7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

 So….would you rather practice your cursive accompanied by your favorite tunes..

…or would you rather..be BILL GATES’ COMMON CORE GUINEA PIG?

Yeah.  I thought so.

— 2 —

I also thought that your grandson was probably not a Tardis for Halloween.



— 3 —

Super busy two weeks.  Aside from all of the school-school stuff and “home”school activities, I’ve taken two jaunts waaaaaaay over to EWTN….what…four miles, maybe?

— 4 —

Monday, I was on Jim and Joy Pinto’s radio show.  You can listen to it here.

The topic?  Mostly Adventures in Assisi, but really, just saints in general.  Jim and Joy are great people. They direct a local crisis pregancy center - Her Choice. Every time I’m with them – even for just a few minutes – I’m connected a little more profoundly to the joy of being a disciple.

— 5 —

Then today, I did some television – Jim and Joy’s weekly live television show. 

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So, yes!  All Saints’  Buy some books! 

— 6 —

Next week…more busy.  I’m so excited! Ann Engelhart is coming to town.  We’re taping an EWTN program and doing a bunch of school presentations while she’s here.  I’m really looking forward to spending time with Ann and showing her some Birmingham sites….maybe even the Vulcan!

— 7 —

Advent is coming….perhaps your parish or school needs a family devotion?  Well, I wrote one…so here you go. 

advent devotional

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

St. Simon and St. Jude

Today’s their feastday.  Back in 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke about them at a General Audience, part of a series on the Apostles:

Simon is given a nickname that varies in the four lists: while Matthew and Mark describe him as a “Cananaean”, Luke instead describes him as a “Zealot”.

In fact, the two descriptions are equivalent because they mean the same thing: indeed, in Hebrew the verb qanà’ means “to be jealous, ardent” and can be said both of God, since he is jealous with regard to his Chosen People (cf. Ex 20: 5), and of men who burn with zeal in serving the one God with unreserved devotion, such as Elijah (cf. I Kgs 19: 10).

Thus, it is highly likely that even if this Simon was not exactly a member of the nationalist movement of Zealots, he was at least marked by passionate attachment to his Jewish identity, hence, for God, his People and divine Law.

If this was the case, Simon was worlds apart from Matthew, who, on the contrary, had an activity behind him as a tax collector that was frowned upon as entirely impure. This shows that Jesus called his disciples and collaborators, without exception, from the most varied social and religious backgrounds.

It was people who interested him, not social classes or labels! And the best thing is that in the group of his followers, despite their differences, they all lived side by side, overcoming imaginable difficulties: indeed, what bound them together was Jesus himself, in whom they all found themselves united with one another.

This is clearly a lesson for us who are often inclined to accentuate differences and even contrasts, forgetting that in Jesus Christ we are given the strength to get the better of our continual conflicts.

Let us also bear in mind that the group of the Twelve is the prefiguration of the Church, where there must be room for all charisms, peoples and races, all human qualities that find their composition and unity in communion with Jesus.

st.  Simon St. Jude

Then with regard to Jude Thaddaeus, this is what tradition has called him, combining two different names: in fact, whereas Matthew and Mark call him simply “Thaddaeus” (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18), Luke calls him “Judas, the son of James” (Lk 6: 16; Acts 1: 13).

The nickname “Thaddaeus” is of uncertain origin and is explained either as coming from the Aramaic, taddà’, which means “breast” and would therefore suggest “magnanimous”, or as an abbreviation of a Greek name, such as “Teodòro, Teòdoto”.

Very little about him has come down to us. John alone mentions a question he addressed to Jesus at the Last Supper: Thaddaeus says to the Lord: “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?”.

This is a very timely question which we also address to the Lord: why did not the Risen One reveal himself to his enemies in his full glory in order to show that it is God who is victorious? Why did he only manifest himself to his disciples? Jesus’ answer is mysterious and profound. The Lord says: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14: 22-23).

This means that the Risen One must be seen, must be perceived also by the heart, in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One.

The paternity of one of those New Testament Letters known as “catholic”, since they are not addressed to a specific local Church but intended for a far wider circle, has been attributed to Jude Thaddaeus. Actually, it is addressed “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 1).

