the words a character says are a natural extension of their personality. When putting words into the characters’ mouths, you just need to make sure the dialogue fits their personalities. The kindly old lady won’t say anything too mean. Her mean neighbor won’t be kind when he opens his mouth. The big-head will brag and the joker will have everyone laughing. The optimist … well, you get the idea. An educated character will have more words (and fancier words) at his or her disposal than a not-so-educated one. A dockworker will probably swear more than a school teacher – and won’t care as much (or know as much) about grammar. A physics professor will likely throw the odd scientific term into his or her speech. An artist will have plenty of words to describe colors.

Note it’s perfectly acceptable to use bad grammar and poor word choice when writing dialogue. It won’t reflect badly on your own writer’s voice because it’s understood it’s the character speaking. Just don’t go over the top. Also recognize in real life, we all speak differently to different people. And it’s no different with a character in a novel.

Again it comes down to knowing your characters and research.

A harder part of dialogue, however, is what is known as tagging. Simply, tagging is attribution.

Dialogue tags are: he said, she asked and simple statements like that. They’re useful little things. But beware of overusing them. Writing dialogue with a tag after every single line will make it sound like a game of ping-pong and turn off your readers. If you just have two people talking for an extended period and your reader can readily discern who is speaking, you don’t need to continually add the tag. But you also need to beware of using too few tags. Why? Because there’s nothing more annoying for a reader than having to count back lines to figure out who’s speaking.

Another trick is to stick to simple dialogue tags – like “said” and “asked. While I agree most of the time, dialogue should also show emotion. Sometimes using tags such as exclaimed, interjected or screeched makes the dialogue sound amateurish … but not all the time.

Adverbs make it sound amateurish, too (as in, “Emily said excitedly”). If you want to demonstrate Emily’s excitement, describe her fidgeting in her chair or bouncing on the balls of her feet while she speaks. Again, I suggest caution. The description could take away from the dialogue.

Here are two examples.

“Look, Mom,” said Kate, reaching out her hand. “Heaven is shining through!” I actually changed it to: Kate reached out her hand. “Look, Mom. Heaven is shining through!”

In another instance, I wrote, “Not sure, but pretty sure,” I said with a big smile. Conventional wisdom suggests it should be something like, “Not sure, but pretty sure,” I said. A big smile flashed across my face.

In both cases — actually in most cases — the extension to the tag, in my mind, adds to the dialogue, gives it movement or direction, shows more than just the words.

Separating that action leaves the words stranded. I just read a manuscript that did exactly that. Each quote was followed by “said” and a separate sentence describing the circumstances why the quote was uttered. Personal opinion. It drove me crazy and in some cases the description further diluted the entire conversation. It’s a call you will have to make.

Another important rule of novel writing is to keep the readers reading. Boring them is likely to have the opposite effect, which is why it’s so important to make your dialogue flow seamlessly. Varying the length of lines matters.

As an example, if Jack says something using half a dozen words; then Jane replies using a sentence of the same length; then Jack says something back using another short sentence — it can all sound a bit same-ish. A better conversation would look like this, Jack says something; Jane replies using a longer sentence — maybe a couple of them; Jack just shrugs here; so Jane says something else, something long again that goes on and on and on … until Jack cuts her short with a quick one-liner.

It is important to break up the dialogue with little snippets of action. You can do this by simply freezing a passage of dialogue for a few sentences while you describe the sound of the rain hitting the window; or show what one of the characters is thinking; or write anything at all except another line of dialogue! Again, as a cautionary tale, don’t break up the conversation without moving the story forward.

Some final dialogue notes. Avoid writing dialogue that’s obvious and give characters an agenda.

Dialogue can be “told,” not just “shown”. Shown dialogue is where you write down what the characters say, word for word, and put the speech inside quotation marks. Told dialogue is where you summarize a conversation using regular prose.

Most of the time, shown dialogue is the variety you want. Sometimes, though, telling the reader about a conversation without writing the dialogue word for word is better.

Let’s say a conversation goes on for some time, but only the beginning and end are interesting. The solution is to show the first part of the dialogue; summarize the boring bit in the middle; and switch back to showing for the final part.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of how to punctuate dialogue properly. It’s not a very sexy topic – but an important one to get right nonetheless.

