All posts by Melissa Mcpherson

Melissa is a 31-year-old creative writer, quilter and photographer with Cerebral Palsy. She received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University in 2005. When she is not pursuing her creative endeavors, Melissa works as a part time Administrative Assistant at the University of Michigan. Melissa spent eight years working at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, where she developed and taught inclusive creative arts and writing classes for people with and without disabilities. She continues to mentor and advocate for people with disabilities through her blog: Disability and I do. She lives with her husband in Michigan.

Finally, A Recliner I Won’t Get Stuck In!

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This weekend I received a gift from my grandmother, who is in her nineties and is my last living grandparent. She has always been a fun, feisty women and I believe I get a lot of my best traits from her; including my stubbornness. Of course, there are people who might consider that to be a negative trait; however, I find it is one that comes in handy when living life with a disability.

About a week ago my Dad called me and asked if I wanted my Grandmother’s recliner. At first I freaked out thinking she had passed away. But then my dad explained that she was moving to a new place where she could receive more daily help, and that she couldn’t take everything with her. Apparently Grandma had specifically requested that I receive her chair. Not being one to say no to my Grandma under any circumstances, I agreed to take it.

When I sit on a couch I often don’t get the core support I need, so I end up slouching and getting an achy back. This is why I love sitting in a recliner; however, they present their own set of issues. Like most people, when I sit in a recliner, I like to put my feet up and, you know, recline. This wouldn’t be a problem except I either need to be content sitting for a long period of time, or someone needs to rescue me because it is next to impossible to get out unassisted.

My Grandma’s recliner solves this problem, which is why she insisted I receive it. Instead of a lever or manual button release, this recliner has a powered button that reclines the chair and then brings back to sitting on its own. I set it up right by the lamp so I can do my reading and quilting in that chair. At first, I was worried the cats might get under it and get squashed, but they seem to know to stay out of there.

Of course, not everyone has a Grandmother that gives you awesome furniture. Fear not, you can buy one. As a person that typically gets her furniture from thrift shops and relatives, I know the price of new furniture is a bit overwhelming. But if your relaxing needs are similar to my own, a chair like this will be any worthy investment.

The Mother of Invention

This weekend I got to spend some time with my twin. I have not seen her in quite a while because she lives in another state and has a large family, which makes it hard to travel. The distance sucks, but we talk a lot, and even when we don’t there is a bond that no one can touch. I think it would be awesome if every disabled person in the world had a twin. Unfortunately that is not something we can market on the UNlimiters’ website.

My twin has been an invaluable part of my UNlimited life. When we were young she was my constant companion and I would work hard trying to keep up with her. In turn, she would adapt her play for me or help me do something. We were always conniving, her and I. I remember when we had a bunk bed as kids. We both really wanted me on the top bunk, so she pushed and I pulled and somehow we got me to the top bunk. We were thrilled; but then, of course, we couldn’t get down from the top bunk.Then there was the time she tied my trike to her bike and tried to tow me along behind her. It worked for about 5 seconds before I tipped over and was almost hit by a car.

She wasn’t always nice, though. We may have been twins but we were still sisters, and sisters can be mean sometimes. She didn’t always enjoy having me tag along. Sometimes our parents forced her to take me with her in the wagon or my stroller; on these occasions she would take me far enough that I was out of sight and earshot of the house, then leave me stranded while she went to play. She also liked to make me pee my pants when she was feeling extra mean.

These days, she has given up on most of her mean tricks. She is still my best partner when it comes to adaptability, though; she is always helping me come up with new ideas. Even though she doesn’t have CP, my sister seems to understand the way my body works in a way that other people don’t. This makes her a good person to brainstorm with. For example, this last weekend we were at a party at our other sister’s house. A bunch of us were sitting on a blanket playing with my baby niece; but I had to lie down on the blanket because I cannot sit up independently on the ground.

I could have easily sat in a chair, but I wanted to feel included. As I was holding myself up, my twin thought that the wrap she uses to hold her baby hands free could be tied around me in a way that would support my back and allow me to sit up independently. There was a lot of giggling, my oldest niece and my mother thought we had gone crazy, but after some thinking and a few strategically placed knots we came up with this:

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It worked, but after fifteen minutes my neck started to hurt, so the design needs some tweaking. Of course, after we posted the picture of Facebook, my ever practical college roommate suggested that this stadium chair might be an easier solution. I will have to try it; if it works I might be a little sad. My twin and I were sure that we had struck gold with this particular idea.

