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Posted by on Mar 21, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 1 comment

War Games and Pandemics: Where are the Emergency Playbooks?



Countless studies do exist on what to do in case of national emergencies, including viral outbreaks.  The question is — why isn’t the Trump Administration following a plan?


When I worked at the State Department, I was assigned to Main State for a total of about nine months. One of the great privileges of working in that building was — with the proper clearance — having personal access to the vast library of information. Much of it is now digitized. But back then it was a real library with books and files and papers (on the third floor, I recall). Any State employee could go in and read most of the materials. One can only imagine how fascinating these topics were.

There were studies, contingency plans, predictions, historical analysis — binders packed with information on every conceivable scenario just about anywhere in the world.

For instance, if a remote American Consulate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was attacked, there was a plan. If the DCM was held hostage, there was a plan. If a Marine Security Guard got into a traffic accident on foreign soil, there was a plan. If a nuclear reactor in France melted down to the core, there was a plan. If the wheat market collapsed from a bug and 30 percent of the world faced starvation, there was a plan. If Pakistan launched missiles at India, there was a plan. No matter what the crisis — always go to the playbook. That was the plan.

When the American Embassy in Romania was overrun with refugees and visa requests and even had to evacuate because of a bloody revolution while I was there, we worked out of the file like it was a textbook. The instructions were like commandments.

State was but one federal agency of many with lots of plans and playbooks. Those I know who worked in intelligence and NSA and DIA and the armed services all did their own studies. They had plans and playbooks, too. We’re talking about the nation’s best minds working for years on what I would call “War Games.”

However, the playbooks were not always about war. More often than not, they dealt with things like economic collapses, natural disasters, technical breakdowns, and even threats like pandemics.

Now, we’re getting somewhere. You see where this is headed.

Government isn’t the only source of studies and “what if” scenarios. It’s what major think tanks are trained to do. They play games — with economies, trade, military occupations, corporate espionage, hacking, counter-terrorism, and every imaginable scenario. The Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, and others have experts who produce studies on what to do if shit hits the fan. That’s why they are in business, which is to play “war games” and then hand over the playbook when the time comes.

That’s not all. There are also academics. These are professors and medical people and scientists and other experts. They work mostly in colleges and universities, and research facilities. Some of them make it their life’s work to come up with contingency plans in case of various situations.

We see some of these academics in the news today, primarily from Johns Hopkins University, and other places. Certainly, their libraries have studies and dissertations on what to do in case of global/national pandemics.

So, let’s agree there is a multitude of information readily available on virtually every conceivable scenario related to a viral outbreak. We should know how to secure borders and streamline transportation channels. We should know what it takes to keep food distribution networks going. We should have the drafts ready to be signed and the orders prepared to be given. We should also have the studies done and the social science completed on what happens when perhaps half the country might be on lockdown. What happens to an economy on that scale?

What we are experiencing now shouldn’t be a surprise to those at the top of the federal government. The playbooks are there. There’s no excuse for indecision or delay.

Obviously, coming up with a cure or some way to slow down the virus wasn’t foreseeable. But MANAGEMENT of a pandemic is entirely foreseeable and should have been a relatively simple process. It’s called crisis management.  I am willing to bet hundreds of reliable studies have been completed on this topic, and dozens likely deal with the specifics of an outbreak of this magnitude.

Yet, all I have seen for the past month is an Administration that apparently has no idea how to manage a crisis. Sure, the medical experts and science people are doing their best. But the MANAGEMENT of this disaster has been criminal and the consequences could be catastrophic.

I’d be curious to read others’ thoughts as to why THE VAST ARCHIVE of materials on “what to do” in case of a viral outbreak has not been utilized. Naturally, no one expects political leaders to know every answer. Indeed, this is why playbooks exist. This is why they should be followed.

One reason why this Administration has done such a poor job thus far and communicated to poorly to the American public is, they apparently don’t like to read nor understand anything about the vast resources of government if they were to only use them effectively.


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Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 2 comments

The Parachute Question


louis gohmert


You’re on a cross-country flight with several key Republicans.