The odds are you’re a keen reader (most novelists are). So you really don’t need me to tell you the mechanics of how to set out dialogue on the page. But you do have to know when and where to use single or double quotation marks and dashes or ellipses at the end of a line of dialogue. Rule of  thumb, single quotes are used inside quotes bracketed with double quotation marks. Use ellipses to indicate a character’s words trailing off. If they were cut off, use a dash.

This series has been the short version about writing and the writing process to get you motivated, thinking, and starting your writing journey. I hope it helped.

There is a lot more detail on each of the spokes in your writing wheel. If you have a specific question, let me know and I’ll try to address it down the road.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that writes the story you were meant to tell. And the world needs your story because the world needs your voice. — Kerry Washington

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Authority Without Relationship

Our Words for the Week come from James Hewitt in Illustrations Unlimited. It’s a tongue in cheek message just in time for Veterans Day, followed by a more serious note.

A young second lieutenant at Fort Bragg discovered he had no change when he was about to buy a soft drink from a vending machine. He flagged down a passing private and asked him, “Do you have change for a dollar?”

The private said cheerfully, “I think so, let me take a look.”

The lieutenant drew himself up stiffly and said, “Soldier, that is no way to address an officer. We’ll start all over again. Do you have change for a dollar?”

The private came to attention, saluted smartly, and said, “No, sir!”1

Just a note Jesus always spoke with authority but was never authoritarian.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Quit saying you don’t have time. You have time for what you make time for in life. — Bryant McGill

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Celebrating the Wondrous Work of God

“Bless the Lord God, the God of Israel — the only One who does wondrous things! Bless God’s glorious name forever; let His glory fill all the earth!” — Psalm 72:18-19, CEB

When was the last time you noticed the “wondrous things” God has done in your life?

A question my Sunday school teacher, Fran, at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren would ask is, “What were your God moments this week?” Sometimes she would begin with this question, but on other occasions, it would naturally seep into our conversation or even close our time together as people reflected on how they had seen “wondrous things.”

I travel often in my role as director of Mission Advancement, and during a recent trip, I noticed a “God moment.” I like to travel by train when I work at the General Offices in Elgin, IL—taking the Pennsylvanian from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh and then Capital Limited into Chicago’s Union Station. The autumn season sets a beautiful stage to travel the rails. Getting into the mountainous areas of central Pennsylvania, the end of the harvest season can be observed as you pass by fields. Orange, brown, green, yellow, and red are the colors that splash this canvas. Traveling by train slows things down and offers the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve seen and experienced. Most trips include having conversations with fellow travelers — hearing their stories, sharing my own, and providing words of encouragement, grace, and peace, if it’s needed.

A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of the October meeting for Mission and Ministry Board, I boarded the train at Union Station to begin the trip back to Pennsylvania. After beginning to talk with my seatmate, we noticed peculiar behavior from the passenger in front of us. This person had been flailing about in their seat, speaking loudly with colorful language, and causing a bit of a ruckus. There was a feeling of concern for those of us who were directly around this person, a sense of uncertainty as to whether their actions should be confronted, and concern about the outcome of a confrontation. As time went on, several people in the railcar shared concerns with Amtrak personnel, who eventually confronted the passenger. The final outcome was the removal of the passenger from the train by local law enforcement.

So, where did I see the wondrous things of God in this situation?

God was present through each of my railcar mates. Two people were able to remove and dispose of alcohol the passenger had brought onto the train by approaching them and asking for a drink. Another man engaged the person in conversation to distract them from causing further alarm. In general, we all looked out for each other as the situation unfolded and worked together to make sure everyone, including the unruly passenger, was safe until the authorities arrived to intervene.

In this present age, though our culture makes it seem much easier to throw a fist than pass the peace, I watched a group of strangers come together and work to care for one another. We were “strangers no more, but part of one humanity.” This situation gave me a renewed hope for humanity and reminded me God is always present with us.

Where do you see the wondrous things of God in your life, in your community, or in your place of worship?

