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September 26, 2023 33 mins

Friends! Have I got an inspiring episode for you!

NASA Flight Engineer, José Hernández, who served aboard the International Space Station, is here to share his remarkable personal story that took him from his migrant farmworking childhood to outer space. Along the way he acquired advanced engineering degrees, learned the Russian language, took flight lessons and became a certified SCUBA diver... all with the unwavering support of his parents, loving wife, and extended family.  He's also a pioneer in the digital mamography field and his contributions have saved countless lives.

The movie about his life, "A Million Miles Away", debuted on Prime on September 15. Listen to our podcast, then watch the film! You will be so inspired! ~ Delilah

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:04):
Is there frost on your pumpkins? Yet? You know that
line comes from an old poem by a man named
James Quitcomb Riley. Now, if you decide to look it up,
like my producer did, you'll get the gist of the poem.
Maybe fall has come, that's what it's saying. But I

(00:26):
can't pronounce half of the words. I can't pronounce ninety
percent of the words in the poem, So I'm guessing
it means that fall is here. One thing is for certain.
Fall officially fell a couple of days ago. And even
though there is no frost on my pumpkins currently, there
will be soon. School has been back in session for

(00:47):
a number of weeks, now months for some of our kids,
and the rhythm of life is now more predictable than
the lazy, hazy, wonderful days that marked our summer. I
do love seeing the kids excited about some new something
they're introduced to in school. The history projects are, of
course my favorite, well, history and art. I love it

(01:09):
when we combined history and art, or science and art,
or English and art, especially when they research a character
or event or turn it into a theatrical presentation. Projects
like this make learning so engaging and so much fun,
not just for the students, but for me, for the

(01:30):
whole family, the whole community. Science fairs are the best.
I wouldn't be surprised if today's podcast guest found himself
the subject of just such a school project. His story
is so remarkable and inspiring a movie has been made

(01:50):
about it, and my kids loved it and cried. They
were so inspired, happy tears, just like I did. The
movie is called A Million Miles Away. It debuted globally
on Amazon Prime on September fifteenth. It's about NASA flight
engineer Jose Hernandez and his devoted family of proud migrant

(02:13):
farm workers on a decade's long journey from a rural
village in Mexico to the fields of the San Joaquin
Valley to more than two hundred miles above the Earth
in the International Space Station. With the unwavering support of
his hardworking parents, his relatives teachers that inspired him. Jose's

(02:37):
unrelenting drive and determination culminates in the opportunity to achieve
his seemingly impossible goal. A Million Miles Away is a
dazzling tribute to the loyalty and tenacity of the entire
Hernandez family, as well as anyone anyone who dares to

(03:00):
dream and is willing to fight for that dream to
make it come true. Today, Jose joins us to share
some of his story in his own words, and to
tell us what it was like to have a movie
made about his amazing life. Let me first be in
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(04:07):
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play hard to get. Good morning, Jose, how are you good?

Speaker 2 (04:26):
Is this like the same Delilah? I listen on the
radio late at night as a drive from LA to
northern California.

Speaker 1 (04:34):
That would be me.

Speaker 2 (04:36):
There you go, that's the voice I recognize.

Speaker 1 (04:39):
So let's I want to introduce you to our audience. Jose, sure,
and tell our listeners about the movie that that is
about your life, based on your book that you wrote
a million miles away. The name of the book.

Speaker 2 (04:52):
Is It's Reaching for the.

Speaker 1 (04:54):
Stars by Jose Hernandez.

Speaker 2 (04:57):
By yours truly.

Speaker 1 (04:58):
Yes, Jose loved the movie, and how amazing what a
life God has given you, What a life you've got
to lead.

Speaker 2 (05:08):
I'm a blessed man surrounded by people that loved me,
and that makes the world a difference to.

Speaker 1 (05:13):
Light that came through so strong in the movie. The
love of your parents, the love of your siblings. Did
you really lose a cousin?