Suddenly, the airplane has a mechanical problem. Things go from bad to worse. It’s going down. A crash is imminent.

The only chance for survival is to bail out. There are only two parachutes on board. You are the only passenger who knows about the two parachutes. You will use one parachute. You also have a choice of saving ONE Republican.

The Republicans onboard include:

Mitch McConnell
Tom Cotton
Rand Paul
Susan Collins
Ted Cruz
Devin Nunes
Louis Gohmert
Jim Jordan

So, now — the question. Just as you are about to bail out, you have a difficult decision to make. What’s your choice?

Do you hide the second parachute in the overhead bin or under the seat?



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Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 10


“I write songs.  Then, I record them.  And, later, maybe I perform them on stage.  That’s what I do.  That’s my job.  Simple.”




DAY 64: “Caravan” (Live–1976)

Brace yourselves.

You’re about to witness a shy, short, pudgy, balding, funny-talking Irish dude with lamb chop sideburns dressed in a maroon-sequined jumpsuit, mispronouncing the words to his own song, barn-yarding the whole wild scene, kicking it up Saturday Night Live style, and mic-dropping the show in a Martin Scorsese concert movie

It’s a parody, only without the parody. Like the half-drink karaoke guy or the embarrassing uncle at the wedding who doesn’t know everyone’s watching, but also doesn’t give a fuck.

This incredible moment almost never happened.

The Band was set to play a farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. This came to the attention of famed movie director, Martin Scorsese, who was a big fan of Robbie Robertson and The Band’s music. He came in and shot the entire concert, which included guest appearances by Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and many others.

Van was a reluctant addition to the all-star lineup. He had been known to withdraw into a shell while onstage, often singing with his eyes shut, not to mention his occasional profanity-laden spats with fans. Asking Van to appear seemed risky. Moreover, Van hadn’t released an album in two years and had essentially disappeared from the pop music scene. No one knew what to expect when Van was scheduled to follow Neil Diamond, then at the height of his popularity and probably the worst possible superstar act to replace in the spotlight. Van was in a horrible spot.

Making matters far worse, Van got hit by a last-minute panic of stage fright, which plagued him sporadically throughout his long career. While waiting off in the wings, Van relayed he didn’t want to go on. As Robbie Robertson and The Band began warming up to Van’s intro, Van’s tour manager had to physically push the befuddled singer onto the stage. Van sheepishly approached the microphone and then somehow morphs into an out-of-body experience. Even members of The Band were shocked to watch Van become increasingly animated during the 5-minute transformation. The song had been unrehearsed, so when Van shouts out, “turn it up!” and “one more time!” the band responds at his command.

While editing several hours of concert footage for what would become The Last Waltz, Scorsese later saw the act and was stunned. Eric Clapton said Van stole the show. Perhaps it was because expectations were so low that Van knocked this one out of the park. Known as a great songwriter, but also a deeply private man, jumpsuits and karate kicks simply weren’t in the singer’s wheelhouse.

“Caravan” was only a modestly-known track off the 1970 Moondance album. It certainly didn’t seem like much of a showstopper. Oddly enough, this guest-appearance stands as perhaps his best-known live performance. Unfortunately, it also set up false expectations for future fans who anticipated seeing the “Caravan” version of Van. Instead, they would get a different Van with each successive year, album, and tour.

This — ladies and gentlemen — is how you strut the effing stage! Talking about running the roost! Nailed it, bitches! What a classic!

“Van the Man!”

Note: This begins a week of the worst Van Morrison performances. While this appearance is perhaps his best, it’s a forebearer so some cringeworthy moments to come, which includes television appearances and interviews. This project intends to provide a comprehensive portrait, which includes some rough edges around the performer.



This comprehensive examination of Van’s life and career would not be complete without posting some of the disasters, and there have been many.

Perhaps his worst show was the special occasion of Van performing his own song (made famous by Rod Stewart) with fellow Irish free-spirit, Sinead O’Connor. This clip is an embarrassment for Van, who was thought to be drunk during the performance and completely destroys what should have been a memorable duet.

