Monthly Archives: March 2011

See the birds, smell the roses…


Ellen and Reid are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the natural world.  Ellen lives where there are trees and rich black earth; Reid would have to ride the El to catch another train to Chicago’s western ‘burbs to see free-range trees and what real dirt looks like in lieu of city soot.  It was important to me as they grew up to instill some sort of respect for other creatures and greenery.

I’d hope they would set sufficient time aside from their respective rat races to see the birds and smell the roses.   Given the tragic news coming out of Japan, it’s more important than ever to align themselves with their surroundings – if we don’t ruin things for them first.

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March 21, 2011

Ellen/Reid: So Butler keeps playing the role of the little school that could.  I thought the Dawgs would get crushed like to many June bugs but they managed to hang in there vs. the Goliath that was Pitt.  Mack played one hell of a game until the final 2.2 seconds and at that point Butler appeared to be toast.  But that’s why they make people shoot – and miss – free throws.  Their next game will give me something to do this weekend.

The best thing about my little place is the rear windows open to trees and the green belt.  It’s the perfect bird’s eye view to the birds, the occasional deer and the even more occasional snake.  But this weekend Felicia and I watched a drama unfold that neither of us had seen before: a Mexican Standoff involving sweet little chickadees and bluebird bullies.

Back in late January we put up a cedar nesting box (advertised as ideal for bluebirds) on one of the loblolly pines out back with the small entry hole facing the kitchen windows so we could keep eyes on it with binoculars.  Of course, no bluebirds bothered to sniff it for more than a month.  But a chickadee pair, sensing the opportunity, set up shop about a week ago.  They hauled whatever it is they haul into a nest, and before you knew it you could see the female’s head in the entry hole as she sat on apparently what was her brood.  Then last Saturday all hell broke loose.  There, on a limb not 2” from the entry hole was a female bluebird; her bright blue mate was on another limb a few feet away.  And there they sat.  You could see they chickadee on her nest; her mate was flitting about in distress as the much larger bluebirds were apparently waiting them out.  This went on for a long time.  Felicia near demanded we put up another cedar box on a nearby tree but not too near the existing nesting box.  So off we went to Lowes to buy a second box.  When we got back, there were no birds to be seen.  We installed the second box about 60” away.

Sure enough, the next morning, the blue birds had won.  They usurped what the chickadees hath wrought.  I guess that’s just the way of the natural world; you have something I want and because I’m bigger I’m going to take it.  Try and stop me.  Cute doesn’t cut it.  I’d never seen that before ever so in that sense it was incredibly interesting.  Sounds like the corporate world, too.  Of course the birds had squabbled over the sunflower seed in the feeder but this nesting thievery was all new.  It’ll probably take a little while for the second box to attract some activity

Tomorrow is a red letter day to gauge my recovery.  It’s back to the urology guy for a six week check up to see how things are functioning.  I think they are functioning pretty good but his trained eye, and his invasive instruments, may tell a different picture.  So we’ll see.  I did a shakedown cruise on the golf course yesterday with my friend Tom and his young son, Jack.  For the most part it was easy shotmaking with a wedge and some chipping.  A fair amount of slow walking.  Nothing too strenuous until the doc gives me the green light which I hope is this week.  As distressing to me is the complete and utter loss of every ounce of conditioning.  That’s a real bummer.  Six years of sweaty work down the drain.  My waistline is the first to suffer.

I have my plane tickets for Grand Island (Easter) and for Des Moines (Steve Allen’s May 7 wedding).  I’ll kibitz with both of you about how to ship what needs to be shipped although you’ll already have some of it in hand, Ellen.  Reid, if you do not have the storage space, I guess I can send things to North Carolina for safe keeping.  Your call.  Maybe by that time Butler will have the national championship they missed out on last year.  Wish I could say I still say Butler is in my bracket.  I had them out by this weekend.  It’s an ‘oh ye of little faith’ moment.