A major concern of this writing is to put Christians on guard against those who make a pretext of God’s grace to excuse their own licentiousness and corrupt their brethren with unacceptable teachings, introducing division within the Church “in their dreamings” (v. 8).

This is how Jude defines their doctrine and particular ideas. He even compares them to fallen angels and, mincing no words, says that “they walk in the way of Cain” (v. 11).

Furthermore, he brands them mercilessly as “waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever” (vv. 12-13).

Today, perhaps, we are no longer accustomed to using language that is so polemic, yet that tells us something important. In the midst of all the temptations that exist, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve our faith’s identity. Of course, the way of indulgence and dialogue, on which the Second Vatican Counsel happily set out, should certainly be followed firmly and consistently.

But this path of dialogue, while so necessary, must not make us forget our duty to rethink and to highlight just as forcefully the main and indispensable aspects of our Christian identity. Moreover, it is essential to keep clearly in mind that our identity requires strength, clarity and courage in light of the contradictions of the world in which we live.

Quick, 26-hour trip to Atlanta and back this past weekend.

The purpose was to see the Shakespeare Tavern’s production of Macbeth. 

We prepped for the play by reviewing the story. We’d done a bit last year prepping for a production by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival which we ended up not seeing, after all.  This time, we read a couple of synopsis, reviewed some of the major speeches, watched a couple of clips from the Patrick Stewart version. (not the “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” scene, though…super-creepy in that version. They’re Weird Sisters/Witches, so it should be creepy..but it’s a little much for kids.)

i had thought, if we arrived early enough, we would go either to the High or the Atlanta History Center.  We’ve been to the High a couple of times, and they were opening two new exhibits yesterday, both of which look great – one on Cezanne, the other on some architectural features of the Florence Duomo – which is why we didn’t go…I didn’t know they were opening until we actually drove past, and we could use some prep time for both of those exhibits as well.  We have until January….

And as it turned out, we left a little too late to get in a comfortable visit to the history museum.  So, another time for that as well.

On the way in, we stopped at the Varsity for a bite.  I’d been once, probably as a teenager, and the boys had never been.  "amy welborn"The food looked to be a step or two below good fast food. I dunno. I didn’t eat it.   I don’t think you really go for the food, anyway – you go for the experience, which is not nearly as intimidating as it used to be.  The cashiers still say, “What’ll ya have?” and the pace is brisk, but I guess since computers make everything so fast now anyway, the customer doesn’t feel the pressure and bluster of old, which was part of the place’s fame.

(The website says they serve 30,000 customers on Georgia Tech game days……not sure I believe that…)

We checked into the hotel (after fighting weirdly heavy traffic…even my older son who lives in Atlanta commented on it)  and walked over to Piedmont Park, where, I’d seen on the internet, an ATLANTA WORLD  KITE FESTIVAL was being held.  Wow!  How interesting! This should be fun!

Or not.  I mean…it was fun for the couple of dozen families flying kites in the meadow, but given that was it, aside from maybe four vendors…I’ll just say the website did its work of hype quite well.

We did meet Boo-Boo though.  He’s three.

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After a good walk around and through the park it was time to go to the theater.  It’s basically dinner theater, and while you purchase seats in a particular section (floor, box or balcony), the actual seating is first come, first serve.  We arrived about 40 minutes before the show began and got a good table quite near the stage (near-er…since all the tables are actually near the stage.)

We recognized many of the actors in the production – it’s our fourth Shakespeare Tavern show. It was well done and held everyone’s interest, although I do think this company’s strength are the comedies.

Back to the hotel, up this morning to Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, downtown:

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A large, diverse congregation at Mass, with good music, although honestly, just do those ICEL chants in Latin.  The English is just awkward, the Latin won’t bite, and in a truly diverse community, it’s a powerful sign of unity . The homily was good, although it was all about All Saints’ and All Souls’  – next week.  But no matter, I guess. It was a good explanation of both feasts and devotions.  It’s a lovely church, although why the presider’s chair has to be right in front of the altar with him staring at us all through Mass is beyond me.