O’Connor grew up idolizing Van, which makes this disaster all the more disappointing. She’s wonderful, as are the musicians — The Chieftains, who backed up Van on numerous albums. However, Van fails to take the occasion seriously, lapsing into a cringe-worthy rendition of one of his most beloved songs.

This fiasco took place in London. David Letterman did a week of shows there and his guests were predominantly British and Irish. Unfortunately, what should have been one of the highlights turned into a musical train wreck.

Oddly enough, though he came out of the 1960s, Van was never known for drug use, nor bouts of addiction, nor even any missed shows. For more than 55 years, Van always shows up on time, sober (usually), and ready to perform. This appears to be a rare exception.

Watch for yourself, one of Van’s worst performances, even though Letterman, perhaps sarcastically announces at the end, “that was great!”


DAY 66:  “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” (1970 song on the “Proof of Life” movie soundtrack, from 2000)

You’re watching the closing scene and credits from the 2000 film starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, Proof of Life, which is an espionage thriller set in South Africa. The film was burdened with problems from the start, including financial issues, an avalanche during filming, and trouble on the set. It didn’t fare well at the box office, either and has since been forgotten.

Van’s original composition is used, which is from the 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir. The track in simple 4/4 time features only four musicians — including Van, with a drummer, bassist, and a guitarist.

“I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” reveals Van at his soulful best. It’s easy to understand why this song was chosen for the final fade-out of a tense movie which concludes with the angst of lost love.

More than likely, you haven’t heard this track before. So, play the short clip and listen. Like so much of Van’s music, it’s the perfect emotional match for the moment.

See if you agree…


DAY 67:  “Hungry For Your Love” (1978 original release, also on the “An Officer and a Gentleman” movie soundtrack, 1982)

Van Morrison’s “Hungry For Your Love” is a mellow-sounding feelgood song from the 1978 Wavelength album, which enjoyed two brief bouts of radio airplay — once during the initial phase of the album’s release and again when the mega-smash movie An Officer and a Gentlemen produced a pitch-fever of hits off the soundtrack (“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker was the clear standout).

This is one of the favorite songs of many Van aficionados, most notably Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who has released multiple alternate cover versions. The song contains some unusual qualities. First, it’s a throwback to Van’s earlier work done nearly a decade earlier, which doesn’t really meld with the more modern sound of Wavelength released at the height of the disco era. The song also contains a rare demonstration of Van playing the electric piano. Musically gifted and instrumentally versatile, nonetheless, it’s one of the few released recordings with Van on the keyboard.

There’s a nice groove to this song. In the movie, it appeared as background in a scene when stars Richard Gere and Debra Winger wake up the next morning after their initial romantic tryst.




DAY 68:  “Irish Heartbeat” (1983)

“Irish Heartbeat” is an original composition by Van Morrison. It has been recorded several times over the years and covered multiple times by other musicians, many from Ireland. The song seems an appropriate choice on this St. Patrick’s Day.

The track debuted on Van’s 1983 studio album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. It reappeared on the 1988 album collaboration with the traditional Irish folk group, The Chieftains. Then, 25 years later, it was re-recorded as a duet with Van and Mark Knopfler. This is the version off the 2015 Duets: Reworking the Catalogue album.

Van has demonstrated extraordinary musical ability over his nearly six-decade span as a songwriter and performer. It would be futile to identify a musical icon who has covered more territory and crossed more bridges. He’s not only excelled in rock, blues, and jazz but also commands such a deep knowledge of traditional folklore. Van’s extensive career is packed with live performances of his playing and singing classic Irish songs, far beyond the typical pop music wheelhouse.

“Irish Heartbeat” is a yin and yang of a song, the soulful Van meeting his inner Irish roots halfway. Off putting to his rock fans and those who grew up accustomed to “Brown-Eyed Girl” pop hits, it’s Van reaching deep, looking back, tilling the fertile musical plain. To his credit, Van doesn’t always take us where we want to be, but in directions where we need to go.

Today, we’re all Irish. And when we listen to Van, we’re all lucky.