An UNlimited Year in Review

This post marks my one year anniversary as a blogger for UNlimiters. I can hardly believe that it has been a year, and what a year it has been. I went from being unemployed, to working three part time jobs; from having Hepatitis C to being cured of the disease, and from writing once a month, to writing at least once a week. A lot has changed for me over this year, but many things have stayed the same, including the things I use every day in order to live my life Unlimited. For my anniversary post, I would like to revisit these items, and to share with you the top three I never want to be without.

My very first post highlighted an item that I used most often in my house, the crockpot. Growing up I don’t remember my Mom using the crockpot for anything other than baked beans. The other recipes I had eaten out of a crockpot left much to be desired; so at first I didn’t think I would like cooking with a crockpot. However, I was presently surprised. Crockpots are great for more than just beans, sauces and soups. You can make many delicious items in the crockpot, including desserts. It is a life saver during a busy work week or when I would rather spend time sewing than worrying about what is for dinner.

My second post featured an item I literally could not live without. I mean, I guess I probably could, but it would not be a very full or exciting life. The Hurri-Cane Crutch was introduced to me by a friend of my fathers who happened to know a guy that was trying to market a new kind of Lofstrand Crutch. I have used Lofstrand Crutches since I was about 6. Ever since I was introduced to the Hurri-Cane Crutch, I have never used another, and have tried quite a variety of mobility aids in my time. These crutches are light, stylish and practically indestructible.

Finally, this post featured an item that I had seen a hundred times while being around others with disabilities. Although the reacher was a familiar adaptive tool to me, it was not something I felt I needed. I grew up in an “adapt or fail” type of household. I was taught to adapt to my environment instead of expecting it to change to accommodate me. Thus, I equated the use of certain assistive technology with laziness. However, after starting a new job, I got tired of asking people to pick things up for me; I finally cave and bought the reacher. It has increased my independence and changed my perspective on assistive technology.

Life is about change, it is about learning and growing. The person you are today might not be the person you are tomorrow. You will learn new things, form new opinions and have new experiences, but that doesn’t mean we should discount the things that stay the same. It is the unchanging things in life that give us the confidence to do all the changing along the way.

Simple Switches

There is an old county song by Alabama that reminds me of my husband. You have probably heard it, even if you don’t listen to country. The chorus goes something like this “I’m in a hurry to get things done. I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.” My husband is always early, and he is always in a rush; which I find humorous considering that I am one of the slowest people I know. This difference of pace can sometimes lead to mutual frustration, especially first thing in the morning and around dinner time, when we both seem to be at our crankiest.

In an effort to keep our morning and evening hours as zen as possible, I have adopted many time saving switches that speed us up, plus keep him from pacing while trying not to stress about the clock. Today I am talking specifically about time saving switches for your kitchen; after all, the kitchen if full of time suckers.

The number one time sucking and frustration inducing object in my kitchen are those stupid twist ties they put on bread bags. Not only are the infuriating, they are dangerous for small animals. So I have replaced them with these nifty little clips. The green ones are the perfect size for bread bags or for closing little bags of snacks for lunches. They are reusable and much less likely to show up in a litter box if you misplace them.

The second switch not only saves you time, but also space. When cooking, I never use nestled measuring cups and spoons. Instead, I use a 4 cup measuring cup and a mini measure. These make cooking much easier for me since they require less fine motor control to avoid spills, which allows me to move faster. They also speed up the cleaning process because you are only washing one cup!

My final switch might seem hard to justify for some because of its price, but for me, it is worth it. Cooking vegetables is a huge time sucker; part of this is because my stove takes quite a while to heat up, and microwaving them tends to leave veggies a little mushy. So instead, I spring for the veggies that you can steam in their bag. They always come out perfect and can go from the microwave to the plate! But what about the delicious fresh veggies I am growing my garden? These Zip and Steam bags work perfectly for those too!

