Jenster's Musings

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Expanding My Mind... Groovy...

Thanksgiving vacation is quickly coming to an end. Five days in a row of sleeping past 8:00 will be a thing of the past until Christmas break. Tomorrow will be the beginning of just another week and life will resume its routine.

Our friends, the Stenmans, invited us to share Thanksgiving with them since we don't have any family around here and we were happy to accept. The food was delicious and the company was so enjoyable. After dinner some of us played Bananagrams:

Have you played it yet? It's like Scrabble only better. I love Scrabble, but it can get tedious while you're waiting for your turn. (I never claimed to be incredibly patient.) But you're on your own when you play Bananagrams so you don't have to wait on anyone! (I think somebody in my family should get it for Christmas.) Not only did I leave the Stenman's feeling pleasantly full and happy at spending a nice day with them, I think I may have left a little smarter, too.

Friday and Saturday were spent baking, cleaning the kitchen and working in the dining room. Katie and I were able to prime above the chair rail and I'm hoping to get the bottom part primed this week. I'm going to have to re-paint all the woodwork, which I'm pretty sure is going to be a pain in the rear, and my plan is to start painting next weekend. We'll just have to see how that pans out. By the way - I love the smell of primer and mineral spirits. I just hope they didn't kill any new brain cells I may have amassed at the Stenman's Thursday.

Today was an enriching day at the theater. I mentioned about a month ago that Katie and her friend, Alexis, sang "Sisters" for their voice recital. It turns out that the Broadway production of White Christmas is currently in Philadelphia.



So Katie, Lexie and I left church after first service, had an early lunch at the King of Prussia Chili's and then headed into Philly for a matinee. (If you'd like to see what we saw on our drive into the city you can reference my last post. And just for the record - I did not take any of those pictures, though I wish I could take credit. I just got them off of Google Images.)

Our seats were in the very last row of the beautiful old theater. It doesn't look nearly as tall from the outside as it feels when you're walking up, up, up the stairs. And the actors' faces were pretty fuzzy from way up there, kind of like when they block out faces on the television to protect their identities.

Still, it did provide a different view. For example, we got to see the beautiful chandelier from the top before they raised it for the performance.



The play itself was delightful, even if we couldn't make out any features on the cast. Katie and Lexie enjoyed it and they held back when "Sisters" was sung on stage. I was a little worried they might get up and sing with the performers!

After the play we walked a block or so down Broad Street and got our overpriced beverage and pastry on at Starbucks. (No, I'm not dissing Starbucks. I'm just telling it like it is.) Then it was time to come home. Who knew the Eagles were in town today? I didn't. And I chose the wrong route to come home and ended up in horrendous traffic. Heinously horrendous!

But we did finally make it home and we're enjoying the last couple hours of our break by eating chocolate crinkles and watching "The Amazing Race". Well, the family is watching "The Amazing Race". I'm typing. Obviously. I just hope that all this culture and brain calisthenics will make me sharper tomorrow at work.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Incessant Babbling

Time for another random "what's been going on" post!

***

Wednesday morning I drove Todd to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia so he could catch the train to DC. Traffic was normal week-morning traffic. That is to say it was horrendous. But I had a 20 ounce cup of coffee, good music on the iPod and fabulous, uninterrupted conversation with Todd. I guess enjoying being stuck in traffic with my husband for an hour and a half just means we really need to get out more.

The drive is pretty as it winds through hilly Conshohocken and Manayunk with the Schuylkill River on one side and low cliffs of black rock and forest on the other. Across the river are beautiful 200 year old churches with tall steeples and stone bridges with big arches. Eventually the rocks give way to Fairmount Park, a 9,300 acre park system made up of 63 different parks including the oldest zoo in the country, Philadelphia Zoo. And then (and this is my favorite part) there’s a bend in the road and the city comes into view in the distance. But first you pass the historical architecture of Boathouse Row, the Philadelphia Water Works and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the modern skyline of Philly just beyond. It’s one of my favorite views and it never seems to get old.








***

My thirty-fourteenth birthday was Thursday. In my mind it’s just another day because thirty-fourteen isn’t a milestone year. Not only that, but it wasn’t the best day for a celebration. Todd was out of town and we had day one of our Thanksgiving Feast at preschool (I now know that food service isn’t my gift either). The Feast was fun but both Leanne and I had tired feet by the time we left.

That morning before I left for work the kids brought me my present from Todd. It was An Echo In The Bone by Diana Gabaldon and is book 7 of one of the best series ever. If you don’t know anything about the Outlander series, let me just tell you this. It’s all consuming and the books are long. It is an investment in time, but so worth it. The shortest book is the first one (Outlander) and it’s around 600 pages long. I usually read the entire series before each new book is released, but didn’t make it this time because my reading mojo is gone. So I’ve started AEITB and I feel like I’m getting to visit with long lost friends. I hope to read the entire series all over once I finish AEITB.