Speaker 2 (05:23):
Yes? Well, you know, you know, one of the things
when they're making a movie like this is that, because
of time constraints, it's hard to tell a whole life story,
and it's hard to tell a whole life story in
two hours. So they'll combine, they'll combine characters. But I'll

(05:45):
tell you I had and they made him into a cousin.
They were actually friends of mine, neighborhood friends, and it
was four of us, and I'll tell you one died
of a drug overdose, the other one committed suicide, and
the other ones you know, running around somewhere here, and
then it's myself. So you know, it was the the

(06:07):
tragedy of living in the type of neighborhoods we lived
in that you know, they succumb. And the big difference
was their family was more dysfunctional, whereas my family was
a very loving family. And I think that makes a
world of difference.

Speaker 1 (06:21):
To Oh, it makes a world of difference in everything.
Did you ever think maybe you should have played you
in the movie?

Speaker 2 (06:29):
Well, you know, I you know, my wife puts it
very very clearly. She's very clear with me. She says,
stay in your lane. You're not an actor. Stay in
your lane.

Speaker 1 (06:40):
Oh, there's so many things in the movie. I hope,
I hope that those were true to life, because, yeah,
there's a young lady named Ali who's a part of
our family in the studio with really, and as we
were watching the movie, she said, talking about the relationship
with you and your wife, she goes, she loves him.

(07:01):
She and that was that was for me, a bigger
theme even than you seeing your dreams come true, was
seeing the family members that believed in your dreams.

Speaker 2 (07:14):
Yes. Yes, And you know, when we went through the
first iteration of the script, the role of my parents
and uh and my wife worked somewhat, you know, minimized
in a sense that it was more on a side
thing and it was more about me in the movie.
And what I did was I it was strategic in

(07:37):
a sense that I invited the director Alejandra Marquez Abeya.
I said, why don't you come down and spend a
few days with us and interview my wife, interviewed my
parents and look at how we interact. And Uh, it
worked because then she went back and she made that
emphasis of you know, how pivotal it was to have

(08:00):
my wife's support, how pivotal it was for my parents,
my parents providing that environment so I could flourish. And
and so they changed it in that way that you know,
I was so happy that it wasn't about me one
hundred percent, that it was more about a community. You know,
it's more about a town. You know that hey, you

(08:23):
know as a result of having all this great, wonderful
love and support, you know, that's what helped me propel
myself to eventually get selected as an astronaut.

Speaker 1 (08:33):
That that came across so clearly in the movie. That love,
that support. Uh, first from your parents, well, first from
your grandparents when you were saying goodbye in your hometown,
uh and coming north to be migrant workers. So from
your grandparents and the community there, to your parents, to

(08:56):
your teacher that encouraged you. As the end of one. Yes,
and that's a true story. That was a true part.

Speaker 2 (09:03):
That is a very true story.

Speaker 1 (09:05):
Did she actually come to the launch?

Speaker 2 (09:07):
Yes. We looked her up and we invited her. And
she was sitting next to my parents when I launched
up into space, so she was right there watching it. Lia.

Speaker 1 (09:18):
So there were two or three times in the movie
I cried, But when it showed her talking to you,
I was a mess. I was a mess. I was
thinking about all the teachers that have touched my life,
my kids' lives. Mister Allen, who's the music teacher at
our school that totally impacted all my kids, that went

(09:39):
through his school. You know, I think sometimes teachers are
not given the applause they deserve for the lives they impact.

Speaker 2 (09:49):
More in that, Delilah is that. You know, I give
a lot of motivational talks, and I give talks to
Corporate America to students, But I love when I give
talks to teachers at teacher conferences. And I love telling
this story of miss Young, I said, because I tell

(10:11):
the teachers. I said, Look, I get it. There's times,
because I've been in classrooms when classrooms are gone wild
and the teacher doesn't have control, or they're having a
bad day, and they think they don't make a difference
in the kid's life. And I said, but let me
tell you a story about this one second grade teacher
who just took the time out of her schedule to

(10:34):
come and visit us and convince my father to stop
living this nomadic migrant farm working lifestyle and to stay
in one place so that we would have a chance
at getting a good education. I said that one little meeting.
And she says, and she admits it. She said, look,
I just went to your house and talked to your parents.

(10:55):
That's all I did. I said, But yeah, you changed
the trajectory of a whole family. And I tell the teachers,
I said, so, whenever you get frustrated and you think
you're not making a difference, think of the little things
you do to the kids, because you know what, those
are probably the ones that affect the student more than

(11:19):
anything in a positive way.

