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Blink Book Review #5: “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

Reba Campbell

Posted July 6, 2022

By Reba Campbell

I recently reread Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” for the umpteenth time in anticipation of a class I’ll be teaching. And while “Bird by Bird” might be the ultimate guide to writing, it’s also chock full of life lessons.

Anne is a prolific writer on uneasy life topics like coping, death, disappointment, illness and addiction. But that’s not to say her work is a downer in any way. Her writing is hilarious, brazenly honest, quirky, genuine and just plain fun to read.

The book’s title itself if a life lesson I invoke frequently. “Bird by Bird” reflects a story of her brother who, as a child, was overwhelmed by the enormity of an assignment to write a report about birds. Anne’s father, a prolific writer himself, just advised her brother to take it “bird by bird.” What simple, yet powerful, advice to guide us through most of life’s trying times.

Anne shares many practical lessons about writing including how she organizes thoughts using good old fashioned index cards and forces herself past writer’s block by accepting the first draft will meet no one’s eyes but her own.

Her chapter on perfectionism is particularly helpful. She writes, “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and messes show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”

This book is a must-have for any aspiring writer reminding all of us that writing can’t be constrained by a single practice, a series of rules or edicts from others. Writing is about voice and heart and truth and expression.

“We write to expose the unexposed,” she writes in the chapter about finding your voice. “If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”

If you’re into reading about writing, I’ve got lots of other suggestions. Read on here for some favorite books about writing and writers.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This review is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com.

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Red vs. Blue

Posted July 5, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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Living on Purpose: Land of the free because of the brave

Dr. William Holland

Posted July 5, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

Every summer we look forward to July fourth because it’s filled with fun things to do, like barbecuing, picnics, games, family gatherings, camping, and fireworks. And of course, for many it’s a paid holiday which is always nice. However, along with the celebrations, there is also a solemn awareness of those who have served and sacrificed for our country so that we can enjoy our freedom. Independence Day focuses on the courage of many Americans who fought against Great Britain in the Revolutionary War and with much blood-shed declared the victory and helped establish this great nation. On July fourth, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, declared the sovereignty of the United States of America as they signed the Declaration of Independence which is recognized as our nations birthday.

There is a moving account of a young man who was a soldier in this war and in every sense of the word defines the meaning of a true American hero. Nathan Hale of Coventry, Connecticut was born in 1755 and grew up to be a highly educated and handsome young man who had every prospect for a happy and fulfilling life. Those who knew him commented on his love for sports, his kindness and strong Christian convictions. As tension increased about a possible conflict with the British, Nathan like many other enthusiastic young men, joined a local militia and was quickly advanced to the rank of sergeant. When the war officially became a reality, many chapters of Connecticut militia rushed to Massachusetts to help their neighbors during the Siege of Boston but Hale was unsure whether to join these forces or to wait and see what would unfold. He was a young professional teacher that had a lot to lose especially with not being clear about what was happening. In early July 1775, Nathan received a heartfelt letter from his best friend, Benjamin Tallmadge who had seen the war firsthand and was now relaying about the situation. Tallmadge told Nathan that teaching school was truly noble but at this time it was critical to consider the responsibility of defending this glorious country. The day after receiving this letter, Nathan Hale resigned his teaching position and became dedicated to the call of duty.

When George Washington reorganized the army in January, 1776, Nathan received a captain’s commission where he spent six months helping to build fortifications and preparing for the inevitable battle for Manhattan Island. Early in September 1776, Washington formed an elite, green beret-type group of New England Rangers and Hale was soon invited to command one of the four companies whose mission was forward reconnaissance. Washington desperately needed to know the probable site of the upcoming British invasion and the best way to obtain this pivotal information was to send a spy behind enemy lines. This was extremely dangerous and guess who volunteered?

It is not verified exactly how Hale was captured but we know he was immediately brought for questioning before the British commander, General William Howe. Intelligence information was found on Nathan and since this was not in code or invisible ink, he was irrevocably compromised. Although Howe was moved by the young man’s demeanor and patriotism, it could not be denied that he was out of uniform behind enemy lines. The customs of war were clear and Nathan was sentenced to hang. The next morning, Sunday, September 22, 1776 at 11:00 AM, Nathan Hale was marched north, about a mile up the post road to the Park of Artillery where after giving a spirited speech he was executed. A British military engineer and cartographer named John Montresor witnessed the event and was deeply touched by Nathans composure and his last words. As fate would have it, Captain Montresor was ordered to deliver a message from General Howe to Washington under a white flag that very afternoon. Montresor sincerely emphasized that Nathan had impressed everyone with his sense of dignity and courage, quoted Nathans words while he stood on the gallows: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Nathan Hale’s body was left hanging for several days near the site of his execution and later was buried in an unmarked grave. He was 21 years old.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: No Worries

Posted June 29, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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Living on Purpose: Whose report will we believe?