When I got home from work I received another present from the kids. A gift bag full of coffee samples, Mrs. Fields’ truffles and a purse-size 2010 planner. One of the coffee flavors was Jack Daniels’ and my smarty-pants son told me the next morning, “Now you don’t have to put whiskey in your coffee before you go to work, Mom.” They also ran to Wendy’s and got dinner for us so I didn’t have to cook. Then we watched our DVR’d Glee and Castle and it was lovely.

***

The other night I was trying to microwave potatoes and after they had cooked for 6 minutes I took them out to stir, returned the bowl and hit 6 minutes again. This time the appliance made a horrible sound so we decided cooking them on the stove top would be better. Fast forward a couple of days. We hadn’t used the microwave and I decided to give it a go. I thought maybe it had been the turntable doing something wonky. So I put in a cup of cold coffee to reheat and hit 1 minute. It still made the horrible sound so Sookie and I stood on the other side of the refrigerator just in case it blew up. Thankfully there were no sparks and no smoke, just a beeping when the minute was up. Unfortunately the coffee was still cold. So it looks like we need a new microwave. Just what I want to spend our money on this time of year. How long do you think we can live without one? I sort of remember life before their existence. Back when we had a rotary dial on the phone and four channels on the TV. I guess that means real popcorn over the stove, too. Oy!

***

Last, but definitely not least, Todd and I just saw a preview of the season opener for Chuck!! Now I can't wait for January!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Are You Kidding Me??

I'm hopping mad about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's new recommendations on mammography and other excrement concerning breast cancer screening. These new guidelines seriously make me nauseous.

1. No mammograms until 50 and then only every other year.

* Because false positive mammograms cause undo anxiety and unnecessary biopsies.

Please forgive my insensitivity, but so-freakin-what! Isn't one woman's life worth just a little bit more than another woman's temporary anxiety? Not only that, but some mammograms scream CANCER! My oncologist took one look at my films and gave me a 95% probability of a malignancy.

Oncologist Mary Daly, chair of the clinical genetics department at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said the reevaluation was flawed by its reliance on data from outmoded technology, namely film mammography. Digital mammograms, the new standard, have reduced the false-positive rate in women under 50.

* While annual mammography for all women beginning at age 40 reduced the death rate from breast cancer by at least 15 percent, the modeling studies showed the added benefit of starting before age 50 was modest, the researchers found.


Apparently the modest number of lives saved by annual mammography before 50 isn't worth anxiety and unnecessary biopsies in false-positive women.

* "... Petitti said. "Then there's the whole other line of problems that come into play, which is where there are some breast cancers detected that grow very slowly and would never have killed you."

But what about the very aggressive breast cancers, usually found in YOUNGER WOMEN? Those women have a much better chance of long-term survival when that cancer is found early.

And what about those women over 50 who have routine mammograms every year? My mother, for example. Her cancer was aggressive and if she hadn't had a mammogram until the following year there's no telling how far it would have spread.

2. [the task force] concludes that there is insufficient evidence to continue routine mammograms beyond age 74.

My mother was 73 when her cancer was found! So according to these guidelines, if her routine mammogram had been later in the year, like maybe AFTER she had turned 74, her cancer wouldn't have been found until it was much too late. What sense does this make???

3. The task force's new guidelines... also recommend against teaching women to do regular self-exams of their breasts.

Where's a punching bag when I really need one? This one slays me because here's the deal. Under the old guidelines, routine mammograms didn't start until age 40 because younger, denser breasts make it more difficult to interpret changes in the tissue. I was under 40 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Why? Because I just happened to be the patient of the best gynecologist in the entire world and he taught me how to do self-exams so I found my cancer early enough to treat it successfully. Even at that it had spread to my lymph nodes and was stage 2a, so what if I had waited until I was 40? My chances of recurrence would have greatly increased.

The whole thing just makes me want to cry. I feel like we've taken two steps back and I worry what this will mean for women. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, but the statistics have been getting increasingly better due to early detection. I'm so afraid of a backslide because of these new guidelines.

So pardon me while I drag my soap box over here and climb on.

Ladies - know your breasts!! Husbands - know your wives breasts!! Contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:

- A lump that stays the same size throughout your cycle or gets bigger
Breast changes:
- Thickening
- Swelling
- Distortion
- Tenderness
- Skin irritation
- Redness
- Scaliness
- Peau d’orange (dimpled skin resembling an orange peel)
Nipple abnormalities:
- Ulceration
- Retraction
- Spontaneous discharge

Don't freak out because chances are you don't have cancer. But don't you think it's worth a little anxiety and a needle in your boob to be safe rather than sorry?

And feel free to thumb your nose at the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.