Drive back home – the good drive because you gain an hour going from eastern to central time – and back a little after noon.  We ran by Railroad Park before we hit the house – with me giving a crash course on the Four Noble Truths on I-20 on the way in –  because I wanted to show them the mandala the Dalai Lama’s crew was working on – he was speaking at the baseball stadium next to the park.  On the way, I passed a friend whose son was part of one of the choirs streaming by to sing at the event. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, “We’re singing ‘Let There be Peace on Earth…’  Whatever…”,)  I had zero interest in seeing the fellow himself,  but the mandala is a useful illustration of the core of Buddhist philosophy, which is all about impermanence and transience and “extinction”  –  the literal meaning of the word “nirvana.”

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Beautiful and expressive of some truth about impermanence, yes? But even more “yes” in the crucifix above, which is not about impermanence, but about the deeper beauty of each person, eternally and permanently loved by that Heart, ,  and worth dying for.


Interesting breakfast conversation overheard at the Midtown Residence Inn where we were staying:

There was this sixtiesh man eating at the table I was sitting at, and then a sixtiesh woman stopped in front of him on her way out and said, “We’ve worked together.”

Turns out they’re both in the movie business. She is makeup and he is something else that I didn’t catch – lighting I think. He’s working on Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling:

And then she was working on a film called Bolden, about a jazz musician.

It was an interesting conversation. Their shared theme was , “We’re too old for this.”  The man had been working all night shoots on this project to this point.

She’s been in Atlanta since September and then the location is switching to Wilmington, Delaware.

(They figured out that they had worked on Horrible Bosses together)

And I thought, “There it is, kids – full of vaulting ambition –  you think, I’ll work in the movies. It will be glamorous.”  But what really happens is that you end up living in a Residence Inn Atlanta for weeks and months at a time….

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Mass last Sunday was a cappella. The organ had to be covered with a ginormous tarp because of plaster work being done in the loft.

I have to say, it was lovely.  It really is my preference, no offense to all the musicians out there.  A chanted monastic liturgy, Eastern Christian liturgies resonating with the human voice…yes.  Seems to me it’s the way it should be.

At one point, I presented the worship aid, with the words of the Gloria, in Latin, closer to my 9-year old’s face.  He waved it away and whispered, “We had to learn it in schola.” 

Well. My bad.

— 2 —

Speaking of music in our cathedral, this past Monday the cathedral hosted the debut performance of a new (independent) music group in town, the Highland Consort, specializing in Renaissance Polyphony. It was a stunning performance.  We sat in the rear of the main center aisles, which were full, it seemed to me.

As I sat there, I listened and I also watched people listening. And I thought, “This is evangelization.
Because why? Because there  during that hour you have a few hundred people sitting in a Catholic church listening to Catholic sacred music (the program had all the lyrics in Latin and English – easily understood), and you could see people, as the music flowed over them, letting their gaze wander around the church. They watched the ensemble, but that’s not all they saw.  Their heads turned, their necks craned as they looked around at the saints in the stained glass, up at the ceiling painting, over at the paintings of the sacramental symbols in the sanctuary, at the altar, the statues of Mary, Joseph, St. John Vianney and St. Paul…there were not only in a church, but they were in the midst of the Church, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, some silent, some beautifully audible, past and present, transcending time and space, surrounded by the proclamation of the Good News in visual art, music, symbol, structure and hospitality, and guess what….all were welcome.

— 3 —

Speaking of stained glass, our weekly jaunt took Michael and me up to Huntsville.  I wanted to revisit the science center that we frequented last fall when the older boy was doing First Lego League. It’s moved and I wanted to check out the facilities…we were disappointed to see that it really wasn’t an improvement and everything looked, in fact, a little more tired.

So after a very short visit, we headed over to Lowe Mill, an old mill (obviously) that has been transformed into studio space for artists.  Not a lot of artists were working (I’m guessing more of them of present on weekends), but we could peek through windows at quite a bit of interesting work.  One fellow who was in was working on this:

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…for a church in Kentucky, and we got a bit of instruction on his technique, which is…painstaking.