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Fitting into the larger picture…


There are a few factors behind today’s post.  Three or four years ago, those would have been non-factors and most probably a surprise to those who know me.  In the mix is a friend turned minister, plentiful contemplation time when one lives alone, stumbling into a funky little church, and the larger wonderment of what the larger picture might be for me, or rather, where I might fit into the larger picture.  The pieces aren’t all in place by any stretch of the imagination, but I suppose better to feel the stirrings now than not at all.  Maybe it’s a mortality thing.

Most days this non-theologian waffles on the big issues.  Far be it for me to get all preachy; my glass house has very thin panes.  I relate all this to Ellen and Reid only because they have seen everything else that has gone through my mind so this might as well be in bounds, too.

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March 14, 2011

Ellen/Reid: So Reid, how does it feel to be a short timer?  Too bad there’s not a short break built in between work stints, but worse things could happen.  The downside is your NCAA picks in the office pool probably will come to naught.

Holy smokes, mankind managed to nearly kill off one ocean (south of New Orleans) and now it looks like we’ll trump that in far worse ways in Japan.  If the catastrophic loss of life isn’t painful enough, we’ll insure that even more will be in peril for a much longer period of time.  I don’t know.  It’s all mind boggling.  I turned away from a lot of the pictures.

Delivered my 30-somethingth church newsletter yesterday.  It’s been nearly three years of cranking out 12 pages once per month for my little church.  It’s somewhere between 25-35 hours per month.  But the response is pretty good and my banker-friend turned minister-friend, John Cleghorn, is happy with it so I suppose that’s what counts.  You can see the past issues at Caldwellpresby.org.  Click on “News”.  It’s really become my one creative outlet (beyond what I send you guys).  John gives me total editorial latitude and I can do it in near complete anonymity.  I get a charge out of putting all the pieces together, although prodding/begging parishioners for news tidbits is draining blood from a turnip.  It’s not a highly politicized process by any means and it’s relatively easy to herd the cats.  I always tote my camera with me and am finding that I head to Caldwell a couple of times a week to cover various events.  If you can figure out a way to make church potlucks look appetizing in print, tell me now.

In the larger sense, it’s a rite of atonement for me.  People keep asking me why I persist with this and I just tell them it’s part of my penance.  And I think that’s true for the most part.  It’s my way of giving back and hopefully it will grease the skids a little bit somewhere down the line, if you catch my drift.  It’s really my one contribution to the church because I’m not good for much else.  John is one hell of a preacher, and when he gazes out at his flock, and his eyes settle over my little sphere, it’s almost like he knows I have numerous weak areas that are ideally suited for his railings.  Actually, he never rails.  He’s just incredibly well considered.  I keep telling him I’m the “heathen-in-chief” and to stop looking at me during his sermons.  The truth is, some Sundays he sees me only in spurts.  When I was playing a lot of golf – and will no doubt do again once the healing process takes its course – I’d duck out during lulls in the service to make my tee time; my escape was abetted mostly during the 10 minute window early on when the parishioners get up during the service to pass the peace.  John never mentions my absence but he’s sure to know about it.  At least he gets me for a little while.  Better than nothing.

If this was any other church other than Caldwell, I probably would not be a regular.  I’m even dragging Felicia along with me.  It’s just a funky, mixed race, enthusiastic, non-image conscious congregation.  No suits.  No finery.  No posturing.  You can get on with the business at hand to the degree you want to.  Most of my religious thinking occurs during the service (when I’m not scribbling notes about copy/story ideas for the next newsletter), but one way to look at it is the rest of the heathenistic week gives me something to contemplate in my back pew.

I was beyond lazy this past weekend.  I had a bit of a setback last week and just needed to call of the dogs (and stay off my dogs).  So things felt a lot better this morning, and I am in the office, chipper and ready to go.  If you believe that, I’ve got some swamp land in South Carolina to sell you.  But I’m not sure you’d want to live there.

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Finally, an e-mailed letter…


For the first time in a long, long time a letter was attached to an e-mail and sent to one of the kids.  The only other times I recall caving to e-mail “attachments” were when our pair were overseas for their obligatory “semesters abroad.”

The reason for this most recent break in tradition had to do with a legitimate need for speed: Reid got his acceptance letter to The New School in New York yesterday, which is a few scant days after accepted his new job at a big Chicago digital agency.  He has earned his shining day with his persistence and never-say-never enthusiasm.