*Italicized sections taken from the Washington Post, Tuesday, November 17, 2009.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

To Write Love On Her Arms



Yesterday thousands upon thousands of teenagers wrote the word "Love" on their arms in support of the non-profit movement To Write Love On Her Arms. TWLOHA was started on MySpace with this statement:

To Write Love on Her Arms is a work in progress. This began with one broken girl, one painful night; addiction, depression, cutting. This is a glimpse at the five days that followed, a decision to love and to begin telling her true story. To Write Love on Her Arms is becoming something bigger, something hopeful. It's the realization of what life can be when we commit to meeting a need. A friend of mine told me there's no such thing as suicide prevention. This is an attempt to prove him wrong, to say that love can change a life. We can hold back the darkness. Rescue is possible.


The point is to love people wherever they are. Kids can be so mean to each other without any thought as to the damage they might be inflicting. Depression is rampant in teenagers, suicide is the leading cause of death in 18-24 year olds and cutting (self-mutilation) is on the rise. I have to wonder how those statistics would change if we all just loved each other, especially kids and young adults. Would the fact that these "high risk" people felt accepted and worthy change their habits? Would they be more likely to get help for their depression? Would the feeling of hope replace the need to cut their arms with a razor to feel something? I personally have no idea. But I do know it couldn't hurt.

So the thought of hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country writing "Love" on their arms to tell their peers that they are important blows me away. We're always hearing about horrible teenagers, but there are a whole lot of wonderful kids who genuinely care about others. I don't particularly like it when my kids write on themselves, but I figured this time it was worth a picture. I just hope and pray that every single person who decorated their arm yesterday means it from their heart. No more belittling others, only encouraging.

If you want to know more about TWLOHA you can find information on their website here. And if you want to know where it all started you can read the following. It will break your heart even as you feel the hope building.

To Write Love On Her Arms

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won't see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she'd say if her story had an audience. She smiles. "Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars."

I would rather write her a song, because songs don't wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn't slept in 36 hours and she won't for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she'll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn't ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of "friends" offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write "FUCK UP" large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I've known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she's beautiful. I think it's God reminding her.

I've never walked this road, but I decide that if we're going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes. Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando's finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott's) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I'm not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We're talking to God but I think as much, we're talking to her, telling her she's loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she's inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She's had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn't have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: "The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope."

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we're called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she's known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don't get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won't solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we're called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

High Quality Entertainment

I'm not a huge fan of television - I think it wastes brain cells and steals time, neither of which I have a large supply of - so I don't get into very many shows. In fact I limit the number of programs I'll allow myself to obsess over.

So what am I obsessing over right now? Only two of the best shows EVER.

My absolute favorite right now is Castle. It might even be my absolute favorite ever. And because I adore this show so much I'm always surprised at how many people have never even heard of it.

Richard Castle is a charismatic man and extremely successful mystery writer. His mother (a former Broadway star) and his teenage daughter (much more mature and grounded than either of the adults) live with him and the relationships between the three is precious. Kate Beckett is a tough, but compassionate homicide detective who has to "put up" with Castle because of a request from the mayor. She's loathe to admit what a huge fan of his books she is and even more dismissive of her growing feelings for him.

People, I'm telling you. This show is pure delight. Nathan Fillion plays Castle and he is perfect in the role of charming rogue with just the right mix of self-deprecation and conceit. Stana Katic is ideal as Detective Beckett. And they are so much fun together!

I'm telling ya, best show ever! (Monday nights at 10:00 Eastern on ABC)

And the second best show is...

GLEE. Okay. So it's not exactly high quality entertainment as my title suggests. But the songs are awesome and the arrangements are brilliant! Some of the plots go from a bit silly to flat out ridiculous, but that's part of it's attraction. It's fairly goofy with a serious issue here and there.

You can watch it on Wednesday nights at 9:00 Eastern on Fox OR you can DVR it (like we do) and watch it any time you want.

There are other shows I enjoy watching, but I would happily give up all television as long as I still get to watch Castle and Glee. Until January. Then I'll have to throw in Chuck, too.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Valley Forge, October 25, 2009

Sunday, October 25th was another beautiful day. So I grabbed Precious, loaded Sookie in the car and took off for Valley Forge. It's so pretty and serene and I always come away feeling rejuvinated and just a little closer to God.

And that's all I've got to say about that. Instead I'll let the pictures speak.














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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything in over three weeks. I haven’t read any blogs in that time, either. (I’m not a very good bloggy friend.) So here’s a synopsis of what’s been going on around here.

Katie turned 15 on October 24. Fifteen. As in oh-my-goodness-my-baby-is-so-not-a-baby-anymore. I know I sound like a broken record, but how does that happen?? Crimanetly! That same day she was in a voice recital and sang beautifully. Okay. So I’m her mom and I’m a little biased. A lot biased. But she did a lovely job singing Castle on a Cloud from Les Miserables and she and her friend, Lexie, were cute when they sang Sisters from White Christmas. In fact everybody did a great job. Little Devlin was adorable in her glittery dress as she sang Let’s Get Together from Parent Trap and some of the other singers really were phenomenal. I can hardly wait for the next recital. The teacher, Katie, may not be in such a rush because I know it was a lot of work for her. But she organized and put on a great show.