Dr. William Holland

Posted June 29, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

Whatever we are concerned about today, faith and discernment are key components of our prayers. Without spiritual sensitivity, we do not understand God’s will and faith is what empowers and activates our communication with Him. We believe in miracles because we know that God listens and is the only one who has the authority to restore and provide. If someone is having a health crisis, the Bible declares that He is the Great Physician and our healer. This is exciting truth until doubt and fear sneak in the back door and Satan repeats the same strategy to deceive as he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. His favorite temptation is to plant seeds of uncertainty and confusion in our minds to question whether faith is real or our imagination. In our times of trouble, we are bombarded with speculations and opinions, but we must become unmovable in knowing that the report of the Lord cannot fail.

Josh Christmas once said, “I do not believe what I see, but I see what I believe.” Basically, it means that followers of God are not to place their trust in what others say or how things appear. Since we are filled and guided by God’s Spirit, we place our confidence in Him alone. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen which means the answers are ready to be manifested but conditional on us knowing His plans and believing with all of our hearts. For example, when a doctor says there is no hope, we must realize this is not the final decision because God is more than able to accomplish His plans. Our daughter and our daughter-in-law were both told by the experts they would never have a child. This was not true as God always has the final word. Today, our daughter-in-law has an amazing son and our daughter just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. My wife and I prayed about this for years and we know that He is our source for everything. My new book about healing and miracles contains true accounts of God miraculously intervening.

When Lazarus was dead for four days, Jesus told the people to remove him from his tomb and unwrap his grave garments. They said his body was starting to smell and according to natural thinking, this was disrespectful and even insane. However, they were not understanding the reality of who God is. Christ commanded Lazarus to live again and he did! Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones and God asked the prophet if he believed the bones could live. The Lord told Ezekiel to speak to the bones and the flesh came back upon them and they were restored back to life. The reason these stories are recorded in the Bible is to teach us to not always accept what we see in the natural world as being impossible to change. Christians are to live with an expectation of the supernatural, to walk in the constant awareness of God’s power as they listen and obey His voice.

It’s common for the average person to build their worldviews on what they have been told instead of researching for themselves. Beware of listening and trusting the world’s opinions more than listening to God. If we absorb what the culture tells us, we are vulnerable to being brainwashed to believe what society wants us to embrace. Who do you suppose decides what is broadcast as truth and what is censored as disinformation? Satan is the father of all lies and just so happens to control the airwaves? Our decision to seek God and know what He is saying, or believing the report of this natural realm is the difference between thinking clearly and falling into a delusion. You see, faith is not limited to only being activated in positive thinking, it also can enforce negative attitudes. If we believe and accept the worst, we are joining forces with dark energy that will make the problem worse. I assume we all know where this dark energy originates. The Bible says that we must not be conformed to the pessimistic way the natural world lives but be transformed by the renewing of our mind in Christ, which means we know He is who He says He is. Every moment we are faced with the choice to absorb the light and life of God, or the deception and hopelessness of a fallen world. What we perceive is our reality.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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The Gospel. Sunday Piano Memories

Tom Poland

Posted June 29, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

The old book and instrument of wood and ivory need each other. In fact, they share what biologists call a symbiotic relationship. In my recall of days of yore, the hymnal and old piano made beautiful music. And they still do.

When boyhood held me in its tenuous grasp, church didn’t thrill me. Oh the wasps that congregated in New Hope Baptist Church’s sanctuary entertained me. I had a secret longing that a wasp would sting someone slap dab in the middle of a sermon. What might unfold? A sting never happened but magical music did, and it lives in me still.

The music moved me through its power and it came from ordinary folk. Men, women, and children, old ladies with their hair in buns, and many a bald man and daresay one or two wearing rugs joined in the chorus to make a mighty sound to the Lord. The music proved memorable and provided a rare live performance for me, living as I did in a bit of a cultural desert.

Gospel music. It changed lives in intended and unintended ways. Read the bios of some legendary musicians and you’ll learn that church music steered them toward their careers. Elvis loved gospel music. So did Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke.