DAY 69:  A Van Morrison Impression by Sean Cullen (2013)

How exactly does one do an impression of Van Morrison? Well, Sean Cullen absolutely brilliantly nails it!


DAY 70:  Van Morrison St. Patrick’s Day Impression by Jimmy Fallon (2009)

A few years back, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon began doing impressions of classic rock stars. Most amazing, he did his own music and sings original material. His impression of Jim Morrison (The Doors) is astounding.

Fallon did Van Morrison on St. Patrick’s Day, having a bit of fun with the drunken stereotype. It’s all in good fun. I’m not sure how many appreciate how good this wild rendition is, but hey — how the hell do you pull off am impersonation of Van Morrison?

Fallon nails it here. Nice compliment on this Irish holiday to the previous posts in the series.

Hope you enjoy.


  • WEEK 1:  (You’ve Got the Power; Days Like This; Here Comes the Night; Just Like Greta; T.B. Sheets; Domino)
  • WEEK 2:  (I Heard You Paint Houses–The Irishman; Into the Mystic; Wavelength; Bright Side of the Road; Take this Hammer; Queen of the Slipstream; Haunts of Ancient Peace; News– Remembering Joe Smith)
  • WEEK 3:  (Celtic New Year; Cyprus Avenue; Sometimes We Cry; Wild Night; Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo; Enlightenment; Don’t Look Back)
  • Week 4:  (Whenever God Shines His Light; Ordinary People; Gloria; Down to Earth; Golden Autumn Day; On Hyndford Street; Celtic New Year)
  • WEEK 5:  (Your Mind is On Vacation; Naked in the Jungle; Spanish Steps; Tupelo Honey; Fame; The Way Young Lovers Do; Van Morrison Documentary–The Early Years_
  • WEEK 6:  (Go On Home, Baby; Comfortably Numb; These Are the Days; Brand New Day; Bulbs; Rough God Goes Riding; Interviews: 1967 and 2017)
  • WEEK 7:  (Beside You; Little Village; Never Get Out of These Blues; Someone Like You; I’ll Take Care of You; You Gotta’ Make It Through the World; Under Review–Documentary Film)
  • WEEK 8:  (Van Morrison at Montreux; Street Choir; Moondance; Troubadours; Twilight Zone; I Will Be There; Wild Honey)
  • WEEK 9  (No Religion; Allow Me; When I Deliver; The Healing Game; Help Me, And The Healing Has Begun; Linden Arden Stole the Highlights)
Note:  Follow me on Facebook for the latest editions of the Van Morrison MasterClass, and more.
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Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 2 comments

Social Media Distancing


social media distancing


Note:  This was posted to my Facebook page.  I’m sharing it here since many of you likely have the same issue to deal with on Facebook and elsewhere on social media.


I am making a change. Effective immediately.

I’m implementing a new policy on Facebook which I will call “social media distancing.”

Just as some people are infected with a virus, others are infected with the toxicity of ignorance. I have no use for either. According, they shall be quarantined. Let me explain.

For many years, I’ve exhibited extraordinary tolerance for the broadest range of opinion. As someone who is naturally curious and has always welcomed an open exchange of ideas (even bad ideas), I hoped my posts/threads/articles might in some small way contribute to bridging differences and fostering greater understanding. I will continue to adhere to this guiding principle.

Unfortunately, the law of large numbers of friends means more trolls and irrational outliers. I hoped discussion and debate might open some minds. Darkness is dark only until the light gets in. However, there are simply some minds which are so shuttered and locked that it’s not worth my time, nor the energy of my friends to waste time trying to do the impossible. Let’s treat the treatable, not the terminally ignorant.

Allow me to provide some examples. In the last week, I’ve cut ties and or blocked the following persons. Names will not be listed. I see no point in embarrassing them or giving them any additional attention:

CASE 1: In a thread about Alex Jones (the hate-spewing conspiracy nut) someone expressed admiration and support for his content. Right then, I made a calculated decision that there is nothing this person can say or write from this point forward that I can trust. I have nothing to learn or gain from someone who thinks Alex Jones, who has called the parents of children murdered in a mass shooting “crisis actors.” Moreover, I do NOT want to know this person. He was blocked. Easy decision.