The Church of the Brethren reveals “another way of living” to those we serve, one in which God’s “glory fills all the earth!” We do this through our Global Mission and Service partnerships in Venezuela, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and other countries. Another way of living is revealed through the work of our Office of Peacebuilding and Policy as staff meet in Iraqi Kurdistan with ecumenical partners and government officials to talk about active USAID projects to respond to the genocide of Yazidis, the persecution of Christians, and other vulnerable groups. Through the programs of Discipleship Ministries and the Office of Ministry, congregations and pastors are cared for and encouraged. In these ministries and more, God is doing wondrous things around us.

As we enter this season of thankfulness, joy, and giving, we invite you to consider how you will partner with us. May we celebrate the wondrous work of God among us!

This reflection was written by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement of the Church of the Brethren for Giving Tuesday Dec. 3. Join them in celebrating — now or then — by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at brethren.org/givingtuesday.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. — William Arthur Ward

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Prayer Time …

As we build this community prayer platform, we ask the Lord to listen to our petitions with full confidence they not only are heard but acted upon by God according to His holy will. These requests are on my prayer list and I hope you consider putting them on yours as you place your petitions before the Lord Sunday.

Let’s remember to approach the throne room and respond with faith and not fear, knowing the promises of God and His mighty hand will hold us through any situation! Sometimes, all it takes is just one prayer to change everything. Something extraordinary happens when two or more agree together in prayer.

What is one of the most important things we should do as Christians? Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

Layla has bronchitis and is in the hospital. Pray for healing.

Angela is also in the hospital and very sick.

Caren needs healing and  comfort prayers. She just found out she has bone cancer.

Kenroy is fighting for his life with Stage III colon cancer.

Wendy had a brain operation Wednesday to remove a big cancer tumor and still has six small ones left. She will be undergoing radiation treatment to kill them off.

Claudette said some really unfair things happened at work and she feels like throwing in the towel. She needs God to open up doors for her. Sinazo is also looking for God to open doors. Beth, too, is experiencing financial pressures. Keep them all in your thoughts and pray for strength.

Kayla just got the results of a ct scan showing a mass has deteriorated the bone that separates her ear from her brain so she will need a neurosurgeon to be available. It looks like the bone for her equilibrium is deteriorating. The spins have her and she needs some relief. She is the mpther of two small girls.

There were a host of unspoken prayer requests and we heard of a number of deaths this week. Prayers for their families as they go through this earthly trial. We grieve … heaven rejoices.

We come to You, Lord, because prayer is the least yet the greatest thing we can do for each other. When two or more are gathered in Your name, we confidently know You are with us. What better company can we have? You reign and we trust You! We may be broken and battered but know You heal and quiet the soul. You are the source for all that happens in our lives. We thank You for the progress being made. We thank You for the many blessings we have received this week — some we unfortunately didn’t notice. Nonetheless, those blessings are ever-present in our lives. We thank You for healing. We thank You for slowing us down. We thank You for providing us our daily needs — no more and no less. We thank You for being with us, listening to us, walking with us on this journey. We thank You for the support of our family and friends … for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary — sunrises, sunsets, flowers, kids laughing, adventures, good news amid the bad news. We know we can come to You with our concerns and they will be heard. Through Christ all things are possible. We lift up those family members and friends who are battling various physical, emotional, financial, career or spiritual issues and ask not for Your guidance and healing (although that would be welcomed) but to keep reminding us we are not alone in our battles. Specifically we lift up Layla, Angela, Caren, Kenroy, Wendy, Claudette, Sinazo, Beth, Kayla,and all those needing Your healing touch. We pray for the families of all those You have called home. We grieve … You celebrate. We pray for obedience to Your Will so Your “Son” Light shines through us through the power of the Spirit. And we come to You through the confidence of the words taught by Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Keep your joys and concerns coming. They have been and will be included during my prayer time and I trust they will be on your lips as well as you approach the altar. All it takes is a couple of keystrokes under the “Contact Me” button on the top bar {or to the right if you’re not a follower yet}. I hope it becomes your best friend as you navigate around the site so we can all be viable prayer warriors. You can also comment or reach me at wisdomfromafather@gmail.com.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: In a culture obsessed with instant results, we must learn the importance of prayer, patience, and perseverance.




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Five Minute Friday — Settle

Here’s this week’s installment of Five Minute Friday. You might remember the task is to write for five minutes on a specific prompt word. The initiative was started by Lisa-Jo Baker who thought about writing and how often our perfectionism gets in the way of our words. She figured, why not take five minutes and see what comes out: not a perfect post, not a profound post, just five minutes of focused writing. She turned over the reins to Kate Motaung, where our faithful writers write and share their posts with others at our special place on Facebook at fiveminutefriday.com.