Speaker 1 (11:21):
Well, that came across loud and clear in the movie,
and I was I was cheering for her, I was
cheering for you. Our whole family sat down and watched
it together and we talked about it afterwards, and we
were all so touched. And it's funny how different people
picked out different aspects. My youngest son, who's seven, all

(11:42):
he was interested in was the rocket ships. And he
heard you in the beginning of the movie when you
worked as an engineer talking about the incoming missiles, you know,
and he clung to that and he's like, you know,
he helped protect us from the missiles, and he helped
like he obsessed with that. And then seeing the space

(12:03):
shuttle take off, you know, he loved that part. I
was all about the family and your wife. My gosh,
what a blessed woman you. Wow.

Speaker 2 (12:15):
Yes, I couldn't have done it without her. That's for sure.

Speaker 1 (12:18):
That is for sure. That is and you certainly wouldn't
have been able to raise your children without Oh.

Speaker 2 (12:23):
Yeah, absolutely, five beautiful kids. And you know, the oldest
one just graduated with his PhD in aerospace engineering gets
what he wants to be when he grows up.

Speaker 1 (12:33):
Now, is he the one that in the movie made
the model of the earth with the stars shining through
the oldest one?

Speaker 2 (12:40):
Uh huh.

Speaker 1 (12:40):
That was very sweet. That was beautiful.

Speaker 2 (12:43):
Yeah, And when we're not when we're going to premiere
it today at the University of Pacific campus where he
and I graduated, both undergraduate, and he'll be there, My
son will be there with me at that premiere at
the university campus.

Speaker 1 (12:58):
Fun. So what was it like? I mean, what was
it like to be out there in absolute silence and
weightlessness and look.

Speaker 2 (13:08):
Well it is it's pretty surreal that you know, words
cannot do justice to how one feels when you go
up there. The first thing is is the trip up there.
You know, you go from zero miles per hour on
the launch pad to seventeen thousand, five hundred miles an

(13:31):
hour in eight and a half minutes. You accelerate from
zero to seventeen thousand, five hundred miles and eight. It's
the best eat ticket ride you can vote for at Disneyland.
I mean it is. It's a wild ride, and the
pressure keys building and building and building to the point
that at eight minutes thirty seconds, it feels like three

(13:51):
of you are on top of you. That's the course
three g's you're feeling on your body. And then you
reach that marker eight minutes thirty seconds it's called Miko
main engine cutoff, and all of a sudden, that big
five hundred pound gorilla disappears. Now you're kind of floating

(14:13):
loosey goosey in your seat, but you have your seat
belt on and it's not until you unbuckle your seat
belt that you just start floating up. And I'll tell
you never get tired of floating in space, never get
tired of zero G. You start trying to figure out
how to move from point A to point B, and the'itiure.

(14:34):
You push yourself too hard and then you crashed on
the other side, and little by little you finance it
and you become more graceful as you float and do
your best Superman impersonation moving about the cabin and then
later at the International Space Station. I'll tell you it's
an experience that you know, words just can't do it justice.

Speaker 1 (14:57):
Well the movie did it justice. The movie was wonderful.
A Million Miles Away is available now and everybody. Everybody
should watch it. I don't care if you've got kids
who are starting school, if you've got kids who finish school,
if you don't have kids, everybody should watch the movie
because it's so inspirational, so inspirational, and I think we

(15:21):
all have a dream that God placed inside of us
when we were little. You were fortunate to be able
to express that and have people that bought into it
and encouraged you. But everybody's got a dream, don't you
think everybody's got to dream that little thing inside them
that they're like, this is what I want to do.

Speaker 2 (15:40):
I believe everybody has a dream. But one of the
things I think is that some people are afraid to
articulate or to come to terms with that dream, because
if they bring it out and be open, they feel this, okay,
now I'm committed. Now I've got to do this, and

(16:01):
that's okay. You'll find that if you do bring it
out in the open instead of feeling that commitment, you're
going to have help around you to help you reach
that goal. And instead of taking that lone wolf approach
and say, well I got this myself and I'm going
to keep it to it and don't tell any I
think it's best to get that whole support around you

(16:22):
so that it hears you for success.