— 4 —

I exercise regularly, but I decided this week to revisit the Couch to 5K program which I’d done and finished several years and, it seems, lifetimes ago.  This time I started at week 4, which was no trouble and really just the right spot.  Now,  I didn’t know there were lots of different versions of Cto5k you can download, and the first one I randomly downloaded was…not my style of music.  It was sort of weird.  But then I stumbled upon the versions produced by the ever-helpful NHS, and, well…if you want…entertaining encouragement, I highly recommend giving this version a try.  I mean, what is more helpful than a woman urging  you in a gentle British accent Well done! and Off you go! 

— 5 —

Speaking of British people talking in my ear while I walk and run in circles, Melvin Bragg is back in business with a new season of In Our Time, which I once again, as is my wont, encourage you to try out.  I’ll admit that the first two topics were challenging for me – I couldn’t tell you much more about the number “e” now than before I “listened” to the program, and the next one, on a very important 7th century battle between   Arabs  and  Chinese  lost me after fifteen minutes.  BUT…the third episode was on Rudyard Kipling and it was really good, giving a thorough and fair treatment of his life in India, his business-savvy writing career, his time in America, how he felt about America, World War I, his verse.  Good stuff.

— 6 —

Nothing like waiting until exactly a month before you leave the country to renew your passport.  Good job, me!

— 7 —

Next week, I’ll be spending a lot of time with Jim and Joy Pinto!

Monday, I’ll be on their EWTN radio show, which airs at 2 eastern, and then Thursday, I’ll join them on the television at 3 eastern – the times they’re repeated are at the links.  I’ll be talking mostly about Adventures in Assisiof course, but also about my other books on saints, since it’s that time of year.

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For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day is coming up..

(Whether it’s a Holy Day of Obligation or not!)

So..as a reminder, here are saints-related books that you might be interested in.  Just a note:  consider purchasing these as resources for your Catholic school or parish religious education program.

The Loyola KIds Book of Saints:

Good for read-alouds from about age 5 on, independent reading (depending on child) from about 8 on. The emphasis is on helping children see the connection between their own journey to holiness and the saints’.  Sample sections and chapters, with a complete list here:

Saints Are People Who Create
St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray
St. Benedict,St. Do"amy welborn"minic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday
St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home
St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders
St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth
St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

 Published by Loyola Press. 

And then..the exciting sequel!

This book evolved.  Loyola originally wanted this – a book of “heroes” , but I adjusted the concept a bit.  I really need a strong concept in order to write – once I come up with the concept it flows pretty well.  So for this book I decided to organize it according to the virtues, and include in each section a originating narrative from Scripture, a historical event or movement and then a collection of saints who personify that virtue.  For some reason, this book sold particularly well this past spring (Or “First Communion” season. )  I’m not sure why.

Also published by Loyola.

  1. Introduction: Jesus Teaches
  2. Pentecost: Heroes on Fire with Hope
  3. Paul: A Hero"amy welborn" Changes and Finds Hope
  4. St. Patrick and St. Columba: Heroes Bring Hope into Darkness
  5. St. Jane de Chantal: Heroes Hope through Loss
  6. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska: A Hero Finds Hope in Mercy


  1. Introduction: Jesus Works Miracles
  2. Peter and John: Heroes are Known by their Love
  3. St. Genevieve: A City is Saved by a Hero’s Charity
  4. St. Meinrad and St. Edmund Campion: Heroes love their Enemies
  5. Venerable Pierre Toussaint: A Hero Lives a Life of Charity
  6. Rose Hawthorne Lathrop: A Hero Cares for Those Who Need it Most
  7. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: A Hero Lives Charity with the Dying


  1. Introduction: Jesus Strikes a Balance
  2. Peter and Cornelius: Heroes Love Their Neighbors
  3. Charlemagne and Alcuin: Heroes Use their Talents for Good
  4. St. Francis: A Hero Appreciates Creation
  5. Venerable Matt Talbot: Heroes Can Let Go
  6. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero Enjoys the Gift of Life

After Friendship with Jesus was published by the Catholic Truth Society, Pope Benedict visited England.  During that visit, he gave a talk to school children at an event called “The Big Assembly,” and like all of the talks and homilies he gave at such events,  it was rich and so expressive of his skillful way of teaching, which is profound, yet simple..and yet again, not watered down…so…26811_W

Another book!