These time saving switches really make the kitchen run much smoother. They may seem like small things, but a minute or two here and there can feel like an eternity when you are late for work, tired from a long day at work or just plain old HUNGRY!

I Can Finally Do My Own Hair

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There are some skills you are born with, some skills you acquire and then there are those skills that somehow elude you no matter how hard you try to master them. For me, one of these skills is the ability to style my hair. I simply cannot do it. Well, let me rephrase that, I cannot do it without looking like a six year old did it. Fortunately, this was a problem I was able to avoid for many years; I was blessed with good hair and a twin. On a normal day my hair looks just fine without do anything special to it. I was the queen of the wash and go look; I am also pretty sure my roommates hated me for this. When I needed to get fancy my twin was there with the curling iron and a bottle of hairspray.

Life was good; and then it wasn’t.

My sister abandoned me to go live with her husband and family in Indiana. I stumbled along with a blow dryer and no one else seemed to miss my fancy hair. Occasionally I was lucky enough to have a friend help me out. It wasn’t the same, but I was getting by. Then I was hit with Hepatitis C. Treatment was successful, but it made my hair fall out; suddenly my wash and go hair style was no longer enough. First my hair became thin, which wasn’t too bad, but as it started to grow back it became really frizzy.

I’m not one who usually cares much about what I look like; I regularly leave the house without make-up. But I also hate change. My hair started to bother me because it did not look the same as it had before treatment. I was also starting to feel a little unprofessional. I tried a new conditioner and blow drying, I tried anti-frizz treatments, but nothing worked.

Last week I broke down and bought myself an early birthday gift; a flat iron. I purchased a relatively inexpensive one that was on sale because I wasn’t all that confident I would be able to use it. After a pep talk from my sister, I dove in.

I’m not going to lie; it took me a long time to flat iron my hair, but the results were worth it. My hair looks good again! The time consuming part for me is sectioning out my hair into layers. But once that was done, the flat iron was easy to use and it actually worked. As a bonus, I have used it three times now without burning my skin, hair or any part of the house.

If you have found yourself struggling to style you hair, but can use a blow dryer, then a flat iron may be just the additional tool you need. I know it might seem scary, but go for it. Make sure you keep the receipt though, just in case.

A Recommendation from my Husband

painI am the first to admit that I am not the most sympathetic person when it comes to other people’s aches and pains. When someone stubs their toe and has to grab an ice pack, or spends the rest of the day wincing when they put on their shoes, I have to try really hard not to roll my eyes. I don’t do this to be mean, I just don’t quite understand. While pain is not a constant for me, it happens quite a lot in my world. I fall often. I bounce my head off the floor, the wall, and the bathtub. I burn myself, cut myself and sometimes things hurt for no reason at all; that’s CP for you. So when others make a big deal about things that happen to me so regularly, I find it hard to reach their level of anxiety over it; my husband knows this first hand.

My husband has Psoriatic Arthritis. I have no doubt this is something very painful for him. I also understand the feeling of frustration that comes with feeling older than you should due to certain aches and pains. But when he started complaining about his knee hurting, I sort of blew him off. Partly because of the reasons I stated above, but partly because he stopped taking the medicine they gave him for his arthritis because “it didn’t work.” My husband, like many of his gender, wants immediate results; so when he doesn’t get them he just assumes there will be no results at all.

For a while he just tried to live with the pain. This made him somewhat of a grump. Now, not only did his knee hurt, but it was keeping him from doing things he wanted to do. My husband finally went to the doctor hoping for those immediate results and was prescribed physical therapy instead. It was the fact that he actually went to the physical therapy that made me realize the pain in his knee really was a big problem for him.

The physical therapy was helping, but my husband was still popping pain meds like candy. He was starting to worry that he wouldn’t be able to play kickball in the summer with his friends. Then his father told him about Tart Cherry, a supplement that is supposed to help with joint inflammation that he has used with good results. Now, my husband’s father is a pretty skeptical person, so his results were enough to persuade my husband to give it a try. He has been taking the supplement for a couple weeks now and says that his knee barely bothers him.

I guess I will have to try a little harder to take my husband’s aches and pains more seriously from now on. Since taking the supplement he has become more active again. He got the garden in this weekend and is back to playing kickball with his friends on Fridays; he also seems much less grumpy. I am not sure if I should contribute this to his knee feeling better or the improved weather, but either way, I’ll take it.