Gospel takes its place among Chuck Leavell’s early musical influences. Hardscrabble musician Carl Perkins grew up the son of poor sharecroppers near Tiptonville, Tennessee, and like many Southerners, gospel music caught his ear at a young age. Gregg Allman’s rendition of “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home” hints of a gospel message—“Acknowledge that I done wrong.”

We must acknowledge that gospel music constitutes a genre of American Protestant music. Rooted in the religious revivals of the 19th century, it branched off into several directions within white and black communities. Gospel and 1920’s blues and 1930’s country music provided dark rich loam for rock ‘n’ roll’s roots. Throughout the country, gospel, folk, and blues in cities such as Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, and others contributed to rock. Early rock ’n’ roll featured a piano or saxophone as lead instrument, but legendary bluesman Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads where the devil gave him a guitar, and the guitar would rise to prominence in the late 1950s.

As the 1950s go, the piano sits prominently at my crossroads of memories. My parents, ever dutiful, took my sisters and me to church every Sunday. I can’t sing, never could, but those old songs still play in my head. I’m going out on a limb here but seems I recall “Marching to Pretoria,” but no doubt it’s “Marching To Zion,” I recall. Pretoria doesn’t ring Biblical but I remember how the congregation sang certain songs with gusto, songs such as “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” and “Bringing In The Sheaves” was one such song also. And “Blessed Assurance,” which just popped into my head.

I can’t recall the pianists who passed through church doors but I hear them playing and see them on the bench pounding the keys and swaying. The old piano put off a honky top sound, a saloon timbre, perish the thought, but I liked it. The preacher or self-appointed song director would say, “Stand and turn to page so and so,” and the pianist would bang out a few introductory notes and folks were off to the races.

All that was long ago. These days I come across inactive churches in Georgialina. Birds nest in them. The churches stand in pine thickets, at the edge of fields, and some overlook forever-forsaken parking spaces. Pews sit empty. A piano sits in each, and now and then I spy an old hymnal.

When I’m in them I take photos and remember my childhood Sundays at church. I could always count on wearing my Sunday finest, music, preaching, and piano playing. I remember and remember and remember, and then magic takes over. In an old abandoned church, tombstones just outside its windows, I close my eyes, wasps take wing, the choir stands, music comes to me, and when some player piano cranks out a honky-tonk sound, Mom and Dad stand and the congregation bursts into song and it’s the 1950s all over again.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Blink Book Review #4: Going There by Katie Couric

Reba Campbell

Posted June 29, 2022

By Reba Campbell

Katie Couric’s memoir, “Going There,” gives readers a delightful and amazingly honest narrative about not only her personal life but also many of the national and international news stories from the 1990s on.

And while that perspective was really fun for a news nerd like me to follow, the best part of this book was hearing Katie Couric read it in the audio format. I listened to this book while driving alone to Mississippi. It felt like Katie was in the car with me just chatting about her experiences, perspective, disappointments, fears and joys.

Of course, we all think famous television personalities live a charmed life with maybe a few blips thrown in. But Katie’s book digs deep into her challenges as a young woman in a profession dominated by an entrenched patriarchy. She honestly recounts her dating mishaps along with the deep love for her first husband who died of cancer and later her courtship and marriage to her second husband. She lays bare the same fears anyone would have when threatened with losing their job – hers just happened to be one of the most visible – and high paid – news jobs in the country.

Katie also delivers some dirt on colleagues and dates – dirt that some readers may find unnecessary or unkind. However, it was real life – her real life – and she writes about it with a surprising candor recounting detailed stories beyond her on-screen world.

If you’re not a fan of audio books, make an exception for this one. Hearing Katie tell her own story makes the book all the more compelling.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews”. She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com.

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Ferns, Nature’s Colonists

Tom Poland

Posted June 28, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

Ferns bless us with classic Southern settings but doing so isn’t always easy. Random winds pick up fern spores and scatter them, their destiny determined by fate. Many end up lost at sea. Some fall on barren places and perish.

Many, however, get lucky.

In the Cherokee’s “Place Of The Lost” rains feed streams and rivers that thunder over the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Waterfalls pound rocks, kicking up fine spray. The ceaseless misting creates a microhabitat of spray cliffs cloaked with ferns. The ferns here splash rocks with green, the color of life.

Spores colonized this palmetto down coastal Georgia way.