Now he faces a decision that on one hand must be well thought through yet he can’t dawdle either.  He has to decide – soon.  An advice letter with fatherly thoughts and hearty congratulations sent by snail mail would arrive well after he would have probably made up his mind.   The letter was written perhaps too quickly; Ellen and I talked a couple of times on Wednesday, and I wish now those conversations had been earlier because she brought up multiple good points that went over her old man’s head.

Rest assured, though, I still sent the letter by mail (in part to not break the string) which also included his $25 bonus for guessing my recent medical costs.  Anything to keep the streak alive.

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March 16, 2011

Reid: So much for hearing about the New School at the end of the month.  Last time I checked, this is mid-month.  But to their credit they didn’t waste time and accepted you with all speed.  Here’s your $25; you can apply it toward their down payment or a celebratory cold one.  I’d go with the cold one.

This is incredibly good news.  By the time you get this your decision will probably be already made.  Man, these are two incredible positives.

The one thing I’d emphasize is to keep the emotion factor out of this if at all possible.  That is much harder said than done, and coming from me it’s the equivalent of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.  Here’s a laundry list of how you might process all the information that’s rushed into your brain:

  • Is your decision to apply to the New School borne of frustration with your situation at your old agency?  If it is, to simply escape your current environment is not the best reason to go to school.
  • If your decision to apply to the New School was borne out of a legitimate interest in furthering yourself in the digital world, then more power to you.
  • What will happen once you graduate?  What degree will you have and what value will it bring to you in the marketplace?  What does the New School tell graduates about job placement or job prospects?  You might talk to Andy and Tim about that since they’ve been down this road.
  • Do you have the pockets to pay the fees and all the costs at the New School and still be able to afford the high life in New York City?  Your mom and I likely won’t be in much position to help you, and I don’t want you to be needlessly in hock for the foreseeable future.

That said, there is a hell of a lot worse things than the honest pursuit of a higher education.  In today’s world an advanced degree is a good thing.  Speaking of that, what degree will you have?  Master’s?  Doctorate?  Other?

But I am very proud of you for seeing this process through all the way to the end.  You will singlehandedly raise the educational profile of the Bradleys far beyond what your grandfather, your uncle, and your BA degree-only father.  A final thought is that I have rued my decision to ditch my Masters in journalism after completing 20+ hours.  Years later that inability to finish it off continues to bother me.  Perhaps this is your best chance to pursue educational, and personal, greatness.  Either way, kid, you will come out smelling like a rose.

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The canyon-wide leap from legitimate defense…


Henry in scuzzy weekend mode. As Ellen said, "Tgif...look at this crazy dog."

From the time of my teenage years, I toted a shotgun around and over Midwestern corn and stubble fields in pursuit of birds.   Pheasants, quail, and a few ducks.  Nothing terribly exotic.  No deer or other large game.  I enjoyed most aspects of the hunt but as I got older I tired of the killing, and often of the shooting.  It was simply more fun to see what we preyed upon.  That was good enough for me.  My buddy Ray and I would road hunt at slow speeds, slurping hot coffee, talking, and hoping we’d see a rooster or bobwhite ducking in and out of cover.  If it escaped our iffy shooting skills, fine.  Back to the coffee and the talking.

My 20 gauge Beretta is now in Tim’s hands – I don’t think Reid has much interest in the sport – but there are no indications he’s taken it out of its case.   It’s fine that he now owes it, as is ownership of this type of armament for most folks.  But don’t lump me in with NRA cranks who would allow me to own military-grade weaponry because I can.  It’s one thing to lead game in the air but entirely another to aim at people.  How we have made the canyon-wide leap from legitimate defense of a populace during a Revolutionary War to guns that serve no civil purpose is way beyond me.  And how, too, we have legislators who fixate on such issues when we face the economy we face, the health care issues we face, and the environmental issues we face (to say nothing of teaching children, where North Carolina is a paltry 46th in public education spending), is way, way, way beyond me.