Homemade Lunch: No Communal Refridgerator Required

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I have been a full-fledged, card carrying member of the work force for about ten years now. I have to say, being an adult and having a job is not nearly as scary as they made it sound in the brochure. However, there is one thing no one tells you about. It is the one thing that can make you fear for your life and run for the door. It is just as likely to be found at a fancy law firm or doctor’s office, as it is in the employee lounge of a grocery store, or post office. What am I talking about? None other than the communal refrigerator.

Almost anyone who has held a job outside of the home has encountered the communal refrigerator; if you have not, count your lucky stars. Communal refrigerators are notoriously icky. They are usually stuffed full of items that expired during the Clinton administration, and there is almost always an unidentifiable sticky substance lurking at the bottom of the drawers. The freezer is the safest place for your food, but everyone knows that, so good luck squeezing your lunch in there.

The communal refrigerator at my current job isn’t that terrible, but I am still not inclined to use it. Even if I was, the staff lounge is a tight squeeze for my wheelchair, plus the fridge is a side by side, so I can’t reach all the shelves. For me, it is much easier to just keep my lunch with me at my desk, but then there is the concern of keeping it cold. Avoiding the communal refrigerator is pointless if I get myself sick with warm mayonnaise.

I tried a number of lunch coolers before I found one that met all my needs; big enough for my breakfast and lunch, actually kept my food cold and fit in the backpack I use on the back of my chair. But finally the fourth one I tried fit the bill. This lunch tote by Thirty One, holds a lot of food, but its soft sides and shape make it fit easily in my backpack. This bag is also the only one I have found that will keep my food cool until lunch time without the hassle of an ice pack.

So if you are sick of eating out every day just to avoid the horrors of the communal fridge, try this cute little cooler. It can be found in several colors, so you can also stay fashionable while your food stays cool.

Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy…

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I am quite happy to say that I have survived yet another Michigan winter. This winter was by far the worst in my memory, and I hope that it remains the worst that I will see in my lifetime. For now though, the snow is a distant memory and I am now looking ahead to another Michigan summer. When I think about summer, a lot of great memories come to mind; boating with my family, swimming with my sisters in the backyard pool, running around the neighborhood until the street lights came on and of course, summer camp.

Summer camp started off as a rocky experience for me. First, there was the fifth grade class camping trip where I was sent home early because the staff didn’t know how to handle my disability with the activities. Then, there was the time in seventh grade when I went to camp with a good friend. I was again excluded from several activities because of my Cerebral Palsy, plus reprimanded when I slept during free period because I was so exhausted from trying to keep up with the other kids. Luckily, both of those experiences ended on a happy note thanks to supportive friends and family; but it hadn’t left me eager to try summer camp again.

When I moved in with my dad in High School, I was once again faced with the prospect of summer camp. My Step-Mom insisted that my twin and I were both going, and there was really no arguing with my Step-Mom. She had been one of my biggest supporters during the 5th grade camp fiasco, so she had found a camp that was exclusively for people with physical disabilities. I would attend this camp for two weeks; I can’t say I was especially excited about the idea. I had been to similar camps before, usually the activities were geared toward kids much younger than myself and I had felt babied.

As it turned out, going to Indian Trails Camp was one of the best experiences of my life. The activities I was left out of at other camps, like archery, swimming and rope courses, were all adapted so that every camper was included. The beds and showers were accessible, the staff was mostly made up of first or second year college students, and they treated us like friends instead of clients.

Indian Trails Camp changed my life. It gave me the confidence to be just me and to embrace my disability, instead of trying to overcome it. It taught me how to adapt things to fit my needs and that with a few adjustment I could accomplish anything. Indian Trails Camp is where I had my first kiss and met my first boyfriend. It is where I made lifelong friends.  It is where I found acceptance and inclusion for the first time.

I know sometimes difficult experiences can turn us off to new things; but if you are from Michigan, have a disability and you’ve never gotten to experience summer camp, I encourage you to give Indian Trails Camp a try. It is never too late; there is even a camp for adults. Give yourself or your child a summer they will never forget.