As an extra enticement, I’ve been using testimonials about the group and the exercise from other members as collected in Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Flat. This week it’s Diana. I encourage you to listen to her words and visit the website featuring the wonderful corps of writers there. Who knows? Maybe you might be inspired to join in!

“It is Thursday night waiting with anticipation for a post from Kate. What will the word be this week? The challenge is to write for five minutes free writing no correcting the grammar or spelling  [okay we all do because, well, we’re writers and words matter], just free thoughts. This circle of writers has been part of my life since Lisa Jo Baker orchestrated Five Minute Fridays. At that time, I was new to the blogging world. I have to admit I was somewhat intimidated by sharing my blog, what would people say about my writing style. However what I found was acceptance, encouragement, friendship, and love. Lisa-Jo handed the reins to Kate and the circle has only increased in love and encouragement. From reading the other blogs, friendships bud like a rose, too many to name by names but you know who you are. Lastly, how amazing it is how the word is used differently by each one of us Five Minute Friday fans. Ready, the clock is ticking and the word is …”

The prompt this week is SETTLE. The timer has been set so it’s time to GO…

We all have a tendency to settle, don’t we? We have these big dreams, yet settle for the ho hum, the easy, the convenient.

Of course, those big dreams always require hard work. Thy don’t come by accident. So we settle … with maybe not the dream job we envisioned … perhaps not the glowing princess or Prince Charming we expected … with our relationships as we plod through day by day … with our avocations and hobbies and passionate interests sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Part of that is just life. Everyday is not a Hallmark moment. Most of our days are spent just getting by.

But, we don’t have to settle for mediocrity, for the humdrum, for the routine. We can energize ourselves to do more. We can follow our dreams — at any age. For example, I have been writing professionally for over 50 years, but only in the last few years have I been writing for fun, writing … STOP

... for myself, for the sheer exhilaration [and sometimes frustration] of sharing my thoughts with a wider audience for better or worse.

There will never be a better time to break the shackles of settle and follow the dream than today, right now. Or, as Mark Twain penned, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” He added, “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ”

In other words, don’t settle.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut afterwards. — Benjamin Franklin


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The Journey — Part Two

The second leg of my late year journey has come to a close. Like the first chapter in Massachusetts, this second chapter in New York flew by much too fast, but was crammed full of additional memories.

To recap, I’m spending about two and a half weeks with each of my kids/grandkids/great-grandkids.With Massachusetts and New York in the rear view mirror, it is off to Ohio — and the first taste of winter weather on the road … not that I’m complaining.

The energy level in New York was not as high. Most of the time, I just had a six year old to deal with and he was in school during the day, although my two granddaughters, 13 and 12, spent a couple of weekends at the homestead. Angelina, however, spent 18 days being traumatized by  a cat, who would unexpectedly ambush her. I think she was looking forward to the next stop. I haven’t had the heart to tell her there are two dogs there  — two rather large dogs.

It was a momentous trip. I finally got to meet my newest great-granddaughter, Ivy Lynn. We celebrated by daughter’s’ 40th birthday with a series of events over he weekend. And I caught up with new and old friends at a First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls Coffee Hour and a Meet & Greet at the West Fayette Presbyterian Church Holiday Bazaar. I even spent one of the Sundays on the slanty side of the pulpit at West Fayette Presbyterian.

Some of the highlights …

Got to spend some time with my 99 year old uncle and my age cousin. Nice lunch and nice visit. We talked about … just about everything. He recently found his high school yearbook which had a picture of both him (first row left as a senior) and my dad (first row right as a freshman) on the Eastside (Paterson NJ) cross country team. I had never seen that picture before.

Spent a morning at First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls NY. Great worship followed by being guest speaker at Coffee Hour talking about my life in Maine after Seneca County, my three books, and the publishing process. Good to see and connect with familiar faces and new faces. Stopped at the gas station and Walmart and bumped into more old friends.

A safe trip back from New York to Massachusetts. Plenty of fog, construction, and cops made the trip a tad longer … especially since I bypassed the Thruway/Pike. I was reminded of the many times I had taken that route on trips to New Jersey and Wildwood. Brought back fond memories.