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March 7, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I wouldn’t worry too much about additional snows in the upper Midwest.  What you do have on the ground will be gone soon enough.  Down here the trees are budded out, the daffodils on their last legs, and the birds have paired off for nesting (although still no activity in my fancy cedar box).  We’re only 5-6-7 weeks ahead of you.  Only.

But our spring seems to have sprung some serious nut cases out of the cold ground in our two state area.  There seems to be lunacy afoot, and this time at the legislative level.  It seems we don’t feel our college students are safe enough without the “freedom” to carry concealed weapons on campus.  As if there aren’t enough gun-toting whack jobs already loose down here.  That’s all we need are amped-up students pulling out their Glocks at crowded bars or because their boyfriend or girlfriend strayed or a professor didn’t adhere to grade inflation.  Somehow I seriously doubt the founding fathers had on-campus security in mind when they crafted the Constitution on the heels of a war where a citizenry had legitimate cause to defend themselves.  On top of this, some lawmakers want to expand the notion of protecting oneself beyond the confines of their home.  It’s called the “castle doctrine” whereby a zealot can use force to protect their car or their business and much in between.  The legislature would allow trigger-happy folks to carry their weapon into a restaurant (“Hey, your service was lousy, take this…”) or a park (“Hey, curb your dog or he’ll get a piece of this…”).  As one legislative pro-gun nut said in a local newspaper report, “…a woman threatened by an estranged spouse or boyfriend might need quick access to a weapon at work.”  Perfect.  In some ways I don’t mind legitimate defense, but Ellen, Tim has my Beretta 20-gauge and he is welcome to keep it for the intended purposes like shooting game birds, but heaven forbid any of us need anything else around the house.  But I do like the weather down here.

I do wonder when we will return to civility on a grand scale.  We seemed to have turned some corner toward a darkened path.  Vitriol seems the byword of the day, and there seems plenty of vitriol to go around.  Your late grandfather talked about this for some time, years, actually.  He thought we were spiraling downward where if you looked at someone cross-eyed, that was all the license the other party needed to unload their verbal guns.  I think, politically speaking, we have taken a lesser road that will be very hard to veer away from.  All this is very easy to see from the front row seat in my glass house.  This is, in part, why your uncle refuses to run for statewide office in Nebraska.  He just doesn’t want any part of it.  Hard to blame him.

I will probably head to Grand Island for Easter.  From all indications things are winding down for your grandmother and I want to get out there while there is still time to see her.  It really does feel the same way things felt at this time last year.  There is a very real sense of urgency in that regard.  Your uncle sees the rapid slippage far more than I do; as recently as last spring she was racing down the sidewalks with her trusty walker, and now she is confined to a wheelchair.  Things have eroded just that quickly.  I still resist his forecasts on time.  None of us are in a position to make such guesses.  I wonder what happiness she really has.

I’ll turn things around pretty quickly for Steve Allen’s wedding in Des Moines.  It is the same day as Laura’s in the Twin Cities, although I will double dip by boxing things of your grandparent’s and shipping it all to Charlotte.  No doubt some of it will come your way, Ellen, and some to you, Reid although I’ll consult with each of you prior to doing so.  I don’t want you to have things you might not want or have room for.  I won’t clutter your lodgings any more than we need to.

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Heathen-in-chief…


Over the past couple of years, I have awakened, albeit slowly, to the recognition that I am something less than a microorganism in the larger scheme of life.  This has nothing to do with my recent situation.

Actually, it is by pure happenstance.  First, Ellen beat me to the punch.  She’s been a pretty faithful Presbyterian for more than a few years and her dad was, to put it mildly, a late adopter.  Secondly, it traces, ironically, to the bank.  My friend John Cleghorn was a high ranking guy, but heeded the call to a small, mixed race church (Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian) as the head minister.  The number of congregants wasn’t above a couple of dozen, and in a weak moment told him I’d visit, if for no other reason that to show him some support and to boost the offering plate by a few bucks – and to also buy time with Ellen whenever she asked if I was going to church.  That was several years ago.