Simple Sweeping Solutions: Part Two

downloadAll adults know that being an adult isn’t anything we had imagined as a kid. Sure, we can stay up all night if we want to, but we never want to; in fact, most of us are looking for reasons to stay up passed 8PM. It is also true that we can have ice cream for all three meals if we want to, but we don’t because we no longer have the metabolism of a child, plus just looking at ice cream makes our clothes a bit tighter. We also don’t have to go to school, but we do have to work, which is decidedly worse than school, even though we get paid to show up. We do have our own money, but it isn’t going to that American Girl doll I wanted so badly back in the day; instead I use it for really exciting stuff like my groceries and electricity. All of these things make being an adult one giant let down, but there is one thing that I absolutely hate, above all else, about being an adult: house cleaning.

Of course, house cleaning was terrible as a kid, but at least my parents sometimes threw me a couple bucks to compensate; now the only reward I get is a clean house and that typically lasts anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes depending on the day. I hate cleaning the house. I mean, I know I technically don’t have to clean it, but the alternative of ending up on an episode of Hoarders does not appeal to me either.

Because I hate cleaning so much, I am always looking for something to make cleaning a little easier. A few years ago, I purchased the Mint, and I love it. However, the Mint does have its flaws. It is not great at corners or along edges, and I have to pick up all the chairs and stuff from the floor before I use it. So I do find myself sweeping every now and then, especially those small messes that don’t require a full floor clean.

I have a light weight broom that I can use, but I was forever struggling with the dustpan. Additionally, all the dog and cat hair was sticking to the bristles of my broom so I constantly had to stop and pull them off. After a few months of looking, I finally found something that works for me. This upright dustpan is very sturdy. I can lean on it without it collapsing on me, but it’s also lightweight, which allows me to move it around the room easily. The best part is that it has these teeth that help remove at the stuff that gets caught in the broom.

I have come to terms with the fact that I will be cleaning for the rest of my life. Although it might never be fun, it is always good when I can find a product that makes cleaning just a little easier. This dustpan will not only help keep my floors clean between using the Mint, it also saves me from wrestling on the floor with my old dustpan.

A First Aid Kit for an UNlimited Life

Working at a Center for Independent Living definitely had its perks. The bathroom mirrors were low enough that I could actually see in them while in my chair and there were plenty of handicap spots in which to park. I was also one of many people that used a wheelchair instead of the only one. Being one of many had its own set of perks, most notably, I could go to my boss or a co-worker when I needed a minor adjustment made to my chair.

At my new job, none of these things are available. I have to advocate for myself in order to get the accommodations I need. I have also had to learn how to cope with things I didn’t think much of before; such as those higher mirrors or minor adjustments I might need for my chair. So, of course, today the screw came out of the brake on my wheelchair. It has been loose for weeks, but I kept forgetting to fix it. As luck would have it, I was transferring out of my chair to use the bathroom today and it came off in my hand.

When I got back to my office and showed it to my new boss, he asked if I was going to need to leave in order to get it fixed. Although this was a nice option, the idea filled me with dread. In order to get my chair repaired at Wheelchair Seating I would have to call for an appointment, then a taxi, (making sure to request the taxi an hour before your appointment was scheduled to be sure I made on time) get to the appointment, wait to be seen, wait some more while they fix it, call another taxi to retrieve me and then wait for them to show up. Suddenly, that 5 minute fix would become a two hour (or more) adventure in Boredom-land. There was no way I was going to let one little screw, screw up my day.

Luckily for me I have this handy Allen Wrench set that I keep in my back pack, along with my other emergency essentials. Most wheelchair parts are held on by screws that take various sizes of Allen Wrenches; so this handy little set allows me to fix majority of the loose screws and make minor adjustments on my own. I have had it since my college years, when my wheelchair repair guy was more than two hours away, and it has saved the day on more than one occasion. Today, I put my handy little kit to the test for the first time on my own, (I always had someone around to help me before) and I am happy to report that my brake has been re-attached and is once again fully functional.

Though I would never attempt a major repair on my chair on my own, for fear of making it worse, going to Wheelchair Seating for a loose screw is like going to the doctor for a Band-aid. This little kit allows me to address those minor tune-ups on my own, as opposed to always going to a professional. It’s like a first aid kit for my wheelchair.