Trying new things. Mandi made a Ramen dish with spinach, scallions, carrots and spices. I ate it to set a good example. It was okay … but I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again. Blessing was having a meal with family.

My daughter-in-law bought a candle. As I watched the the three flames darting, I noticed smoke rings — perfect smoke rings — with each flicker. I was mesmerized. Such a small thing to notice, but put me in awe of the bigger picture. Couldn’t capture the rings but got the candle.

A safe and relaxing trip from Massachusetts to upstate New York. Always a blessing when travel is relaxing with vibrant fall colors allowing God’s handiwork to shine.

Spent time watching Colin, doing some writing (including Sunday’s sermon), getting ready for the Meet & Greet, hugging my two granddaughters, talking a friend through some issues. Blessing is being needed and hopefully offering some words of wisdom and comfort. Both girls, by the way, are in the school play, Orange Is the New Glass. Heard all about it. Kady is part of the ensemble listening to the comedic story blending fairy-tale characters obsessed with pop culture and social media, while Ella has one of the leads — Rapunzel.

A good visit at Meet & Greet. Good to see old friends and meet new ones … and sell a few books as well. Bonus blessing … watching Goosebumps 2 with the grandkids.

Great to be on the slanty side of the pulpit at West Fayette Presbyterian with good friends. That was capped with dinner and a visit with my granddaughter Taylor, husband Michael, and great-granddaughter Ivy Lynn … our first visit. She is so tiny! Blessed.

Caught a glimpse of the famous Seneca sunsets followed by a clear star-studded night. Got to thinking about those stars twinkling here, there, everywhere — just for us. They were bright — not as bright as in Maine — and reminded me Who placed them there.

Angelina and I got out for a short walk. A little breezy along the lake but warm sun. She explored the new path. Reminded me how much I’ve missed our walks.

I surveyed the rose garden. Most of the blooms are gone but there was a pink one (DJ) still hanging in and a deep red bud (Karen) posing. Memories … beauty … simplicity.

Grandson went trick & treating in the rain. When he returned he shared his Reese candy with me. Blessing. Sharing … and a peanut butter cup.

Dinner out with Cole and Colin. Pork steak at West Fayette Presbyterian. Good conversation and good food. Always a blessing.

Visited with Constance, John, and Xandra, catching up … and scored a lemon meringue pie to enjoy the rest of the New York stay (no, I didn’t share). Spent the night with the grands so my daughter could party for her 40th. Ella and I watched Merry and Bright (a Hallmark Christmas offering) before we all settled in for Kindergarten Cop … and popcorn. It made up for a disaster dinner — Bacon Wrapped Cheesesteak Meatloaf. Bacon never cooked … meatloaf separated.

Homemade lasagna. Haven’t had it in a long time. Thanks Lynne!

Monday started with a painted morning sky that set the tone for the day. A big thank you!

I voted … first time in four years at my “normal” polling place after absentee balloting from Maine. Blessed to live in America where we have the right and privilege of voting. Congrats to all of you who exercised your voting rights. If you didn’t, don’t complain. Speaking of exercise, Angelina and I did some time walking — and playing in the leaf piles — at Taughannock Falls State Park. She had a blast just running around, pulling me up and down the trails and watching the gulls resting quietly on the boat dock pilings. Finally, a great Election Night Dinner — overstuffed turkey with all the trimmings and pecan pie (among others) — at Ovid Federated Church with Nicolle and Anthony. Ummm, ummm good.

The last day of the New York chapter of my late year tour was jammed with fun. Had a great visit with neighbors Lee Anne and Ray; revisited my great-granddaughter Ivy Lynn (granddaughter Taylor and husband Michael, too); and capped the night at the Waterloo Music Department’s Salute to Our Veterans. Ella, 13, played the trumpet in a Patriotic Parade Sequence (she’ll be marching Monday in the New York City Veterans Day Parade, live streamed at parade.uwvc.org/watch-the-parade), and both Ella and sister Kady, 12, performed America the Beautiful as members of the 7/8 Chorus. Blessed.












Let the adventure continue!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The choices we make every day matter. Some choices are ok, some are bad, some are good and some are even better.

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