***

The other morning I was putting our dinner together in the crock pot and it called for a cup (or a cup+) of white wine. Todd came walking in the kitchen as I was uncorking the bottle and gave me a look. You know that look. The one that says, Have you lost your ever lovin’ mind? I just kept at my task and told him I forgot to make coffee and I needed something to get me through the day. Then I had this thought. What if the cork was difficult to pull out and when I finally managed to dislodge it I spilled wine all over me? I wouldn’t have time to change so I would have to go to work smelling like alcohol. For a preschool. At a church. Thankfully that didn’t happen so I went to work smelling like my usual self – whatever that is. Hopefully not bad, but you know how it’s hard to smell yourself and people are too nice to tell you if you’re odiferous. Especially at a preschool in a church. Except for kids that age are very honest and I think if I smelled bad one of the kids would have mentioned it by now. Then again, I’m not really that close to the kids on a regular basis. But I do shower every morning so I can’t imagine I smell too awfully bad. But I digress.

As I turned the corner from the stairway to the offices I saw Leanne, the Preschool Director, sitting at a table with a bunch of paperwork and a strange man. Let me rephrase. A man who was a stranger. I don’t know if he was strange or not. But anyway, it turns out he was the State Inspector who dropped by for a surprise visit. And do you know what my first thought was? Thank you, Jesus, that I didn’t spill wine on my clothes this morning! ‘Cause, you know, if I had walked by him smelling like a Wharf Licker wino he might have been disinclined to pass us with flying colors. But pass us he did – and with those flying colors I mentioned – because we have the best preschool in the area, if not the state, if not the entire country – maybe even the world. Just sayin’.

***

Several years ago Todd had hair. Then one summer he agreed to play Pharaoh in our church’s VBS dramatization of the story of Moses. So he channeled his inner Yul Brenner and shaved his head, much to the surprise of just about everyone. It was priceless. He had this big headpiece on so no one had any idea. Then he got mad at Moses and threw his headpiece on the ground, revealing his bald head to everyone in the audience. The corporate gasp was priceless. So was the small scream 3-year-old Katie let out when she saw her daddy without his hair. He made a great Pharaoh and even threw in an Etcetera, etcetera, and so forth every now and again which was really funny considering it was the wrong Yul Brenner movie altogether.

From then on he never let his hair grow more than a quarter of an inch. He decided it was so much easier for me just to trim his hair every now and again. Then finally, about a year ago, he went back to the Mr. Clean look. He uses Head Blade products to shave his scalp and then buff his head to a nice sheen. The other day, however, he not only shaved his scalp, he scalped his scalp. Took two honkin’ chunks out of the top of his head. I had to cut a flap of skin off one of the chunks! Of course, since these were on the top of his head they bled like a stuck pig, though I don't really know exactly what that means other than to say they bled a lot. So I had to put bandaids on his head, too. Lucky for him it was cold enough to wear a hat! But he’s going to have to let his hair grow some now because he can’t shave until his head is completely healed. Oh, the irony…

***

Today was absolutely beautiful. Sunny, blue skies and low 60’s made it perfect for a walk in the woods. So Sookie and I walked for a little over two miles on the Perkiomen trail. One of the things I love about living where we do is all the trails around here. The Perkiomen trail is the closest to us and it follows the Perkiomen Creek, meandering through beautiful woods and alongside the ski slopes of Spring Mountain. There were a lot of bikers and almost as many walkers or runners today, but also we came across two different groups of horseback riders. Sookie had never seen horses up close and personal and I was a little concerned she might start her vicious I’m really afraid of you but I’m going to stand my hackles on end and snarl at you so you might think I’m a coyote thing, but she didn’t. Instead she slunk down to the ground and weaseled her way behind me. But as soon as the horses passed she decided they looked like they might be fun to chase. I finally had to stop and let the horses get out of sight because she wasn’t heeling very well.

When we got back from walking, Todd took her over to Brady’s house and I joined up with him soon thereafter. The dogs ran and jumped and nipped and played and did their peeing rituals (where one of them pees and the other one sniffs the area and then pees on top of it) while Todd and I visited with Bill and Laura. I left early to go home and make dinner and when Todd and Sookie got home she was one pooped puppy. Just the way I like her!

***

So there you have it. A few things that have happened since my last post. I can't promise when my next post will be because I want to make some blog rounds, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to wipe out my Google Reader and start over. I hate doing that because I'm so afraid I will have missed something really great or important, but I'm too far behind to catch up.

Until next time...

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