CASE 2: This one is more complicated. In an exchange about public policy, someone stated President Obama did nothing on domestic infrastructure while in office. I proved otherwise (this was very easy, which took about 5 seconds on Google). The poster doubled down and refused to acknowledge a simple fact which was shown. I decided there was no point in engaging this person any further, since showing him an easily-searchable fact, didn’t trigger the expected reboot to reality. If we can’t agree on simple, undisputed historical facts, I see no reason to waste time or energy in future discussions with this individual. That said, the person is polite and communicates well, so rather than imposing a draconian punishment like blocking, I simply informed the individual I would no long engage him, but he remains free to post and contribute to my threads.

CASE 3: This was a poker-playing friend who I know marginally (met him a few times) but I would not call a friend. I tend to welcome invites from people because it’s a way to connect to new ideas and even learn things. While scrolling down my Facebook home page, I saw this person post. It was a rambling long-winded conspiracy rant about the Coronavirus crisis being a Leftist conspiracy designed to bring down Trump. He pulled every rancid chestnut out of the toxic toolbox, even alluding to 9/11 inside-job stuff. That was eye opening. Once again, this made my decision easy. There is nothing this person can write or post that gives me any faith in their opinion or judgment. None. And so, the persona non grata button was pushed. Poof! He no longer exists. Blocked. My soul is cleansed.

A WORD ABOUT TROLLS:  Finally, there is the wacko category, comprised of trolls. People who contribute nothing to a discussion. Some are even dangerous. My life has been threatened a few times, and one of those had a Facebook home page with photos of lots of guns and hate-filled topics. After he once threatened to come and kill me and my wife, I reported him directly to the FBI (some of you might remember this from a few years ago). These are easy to identify and deserve to be blocked. While I wouldn’t normally tell others what to do, I strongly recommend social quarantine against these types of individuals.

Please note that I rarely block anyone for having ideas different than my own. I have dozens of Trump supporting friends and even more conservative-minded contacts on my social media feed. Virtually all of them are civil and occasionally do post good content. I also will admit to some inconsistency since I allow those people I know very well (no names) tremendous latitude that I wouldn’t normally afford to someone who is anonymous. I try my best, but I’m not perfect in my enforcement of my own rules.

YMMV. Everyone can make up their rules. I have decided that my time is way to valuable to be wasting it on (Case 1) overt haters, (Case 2) people who do not listen to facts, and (Case 3) conspiracy nuts.

Thanks to everyone for reading and supporting my amateur attempt at exchanging ideas. I recognize my posts are often inflammatory and off-putting in language and content. I do remain a work in progress, flexible to many topics, tones, and tactics. If someone is offended, I suggest they unfollow me. It’s that simple.

Over and out.


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Posted by on Mar 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 2 comments

Yes, You Can Still Go Out and Have Fun and Here’s How (Surviving Las Vegas During the Coronavirus Crisis)


marieta dalla


I don’t know when it will come but at some point during this “social distancing” thing, many of us are going to go stir crazy.

This is especially true if you live in Las Vegas, like me.

We’re used to going out and having fun.  We’re accustomed to casinos, and restaurants, and world-class entertainment within a short drive.  We’re spoiled by instant gratification.

Let me be very clear:  I fully support and encourage following every recommendation and guideline put out by any authority — at least those put out by people not named Donald Trump and Mike Pence.  The draconian measures of social distancing, and in some cases “self-quarantining” are sure to save many lives.  I beg everyone:  Please follow them.

But let’s also be realistic.  Many of us are going to go outdoors.  We will leave our homes and drive places.  Some destinations — such as grocery stores and medical facilities — are mandatory.  Others, such as amusements are optional.

Fortunately, Las Vegas is blessed to have some really cool places closeby.  Everything about these spots is positive.  I think many readers might enjoy them if they can get outside and are willing to try an adventure.

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few amazing places that I want to share.  Each destination is easy to reach from Las Vegas.  So, if you are a local resident, or visiting, these are very doable.  Best of all they are safe and cost next to nothing!