Got Too Much Stuff? Donate it– UNlimiters Style!

imagesA few weeks ago my husband and I got a new couch. Well, it wasn’t really new, but it was “new to us.” Unlike our many other pieces of “new to us” furniture, this was very gently used. I love it. Of course, since I use the furniture and the walls to get around my house, we had to make sure that everything was positioned just so; but now that everything has been arranged it looks lovely.However, there is one small problem, and by one I mean two, and by small I mean rather large.

See, despite the fact that our trash company had agreed to take the old couches away for $10 a piece, they are still sitting in my basement, along with the two couches we were using before them. That’s right; I now have four used couches in my basement. Why? Well, that’s a logical question, and if I had an answer there would not be four couches in my basement. I cannot move the couches, so my husband has to do it, and he says that he cannot move them because he needs someone to help him. To date, he has not asked anyone and no one has spontaneously volunteered.

This is seriously enough to drive a woman insane. Fortunately, I have found a way in which I can get rid of some of the other stuff that seems to accumulate when you are a home owner, without needing my husband to help. Donate Stuff is an organization that accepts donations of gently used clothing and household items. The best part? They will pick them up for you on a scheduled date and time. The items you donate will go to a local charity and the pick-up is absolutely free. In my area, the items picked up by Donate Stuff goes to my local Purple Heart, a charity that supports military veterans and their families. It is really easy to schedule a pick – up, you just go to www.donatestuff.com and enter your zip code, then follow the instructions. If pickup is not available in your area, Donate Stuff will send you pre-paid UPS bags to mail in your clothing donations, for free.

Unfortunately for me and my couch situation, Donate Stuff does not pick up large items; they only take items that can be moved by a single person. But they will take clothing, small furniture, small appliances and other household items, which make them a great resource when you clean out your closet at the end of the season, buy a new coffee maker or your child suddenly decides that trains are for babies. You can donate these items knowing that they will be going to new families instead of filling up a landfill or your basement.

So when I look at those four couches sitting in my basement, I remember to be grateful that it is only couches, and not the hundreds of other items I have been able to donate to a good cause. I just keep hoping that someday soon a magic fairy, or a very large man, might come and take them a way.

For the Forgetters

I have a friend who can remember just about everything. I met her 13 years ago and she can still recall, with clarity, many of the conversations we have had over the years. I would like to blame this phenomenon on the value of my words alone, but that is not the case; she simply has a great memory. My own memory is not so great; sometimes I can’t even recall what I had for dinner the night before. I think this is why I have always been drawn to writing and photography; these hobbies can help me recall the events in my life with more detail.

While these two hobbies have helped me remember things in my personal life, I still need a little help remembering things in my professional life; just last week I forgot to submit a very important nomination application to our graduate school. My boss was very kind about it, and thankfully, the mistake was correctable, but I was thoroughly embarrassed. I had put the deadline on my outlook calendar, but because I wasn’t sitting at the computer then the reminder popped up, I never got it.

While I am aware that this problem may not have much to do directly with my disability, as a person with CP I often feel the need to prove that I am capable and qualified, because more often than not, I am judge my strangers to be unable; I am held to not just a different standard, but a lower one. When I make a mistake in my professional life, I often feel like I am proving all the naysayers right. This wreaks havoc on my self-esteem, even when people understand the situation.

I have realized that personally, I cannot rely on technology in order to be less forgetful. Those little reminders are great if you happen to see them, but if you are away from your desk or phone, they are rendered useless. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you will happen to see the reminder only to forget it when something more important distracts you. For me the answer is old school: paper and pencil.

Of course, I am not talking about any paper. I am talking about a daily agenda . These things have been a lifesaver for me since I was 14. Without it, I might not have graduated from high school or even college. I am also very specific about the agenda I use. First, they have to have a nice big writing space for each day so that I can make lists of tasks and reminders for each day. Second, I look for one with a monthly calendar included. This makes it easy to get a big picture of when things are due, upcoming events, appointments and other important dates.

With this agenda at my desk, it is a lot easier for me to remember to do things. It is always in front of me, unlike those pesky phone and computer reminders, and it doesn’t go away until after I have checked it off the list. I feel more efficient, capable and most importantly, less stressed.

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