Again, CTS was a joy to work with.  In structuring this book, we combined the pope’s words with quotations from various saints.  The images are mostly of contemporary children engaged in activities that illustrate the call of Pope Benedict and the saints to follow Christ.  Here’s the text of the entire talk. Some images:

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Finally, of course, the most recent book, Adventures in Assisi:

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Adventures in Assisi is the fruit of my interest in St. Francis as well as trips both Ann and I have taken to the town.  Ann has been twice, and I traveled there two years ago with my two youngest, on our epic 3-month stay in Europe.

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(Click for full size)

Here’s an interview about the book with both of us.

And here’s a great video feature Ann in her Long Island home/studio.

That was this morning’s activity – a fossil hunt organized by a great local group called Fresh Air Family. 

We met at a Wal-Mart parking lot, handed in our waivers, and then caravaned to the site, which is a now-unused strip mine.

All the coal that could be profitably taken had been, and reclamation was about to begin when the owner’s grandson found a fossil…and it was discovered that this patch was a treasure trove of fossil remains – mostly reptile, amphibian and insect tracks, as well as vegetation.  The requirement to reclaim the land was lifted, and in the years since, it has been a fruitful area for study. More about it here. 

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Getting some orientation and instruction beforehand.

Fresh Air Family takes groups out there twice a year.

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The stripped area.

We searched for a little over two hours, armed with our hammers and screw drivers, searching, digging, and splitting promising-looking slabs of shale.  We didn’t find any tracks, unfortunately but we did find plenty of evidence of hundreds-of-millions of years-old plant life.  Pretty amazing.

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A local dog made everyone’s acquaintance. He was a very sweet dog – with one blue eye and one brown.

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Stems of some sort

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Closer look at some stems

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The haul.

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7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Today (Friday the 17th) is the feastday of St. Ignatius of Antioch.  I hope you’ll take some time to read a bit of the letters of the martyr-bishop who was fed to the beasts in the early 2nd century.   He wrote several, to the communities through which he passed as he was being taken in chains from Antioch to Rome.

The letters center on a few themes:  the unity of the Church, the role of the bishop, the Eucharist, warning against heresies, and, of course, martyrdom. It’s good, vivid, bracing stuff.

I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God.
  No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.
  The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish. You will sympathise with me because you will know what urges me on.

— 2 —

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s General Audience talk on Ignatius, several years ago:

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.
Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. “Be one”, Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “one supplication, one mind, one hope in love…. Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (7: 1-2).

— 3 —

The rest of this post will be super short and random.  Sorry about that. Maybe I’ll have more substance next week.

So..this was an interesting article – from the coming Sunday’s NYTimes magazine: it’s about the practice of begging in the predominantly Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood, New Jersey. 

— 4 —

More New York stuff.  This was an  hilarious article in The New Yorker  by a writer attempting to see how outrageously she could game the “emotional support animal” world. Turtle? Alpaca? Not even kidding.  

— 5 —

Remember, since it’s October, that  means it’s Rosary month.  Perhaps you’d like a free e-book on Mary?

Well…here you go!

And for a not-free book on a saint…don’t forget this one…

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I’ll have a couple of interviews on it over the next couple of weeks – I’ll let you know when they come on.

— 6 —

No field trips this week.  However, this weekend, the older boy is going on a scout thing to Mammoth Cave. Michael and I will be staying around here, but we will be going on a jaunt….fossil hunting!  We are to take hammers, screwdrivers and a box for our finds….this is serious, I guess…..

— 7 —

Synod? Well, sure I have…thoughts.  After it’s over, I’ll jot some of them down.  I mean, honestly, why waste time with pronouncements today when everything is going to change tomorrow…or during the next hour?  Sheesh, what a circus.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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