Distance from Las Vegas:  5 miles

Time Required:  A few hours (or more is optional)

Don’t be put off by the word “hike.”  I promise — it’s not that difficult.  There are many leisurely walks through the Red Rock Canyon National Park.  Some take no more than an hour.  Others are more challenging and can take up to a full day.  The option is yours.

The main thing is — the views our here are magnificent.  More like breathtaking.  And, since it’s March, the weather should be great this time of year.  The same goes for April and May.  So, even if this health crisis continues for months, Red Rock Canyon will be there waiting to welcome us.

The many times I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon, it’s never been crowded, like a city attraction.  Sure, several hundred people might be at the canyon at one time.  But they are spread out of many miles.  So, there’s virtually no threat going out and doing something that’s fun and good for you — walking and hiking.

Here’s my report of an amazing hike I did a few years ago with a friend, Nick Christenson.  Nick knows these trails very well, so I was glad to have him as my guide.  If you’re interested in learning more, please read this column, and if you really want to find out where to go, share the discussion on Facebook.  Either Nick or I will be glad to address it.  Read:  TAKING A HIKE:  THE OTHER SIDE OF LAS VEGAS



Distance from Las Vegas:  50 miles

Time Required:  4 to 5 hours (can be done in a half-day)

Valley of Fire is about an hour-long drive to the northeast, about halfway to the Utah border.  It’s a pristine setting with lots of rock formations and natural beauty.

There’s no urban development out here, meaning no hotels or gas stations.  The natural splendor is what makes Valley of Fire so attractive.  The park is located next to an Indian reservation, which has a tobacco shop as the main cut off from the highway onto a single-lane road, which takes another 10 miles, or so.

I’ve visited this park many times, usually with family or out-of-town guests.  Everyone I’ve gone with enjoys the quiet solitude combined with the beauty of the unusual landscape.

Unfortunately, I have not written about the Valley of Fire in the past.  So, instead, I will provide this link to their OFFICIAL WEBSITE.



Distance from Las Vegas:  120 miles

Time Required:  8-10 hours (full-day)

People hear “Death Valley” and they think of unbearable heat and barren desert.  But it’s not that way, at all.  Or, I should say, it’s much more than that.

One of the park’s best-kept secrets is an amazing landmark that overlooks the vast natural treasure, which is about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.  This is one of the best day-trips you will ever take from this city.  For reasons inexplicable, I’ve met very few Las Vegas residents (or anyone else) who has done this wonderful mini-vacation.  Don’t be like them!  Do it!

Remember, during this period, we want to be cognizant of social distancing.  Well, a visit to Death Valley is about as socially isolated as it gets.  The closest you will come to other people might be cars on the other side of the highway.

This article I wrote about Dante’s View will give you some idea of what awaits those to make the drive.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  And, once you are there, it’s a nice spot to get out and spend a few hours.  The view never gets old.

Be Warned:  There is no food or services out here, so please make sure you are well-fed and stocked up before heading out.  Oh, the area is totally safe.  You just need to make certain you have plenty of gas and don’t leave hungry.  Because you won’t find a fast-food place around for 50 miles.  And that’s what makes it so wonderful.

Try Dante’s View.  This is an amazing experience.  Read more:  DANTE’S VIEW:  A GREAT LAS VEGAS GETAWAY


There are more places to visit than just these.  Utah has some astonishing parks within a reasonable distance.  Of course, it’s also okay just to go outside and take a walk.

I understand these are unusual times.  For everyone.  We’ve never been in a spot like this before.  I encourage those I know and those I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet to stay safe.  But also — please volunteer and help when and where they can.

Just as important….I also think it’s vital to live a little and enjoy life.

Visiting one of the parks within driving distance is a breath of fresh air and a very responsible way to take advantage of this disruption of our normal lives.

The best way to appreciate Las Vegas right now might be to leave it, if for only a few hours or a day.

Please share with me if you decide to follow any of these recommendations.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Join the Facebook discussion on this topic HERE


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