Speaker 1 (16:31):
I'm going to give a spoiler alert here for folks
who have not yet seen the movie. There is one
scene where the character playing you gets very vulnerable and
you share with your future wife what your dream is
and her reaction is priceless. It was we were all

(16:54):
laughing with her, and did that actually happen? I mean,
did you are with her? And did she and did
you feel totally shot down?

Speaker 2 (17:05):
You know, you got to understand, you know, she she
comes from a similar background I do, migrant farm working background,
and so for us kids at that age, I was
courting her at the time. She wasn't my wife. I
was courting her and uh.

Speaker 1 (17:23):
Courting her because her daddy wouldn't let her out of
his sight.

Speaker 2 (17:26):
And that's true, that's true. I mean I could not
go on a date with her there. She couldn't get
in my car and go to a movie that that
was not happening. It's old school. So you want to
court my daughter, you got to be here and and
by the way, I got to be here in the
house when you're here, and uh and and then that
is one true traditional Mexican family from Mexico. I mean,

(17:49):
that's how it was done in the old days, and
that's how I I did it. The nice thing is
that her mom was very nice to me. Her mom
really liked me, and uh, and so she was super
nice me. But but but yes, uh, you know, for
us to talk about those type of dreams that like
mine being an astronaut, you know, here's here's this uh,

(18:10):
this girl who's also a migroanphone worker like me. And
you know, she expected me to say, well, I want
to graduate high school and work somewhere in town, not
in the fields, you know, because that was the goal,
is to get out of the fields. And and that
was considered a success. But when I said I want
to be an astronaut, she thought I was kidding, and
so she was laughing, and of course I kept a

(18:32):
straight face and felt, you know, you know, felt felt silly.
But then she realized, wow, this is your you're serious.
I said, yeah, yeah, I am man. So okay.

Speaker 1 (18:47):
I love that scene. And then I loved later on
when you got what your twelfth rejection letter? How many
rejection letters did you get in real life?

Speaker 2 (18:54):
Eleven rejection letters? It was the twelfth time that I
finally got selected.

Speaker 1 (18:58):
You got selected, you had gotten your eleventh rejection letter,
and she said, what do the ones who are getting
chosen have that you don't? Right, And you saw how
teamwork came into play, and she helped you to, you know,
kind of fill out your resume.

Speaker 2 (19:14):
At that time, we were getting ready, she was getting ready.
We were saving up to open a restaurant because that
was her dream. Remember in that earlier scene she wants
to be and so we were going to open up
her restaurant. And when I got rejected that time, I
was ready to give up. It was actually the sixth
time when I got rejected that I was ready to

(19:37):
give up. And my wife sensed the fact that I
was giving up, and uh and and she says, you know,
she catered to my ego because she says, you're not
a quitter. I said, you know, yes, NASA did not

(19:59):
want you. These has six selection rounds. It says, but
you don't know in the future. Read the last sentence
of the rejection letter and I read it to her, says,
please feel free to reapply. So they're not telling you
not to reapply, but I will tell you won't get
selected if you don't apply. And if you do that,
she said, you're always going to have that warm of

(20:19):
curiosity inside you. What if? What if? And you're going
to grow up to be a bitter old man. And
I don't want to live with bitter old men. So
tell me what do they have that you don't have.
And that's when we realize, Hey, I have to take
flying lessons, I have to learn how to scuba dive,
get certified, and then maybe I have to go to Russia,

(20:40):
so I have to learn Russian. And I didn't want
to do those things because the money we had was
saving it for a restaurant. And she said, you know,
the restaurant can wait.

Speaker 1 (20:49):
You know that's love. That is so much love. And
now you've got not only a restaurant, but I understand
you have your own wine.

Speaker 2 (21:00):
You're well, it's a vineyard that we have. What happened was,
you know, there's an old saying, Deliah, you can take
the kid out of the farm, but not the farm
out of the kid. And first chance when I came
back home that I did was I bought a vineyard.
And and but the only way I would have bought

(21:21):
it was with dad's with Dad's consent, because I told
my father. I took him to the vineyard. I said, look,
I'm planning on buying this. What do you think He said, well, yeah,
go ahead and do it. He says, yes, but I
need your help. He said, what do you mean? He said, well,
you know, I know how to pick grapes. We done
that as kids. I said, but I don't know how

(21:42):
to manage a vineyard. I don't know when to fertilize water,
and you do. I said, so you have to agree
to work with me so that we can make this success.
And he said, yeah, so, I'll tell you the lie.
These past seven years are the best years I spent
with my father, quality years where we work hand in
hand in the vineyard. And he has taught me so much.