Spores get scattered by the wind, in effect flying most everywhere… In the Lowcountry you’ll see resurrection ferns carpeting oak limbs, and you’ll see them climbing palmettos. Unlike their oak-limb preferential ways, they enwrap palmetto trunks in lush, billowy green blankets.

Resurrection ferns bring the tropics and gushes of orchids, bromeliads, and mosses to mind. They’ve been here for 400 million years. I like ferns, those primitive plants that have a knack for enduring. Long ago I’d dig up woodland ferns in eastern Georgia and replant them along the edges of Mom’s yards. Their moistened undersides hinted of black pepper and yielded an earthy, rich, uplifting fragrance, the scent of life rising from death. Long they carried on despite my giving them a new ZIP code. In this case, the hand of man helped them colonize Mom’s yards.

We sold Mom’s place in 2020, and I dare never go back lest I ruin memories, but I feel in my heart those ferns I transplanted during my college years still live. In my mind and heart, they still add their verdant green to the yards she loved so much.

By air, however, that’s their preferred mode of colonization. And so I think of ferns as nature’s colonists. Their spores sail a sea of air. And why call these windblown plants resurrection ferns? Think of rain falling onto a desert where plants wither. In a state of desiccation, long brown and curled, they assume their notion of a fetal position. Then a miracle, a rare cloudburst soaks the desert and green banishes brown. The ferns resurrect themselves in cool flames of uncurling green fronds.

So, we call them resurrection ferns because in dry weather the fronds curl, brown, and appear dead, but when blessed rain falls, they green and spring back to life. An extraordinary plant, it can lose about 75 percent of its water content during a typical dry period. When extreme drought settles in, it can lose up to 97 percent of its water. Researchers estimate a resurrection fern can survive 100 years in a dry state. I find such things extraordinary. I’m sure you do too.

Now, if these resilient ferns colonize a tree of yours, don’t fret. They come to do no harm, just as Spanish moss does no harm. Ferns don’t act as kudzu does, covering everything in its path and choking the life out of it. No, they add greenery to the tree, to life itself.

And then there’s that Southern setting thing. You know, live oaks draped in Spanish moss, with broad long limbs graceful and green arching toward Mother Earth, creating velvety green tunnels where limbs touch Earth’s face. It’s as pretty as a picture and often photographed indeed it is.

Epiphytic Polypodium polypodioides is native to the United States, a progeny of the hot and humid Southland, which folks classify as subtropical. Our ferns agree with that. And Sir David Attenborough agrees. He refers to our world as the Green Planet, and the resurrection fern does it part to color it in the Lowcountry, in the mountains, and in our green plant dreams and memories of what once was and God willing still is.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Vintage Enamelware

Tom Poland

Posted June 24, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

I was visiting the past at the Lincoln County History Park when I spied a graceful blue enamelware pot sitting among fire logs. Warm memories came from that cold enamelware. Yes, that forgotten pot sent me reeling through the years.

Chief among my enameled memories are chamber pots with their red rim, white body, and red handles. Many a day I spied a chamber pot, aka the “slop jar,” beneath a four-poster bed. I recall, too, dark blue pots speckled white in kitchens and considered them beautiful and practical.

The memories kept coming unabated. Besides plain glass jars, I recalled the white enameled water pitchers my grandmom kept in her old Fridge. Those graceful pitchers served water so cold it’d hurt the teeth. I just can’t imagine a plastic pitcher serving cold water. I don’t believe it can. I know it cannot. You know it too.

An enamel pot sits forgotten with its requisite rusty places where enamel broke free.

Plasticware has its problems, one being the possibility of containing toxins and the fact that it’s not as easy to clean as smooth enamelware. How I wish enamelware would go retro and usher in an enamelware renaissance. Enamelware possesses class. Plastic is crass. Plastic has synonyms, you know. Among them are fake, false, bogus, pseudo … shall I go on?

Enamelware. No matter how cautious you’d be with it, without fail something would break enamel off an old pot and it looked as though a sore festered there, a gray sore with concentric rings. Enamelware suffered ringworms you could say. Even so I loved it and love it still.

I like the rustic look a navy pot spotted white gives a kitchen. Seems perfect for a log cabin or old shack too. Campers still use enamelware. It’s lightweight, easy to clean, and doesn’t break, although it chips as we’ve noted. Somewhere in my cabinet among a million coffee mugs hides an enameled coffee cup, navy, spotted white, of course. I once used it on camping trips. As my old college roommate, Garnett, would say, “I must needs find it and use it anew.”