Well, I haven’t stopped attending.  I can’t claim to have ceased being a heathen either (as I remind John repeatedly) but that’s another tale.  The short version of the long story is that there is something in me that recognizes it’s okay to be there.  Part of my penance (as heathen-in-chief, as I also remind John) is to write and publish the 12 page monthly church newsletter.   I emphasize the heathen thing because John knows, I think, that on occasion I avail myself of breaks in the action to quietly bow out of the sanctuary in order to make my tee time.   At least he gets me for a little while.

Reid is entirely another kettle of fish from his sister and dad.  I’ve never discussed, let alone harped on, any aspect of religion with them (or you) but there is a time for full explanations.  Next Monday might be that time.

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Of renovated plumbing and new kitchens…


The road back hasn’t seemed all that long, and it’s time to move onward and upward with other family business.

Namely, Ellen and her hubby Tim are about to drop a bundle on a complete overhaul of the never-before-updated kitchen in their vintage 1920s bungalow in Minnesota.   I suppose it behooves me as a former Assoc. Press housing columnist who wrote on this very topic to offer some unsolicited advice to my daughter about how to go about the project.   In the event father doesn’t know best, however, I bought up a small pile of Better Homes and Gardens kitchen magazines to supplement the March 7, letter to Ellen.  You’ve seen the mid-week letter to Reid about his new gig, but in the best tradition of young men withholding information from their parents, as of last Monday we knew nothing of his new job offer.

—————–

My friend Bonnie was first to pull my chain about my ever-faulty memory.  She caustically pointed out that the rolly-poly tin TV robot did not blurt out “Danger, Will Smith, danger!”  The actual alarm was “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”  And now I can’t even remember the name of the show.  For her editorial candor, Bonnie gets a sleeve of NXTs.

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February 28, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I’ll spare you any more gore about the recent bladder thing other than to say that I really feel good.  Every now and then a jolt or road pothole reminds me where the epicenter of the action is, but I really do feel 1,000% better.  More energy every day although there is some danger of becoming a verifiable couch potato.  That’s summarizes my Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Reid, you win $25 for the guess closest to the actual amount of my medical expenses although it’s good you don’t make your living guessing weight at the state fair.  But in a lack of foresight, my checkbook is home and I am here.  But it will be sent to you.  If $__,000 doesn’t shiver your timbers, nothing will.  Of course, I have no qualms about the surgeon end of things, but beyond his instruments of healing, what on earth can cost so much if most of the time was spent to have 5 liter bags of saline replaced?  Was this liquid gold they were pumping through me?  With those kinds of rates, they could pay for a CT scanner in a week.  If you have to wonder why we could use Obama’s idea of health care, look no further than the first of three letters from my insurance company that states coverage of my malady is denied because the insurer is unable to “…determine whether or not the services are considered medically necessary under terms of the plan.”  In another lapse in accuracy, they have me as hospitalized for 13 days rather than a Tuesday through Friday.  I’ll forward all the correspondence to the Tea Partiers for their advice and counsel.  I’m sure glad they are looking out for the common person.

Ellen, the kitchen sounds fun, and will be an incredible upgrade for your little bungalow.  Upon looking at some industry stuff, your bid is still $3,000 – $5,000 too high.  You have a couple of different approaches.  Head to Lowes or Home Depot where they have free kitchen design services (if you buy some portion of your materials from them).  Or, go to the Better Homes and Gardens web site, BHG.com, and look at their kitchen design stuff.  Go to kitchenbathdesign.com (the industry trade group) for lots of good articles.  You might be able to get a rough design of the kitchen online.  But by no means should you feel rushed, or be rushed, into this. Remodeling magazine reports a “minor” kitchen remodel of $21,000 will have a $16,500 payback, which is not bad.  In your neighborhood it could be even higher.  You should spend some time in bath showrooms just to give yourself an inkling of what’s out there and what the options are.  Most contractors will install the lowest priced products they can unless you insist on higher grade materials.  Given the state of the economy, and the slow pace of renovations, you might be in a little bit better bargaining position.  One thought about the south window.  I think Jeld-Wen makes the best window by far.  Not by a little, but by a lot.