(22:05):
He still gets on the tractor. He's eighty five years old,
but still gets on the tractor and helps me out.
And and then you know, about three years ago, I
took a tour of the winery where I sell my grapes,
and uh, and they showed me the wine making process
and I said, hey, this isn't rocket science. I can
do this.

Speaker 1 (22:27):
You knew it wasn't rocket science, since you know, you
know rocket.

Speaker 2 (22:30):
Science, and if it was, I got you covered, right,
But so so I I embarked. I took a couple
of courses that you see davis to terms in the
area of wine making, and uh, before you knew it,
Tira Luna Cellars was born. Uh. And now we I
have a virtual winery. You know, I make my wine

(22:52):
and I sell it direct to consumer via the internet
on the website Tia Luna Cellars, and I have three
varieties of wine. And I could honestly say that it's
the best tasting wine made by an astronaut because it's
probably the only.

Speaker 1 (23:06):
Wine lead only wine made by a now.

Speaker 2 (23:09):
But it does taste out of this world, Delia. I
will tell you that tastes out of this world.

Speaker 1 (23:14):
Before we started the interview, Jose, I got a biography
that your people sent me and I'm reading it and
I'm like, oh, my word. Before you decided that you
well you'd already decided you wanted to go into outer space,
but before you had that opportunity, while you were getting
your rejection letters, you helped develop mimmographies, the mamogram. Do

(23:37):
you know how many women in my life their lives
have been saved by the technology that you helped to pioneer.

Speaker 2 (23:44):
It's hundreds of thousands of not millions, delaiyah.

Speaker 1 (23:47):
Yeah, but they're not my friends. I'm just talking about
my family and friends, people in my immediate circle. In
my immediate circle, I have at least a dozen women
that I love that are in my heart whose lives
have been saved by the technology that you help to develop.

Speaker 2 (24:06):
Yeah. Yeah, And we developed it as a result of
defense technology. You know, when the Soviet Union broke apart,
a lot of projects got canceled because there wasn't that justification.
So there was a big technology push to say, okay,
all technology that was being used for defense oriented applications,

(24:29):
how can we apply it to the private sector. And
so a colleague and I I was working in developing
an X ray laser as a defense shield to be
deployed up in space, and we applied this technology to
build the first full field digital mammography system for the

(24:50):
earlier detection of breast cancer. And then we incorporated the computer.
Since this was digital, Now we can program the computer
to look for possible early precursors to cancer, like microclacifications,
delate circumscribed lesions, asymmetric glandular distortion, all those type of
things that radiologists look for. You know, I spent six

(25:14):
months at Universal calfun As, San Francisco with radiologists, learned
how to read radiographs and I put that into our
expert system for our computer. And then we partnered with
a company called Fisher Imaging up in Denver, Colorado, and
they became the first ones to commercialize digital imaging systems
for mammography applications. And I'm so very proud of that.

(25:36):
You know, when people ask me what's your most proudest
technical achievement, it's not being an astronaut, it's not going
to space. It's actually being one of two individuals to
have help invent the fulfilled digital mamography system for earlier
detection of breast cancer.

Speaker 1 (25:55):
There's so many things so say. I'm just so thrilled
to be able to talk to you, to be able
to tell you What a blessing your story is. What
a blessing you are to teachers, what a blessing your
story is to kids, to nerds. I'm a proud mom
of many nerds and that love science, that love you know,

(26:18):
things that are not perhaps that cool. Well now it's
kind of cool. But just your inspiration and your inspiration
for love, that's the main thing.

Speaker 2 (26:31):
Well, thank you very much. And you know, I just
love listening to you. I'm a big fan of yours,
through your program, through your music, everything. I think it's
a great program.