I remember an enamel basin Mom and Dad used in the 1960s. I recall, too, enameled sinks and tubs with those sore-like blotches where someone dropped a heavy object that shaved away a slice of enamel. Then the rust came calling.

Enamelware. I miss it. It claims, you know, to be the first mass-produced American kitchenware. Production began in the 1870s and continued through the 1930s when aluminum and other substances began to replace it. Manufacturers stamped pots, kettles, baking tins, and ladles from thin sheets of iron, steel, or aluminum, and coated them with enamel.

But what about the enamel itself? Manufacturers made enamel, or vitreous enamel from powdered glass. They fused it to a surface like metal, clay, or stone and fired it in a 2000-degree Fahrenheit oven. As the powdered glass melted, it bound to the iron and created a smooth, non-porous, non-stick finish.

Do you own any vintage enamelware? If it’s heavy and has marks and labels and is in tiptop shape, collectors might pay you a hefty sum for it. I saw where a vintage enameled muffin tin fetched $1,500.

One last thought … do you remember the white retro enameled tables of the 1950s with red trim and chrome legs? Mom and Dad had one and I see it still. Why I suspect we sat enamelware on it come suppertime. We were retro before retro was cool and we had no plastic until something called Tupperware came along. And then things began to change.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Thistles, A Prickly Subject

Tom Poland

Posted June 24, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

We’d be walking to a farm pond in quest of bream when Grandmom Poland would spot a thistle. “Watch out for that nettle.” She’d hardly break stride leaning over to yank it from the earth. Thus, I saw not one of these “weeds” reach maturity.

Thistles. Their spines would nettle you. Thistles had to be undesirable when it came to farmland and pastures, but did they have redeeming qualities, even one?

The years rolled on and I, too, pulled up thistles. Here in Georgialina, a persistent thistle pops up each spring near my heat pump. When it sports a velvety burgundy crown, I do as Grandmom did. I yank it from the ground.

Bumblebees and a host of insects love thistle nectar.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in June, my views on thistles began to change. While visiting an old cemetery, I came across flowering thistles tended by bumbles aplenty. The thistles, with their spiky flower heads and colors and downy seeds, looked downright alien. But, there was no mistaking their beauty. They’re beyond beautiful and I learned they do much for other members of nature. Their seeds provide wildlife food, and hummingbirds, bees, flies, and butterflies love their super-sweet nectar.

Goldfinches and thistles, in particular, share a bond. Goldfinches can’t begin nesting until thistles bloom and produce downy seeds. Goldfinches and other birds line their nesst with soft thistledown. It gives fedglings a bed as soft as, well, as feathers. And goldfinches will tell you the seeds are packed with nutrients.

All thistle species prove edible and contain higher levels of major nutrients than some commonly cultivated vegetables. Like the birds and bees, you can get in on the act too. Want some sweet chili thistles? (Be on guard as spines go.) Cut the edges off leaves with scissors and save the ribs. Remove spines from the stem with a vegetable peeler. Blanch ribs and stems. Heat chili powder in olive oil. Add tomato paste and about 1 cup stock or water. Add thistles and simmer until the ribs are soft and stock reduced. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of honey. Serve over rice. Enjoy and sing like a goldfinch.

Thistles resemble sunflowers and are in the same family.

Thistle chili aside, the sad reality is no one seems to love thistles. My grandmother sure didn’t and each time she killed a thistle, it confused me. Mom had taught me to revere beautiful flowers. To clear away confusion and better understand thistles I reached out to my cattleman friend, Billy Moss, a hometown boy. Billy shed light on why my grandmom plucked thistles from the earth.

“Thistles are a cattle producers worst enemy. They produce hundreds of seeds that blow everywhere. They will literally take over a pasture. They are very hard to kill when they bolt, and produce a big stem when the flower head appears. They are easy to kill with chemicals early in the spring, late February or early March, when they are in the rosette stage and just emerging. Yes, they do produce a beautiful flower and seed that birds love but in my opinion their value ends there.”

There. You have the upside and downside on thistles. If you’re a cattleman, thistles are persona non grata. If you are a goldfinch, bumblebee, or one of myriad birds and insects, thistles are your grocery store. If you’re a fan of flowers, you appreciate their otherworldly beauty like some creature from intergalactic space.

As soon as I wrap up this column, I’m going out to see how my thistle’s doing. This summer I’ll let it grow and hope it brings in more goldfinches and hummingbirds, but as thistle chili goes I’ll defer.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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