Ask contractors to break their bids into sections; demolition, installation, materials (by brand), and if you supply some of the materials such as flooring or sink/cabinet hardware.  It could be Tim could handle – carefully – the heavy work of tearing things out.  I saved about $5,000 – about one-third or more of the overall cost – of the bath re-do by tearing the bath down to the studs.  I would also do a contract which stipulates when the contractor(s) get paid, which typically is not in advance but as work is completed.  That will help you manage your money.

So Reid, are you on pins and needles about NYC?  They’ll drag their feet as long as they can so I suspect there’s no reason to get your shorts bunched up about it.  It’ll happen when it happens.  You’ve still got a pretty good thing going, and that’s always a plus.  I’m gonna sign off for now and try to figure out how to build bookmarks and hyperlinks into a 40+ page document that the geeks around here don’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole.  As they said on a long-ago TV show: “Danger, Will Smith, danger!”  Substitute my name for Will Smith.

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Singe the bridge, don’t burn it…


A stand-alone letter was sent today to Reid.  He has been offered a new job after another digital agency pursued him.  He’s on cloud 9 but the offer, along with a nice boost in pay, means he would start at his new employer precisely the same week he should hear about his graduate school application.  He can’t really go wrong either way (although his parents strongly encourage him to take the bird in the hand).  But he’s his own man now and the choices are up to him.  I’m just trying to put a little context into his possible new job environment vis a vis graduate school.

Don’t worry that he will see today’s letter in advance.  Reid is a rare visitor to this space.

——————-

March 3, 2011

Reid: Here’s your $25 for guessing the tab for my hospital stay.  Don’t spend this all in one place.  What’s it good for in Chicago, a couple of hot dogs and a cold beer?

Good things come to those who wait, and that apparently applies in your case.  This is thrilling news for you.  It’s nice to feel wanted (and to get a nice bump in the wallet), and I will be all ears to hear the reaction from your current shop.  This will catch them a bit off guard, don’t you think?  By the time you get this we will both have our answers.

You’ve got a few weeks before you start your new situation.  That will be a nice lull in the action.  Things have really gone pretty well at ________, your frustrations aside.  Although you’re breathing a sigh of relief, I just want you to be ready for the next round at your new place.  Without question you will work with those ready climb over and around you, who won’t get the gist of some of your ideas (or don’t want to listen), or will be just all-around oafs.   None of that will change with your new job.  It will just be a change of address.  That’s just the way it is in business, and I suppose the onus on you is to continue to work hard and look for ways you can adapt to all the variances of the new employer and bring value to your equation.  Nothing much in that equation changes from job to job.  Be able to navigate the waters which will sometimes be turbulent.  You’ve picked up bits and pieces of that as you’ve gone along.  It’s hard to imagine you’re only 25 and have had the experiences you’ve already had.  Just keep playing your cards right and unlike those who don’t want to listen, you should do precisely that.

I don’t know what to think about the New School.  Talk about two golden opportunities occurring at exactly the same time.  Wow.  __________ was the bird in the hand and you couldn’t go wrong with that.  To say “no” to a new work opportunity might seem tempting but what if the New School turned you down?  Then you’d be up a creek although you wouldn’t be out of a job.  No doubt ___________ has some sort of tuition reimbursement program so your dream of grad school might not be totally kaput if your application doesn’t get off the ground in New York.  In fact, if you opt for classes elsewhere in Chicago your new handlers might take a liking to that since they want a highly educated, and motivated, work force.  It’s not like you’re a codger like me.  You’ve still got a long way ahead of you and that’s good.  Burnishing your resume a little more won’t hurt your cause either.  It could be, too, that _________ will open your eyes even further toward digital possibilities. 

But if the New School does give you the green light, then you have a tough decision.  If that is your dream, then go after it.  You would need to go to _________ with your tail between your legs but it’s not like you’re jumping ship to another agency.  You’d be going to school, and that will make it somewhat more tolerable for them.  You will find more doors open after graduate school, and who knows, you could always try their waters again.  They will always want that highly educated, and motivated work force.  Maybe you can just singe the bridge and not burn it.  But we’re proud of you kid; better to have strong options than none at all.

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