Speaker 1 (26:42):
NASA flight engineer Jose Hernandez is with us on this episode,
inspiring us with his story of building his personal launchpad
that took him and his dreams to outer space. We've
got a little more time with him, but I need
to interrupt our conversation to give a shout out to
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(27:04):
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(28:14):
Someone Well. Don't be surprised if someday in the future
you see a young man Paul Adam Renee in the
jumpsuit getting on board whatever it is, it'll be flying.

Speaker 2 (28:28):
Yeah. I would just say, you know, the best piece
of advice I can give him is the advice my
father gave me when I told him I wanted to
be an astronaut. He said, he said, First, define your
purpose in life.

Speaker 1 (28:43):
Second ingredient number one yeap.

Speaker 2 (28:46):
Second, recognize how far you are from that goal. Third,
draw yourself a roadmaps so you know how to get there. Four,
prepare yourself accordingly to the challenge you pick. And fifth
develop a strong ethics second to none. And then that's

(29:11):
when I add the sixth ingredient Deliah, which is word
of the day perseverance. Never ever ever give up on yourself.

Speaker 1 (29:20):
Such wise words from your father.

Speaker 2 (29:24):
But the important thing is that you've got to deal
with the concept that you know, failure is okay as
long as you learn from it, because you know what,
you're going to come back stronger than ever. And so
don't be afraid to fail. I would be more scared

(29:46):
to not do anything for fear of failure, because that
means I'm not going to achieve anything. You've got to try.
You've got to put yourself out there and you got
to work hard, and you've got to accept the fact that, hey,
it's not always going to be a success. But I
learned from this, and next time I try it, I
just need to do this, this, and this before I

(30:08):
try it again, and then go and do it again.
So you got to you got to be aggressive with
your goals and say I'm going to do it.

Speaker 1 (30:17):
Amen. Amen, Jose, thank you for spending time with us.
I want everybody to go see the movie a million
miles away and to get your book. I wish I
had read the book first. I got to get the
book because I like reading books first and then seeing
the movie. But I'm so glad I got to see
the movie, and I'm so glad I got to see
it with the people you see here in the studio

(30:39):
with me.

Speaker 2 (30:39):
Because yes, and there's actually three books, Delaila. It's Reaching
for the Stars. It's the self pen out of biography
for the middle reader. It's from a farm worker to astronaut,
where I take him on that fourteen day journey into space.
And then I have a children's bilingual illustrated book, The

(31:02):
Boy Who Touched the Stars. So any one of those,
you know, you seem to have all the age ranges
there that would serve them well to read those books.

Speaker 1 (31:13):
I'm ordering those as soon as we finish this podcast.
All right, Thank you, God bless you, and I look
forward to getting your books. We're going to order them
as soon as we're done.

Speaker 2 (31:23):
I send you lots of love to you and your family,
and thank you very much for the opportunity to be
here on your podcast. Love being on your show, and again,
keep up the great work of your program at night
in the radio. I Love that too.

Speaker 1 (31:35):
A Million Miles Away debuted globally on Amazon Prime September fifteenth.
This is a mussy movie. You got to see this,
and if you've got young children or grandchildren, you got
to watch it with them. It will serve to inspire
anyone from your grade schoolers to the person inside of
you who still has a dream that you've been nurturing

(31:58):
your whole life. We all should have dreams that we
want to achieve. Calling it family friendly is an understatement.
It will wrap your family in a big hug. It
will give you something wonderful to discuss at the breakfast table,
the dinner table, over many many meals. It might inspire
you and your kids to take on a project to

(32:19):
help them draw on a little piece of paper what
they want to be when they grow up. Don't be
surprised if you find yourself shopping for or crafting an
orange flight suit for a Halloween costume this year, or
if your child wants a telescope for Christmas, or even
if they've asked to choose a historical figure to make
a school presentation about, and that person is jose Hernandez.

(32:43):
That's the first person on the top of their list.
Maybe your pumpkins are still frost frey and setting in
the farmer's field, but cooler temps are on their way.
Fall festivities aren't far behind. There's so much to look
forward to, and I am excited to share it all
with you on the air on my daily podcast. Hey,
it's Delilah right here on Love Someone. I'll be back

(33:06):
in a few weeks with another inspiring, entertaining, thrilling guest.
Until then, you know what to do, Slow down and
love someone.
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