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Nourish Your Inner Project Manager Through Cooking

cooking

cooking

I spent a week at my 86 year-old mother’s house recently. I was there to help her to clear out her home in preparation for an imminent move to an independent living facility.

The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.

I could go on.

But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.

Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.

Manager vs. Maker

I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)

A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.

A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).

The Problem with Being a Creative

Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.

It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.

But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.

While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.

Cooking as Project Management

One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.

Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.

Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.

Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.

I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.

Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.

But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.

I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…

Image: Food. Pot. Kitchen. Cooking via Pexels.com

Diet Books Dumped in U.K. Protest at Parliament

“There’s not a single part of my body that I’d want to change, even if I could,” a woman commented to me the other night at dinner.

“Liar,” I wanted to say back.

It wasn’t that I didn’t agree with the tenor of her remark. We were discussing the ongoing breast implant scandal in the United Kingdom, which has the government and private medical clinics here squabbling over who should pay to replace faulty silicone breast implants: the companies that put them in, or the government that certified their safety.

My dinner partner correctly observed that the real culprit in the scandal was body image: the idea sold to all of us that we’re meant to look a certain way. And the horrific lengths to which we go — vomiting, starving ourselves, paying inordinate amounts of money to plastic surgeons to add or subtract a curve — to comply with that ideal.

But I don’t really think there’s a single one of us — certainly not female — who hasn’t fallen prey to the lures of an Atkins Diet, a Slim Fast regime or a Weight Watchers program at some point. I have one friend who couldn’t contain her delight when she discovered that her anti-depressant doubled as a dieting pill. “A twofer!” she exclaimed to me giddily over the phone.

Read the rest of this article at The Washington Post’s She The People Blog

 

Image: scale by vividBreeze via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Drink Coffee

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Ever have one of those mornings where you wake up, jump in the shower, turn on the radio and hear the best news you’ve gotten in ages?

No, not world peace. But close.

Apparently, coffee is now good for you. It holds a host of physical – not to mention psychological – benefits which scientists are only now beginning to appreciate.

In a household where our espresso machine holds a hallowed place, this is definitely grounds for rejoicing. I haven’t been this excited since I learned that sugar made a comeback.

So hear ye, hear ye: five reasons to drink (more!) coffee:

1. It reduces depression in women. This just in. A new study out of Harvard University shows that women who regularly drink coffee — the fully caffeinated kind — have a 20 percent lower risk of depression than nondrinkers. This comes on the heels of previous research showing that the risk of suicide decreases with increased coffee consumption. So by all means, toss out that Paxil and fire up some French Roast.

2. It lowers the risk of lethal prostate cancer in men. But it’s not just the ladies who will benefit from more java. In another study out of Harvard (what are they drinking there? ahem!) men who drank six or more cups per day had a 60 per cent lower risk of developing the most lethal type of prostate cancer and a 20 per cent lower risk of forming any type of prostate cancer compared to men who did not drink coffee. Given that prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

3. It may protect against head and neck cancers. A study from the University of Utah showed that people who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 39% decreased risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx combined, compared with those who didn’t drink coffee. Regular consumption of coffee has also been linked to a lower risk for brain tumors, reduced rates of colorectal and endometrial cancer as well as liver cancer and cirrhosis.

4. It may ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies looking at how caffeine affects brain development  in mice have confirmed that caffeine significantly decreases abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were given caffeine – the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day – their memory impairment was reversed, according to a report issued by the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre. Should these results be replicated on humans, it might suggest coffee as an effective treatment for this disease, rather than just a protective strategy.

5. It appears to stave off diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that coffee may be protective against Type 2 Diabetes, although the precise mechanism is not well understood. An analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine, for example, found that people who drink three to four cups of coffee a day are 25% less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who drink fewer than two cups. In the United States alone, nearly 24 million children and adults in the U.S. — nearly 8 percent of the population — have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease and accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of these cases.

Whether these studies will prove robust in coming years – or be cancelled out by some of caffeine’s adverse effects on things like sleep and high blood pressure – remains to be seen.

But I’m going to blithely hedge my bets and carry on enjoying my cuppa (or two).

Latte or Cappucino?

 

Image: Coffee by Mshades via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

 

McDonalds Grows Up: Coffee, Wi-Fi Supplant Junk Food Image

Well, it would appear that the New York Times magazine isn’t the only iconic American institution undergoing a makeover. McDonald’s is changing its menu and ambiance to project a more grown-up image.

Over the past few years, the fast-food chain has embraced a whole new look and feel. On the menu end of things, it has begun offering healthier fare like salads, Asian chicken sandwiches and fruit smoothies. And on the appearance end of things, McDonald’s has also upgraded its look, offering free Wi-Fi, comfortable seats, funky lighting fixtures and cool wall hangings.

Front and center in this up-market move is coffee. According to Business Week, the company’s McCafe drinks, which were rolled out nationally in 2009, have driven revenue growth at the company in six of the past seven quarters. The idea has been to offer a lower-cost alternative to Starbucks (although Starbucks — which has had its own image makeover — disputes that McDonald’s is making serious inroads into its business).

The goal behind Mickey D’s transformation is to reach new, more sophisticated customers. And while that doesn’t mean renouncing its signature “Happy Meals” for children, the net effect is that the fast-food chain now feels more, well . . . adult. Indeed, among other casualties of the image overhaul is Ronald McDonald himself, who will now play a much more muted role in the company’s marketing.

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Ronald McDonald! by jesman via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Lessons Of Adulthood: The Art Of Non-Conformity

Re-entry is always difficult.

This is true whether you’re going back to school after a long summer vacation, going through your mail when you’ve been gone for a while or – as in my own case this morning – sitting back down to work after taking a week off to travel with my family.

Imagine my delight, then, when I opened up the International Herald Tribune and happened upon this gem. It’s an article by Alice Rawsthorn, the New York Times‘ design columnist, in which she sings the praises of grinding and brewing your own espresso over and above resorting to the dreaded pod espresso machines of Nespresso et al. (The indisputable allure of George Clooney notwithstanding, natch.)

I loved this article for so many reasons. For starters – as erstwhile readers of this blog will know – our own hand-brewed espresso machine holds a hallowed place within our home. As I said to my husband – who taught me to know and love what it is to brew your own coffee – this was an article that was – quite literally – written for him.

Rawsthorn has many reasons for taking a principled stance against automated espresso machines. They’re boring. They’re ugly. They’re environmentally questionable. (Turns out it’s really hard to recycle all those tiny sealed containers.)

But the main reason she rails against them is that they suppress variety, experimentation and – yes – inconsistency. Part of the joy of grinding your own espresso, she argues, is precisely that you never quite manage to brew the same cup of coffee twice. And therein lies the fun – and true beauty – of doing it yourself. It’s the ultimate act of personalizing your consumption.

Which brings me back to my week away from this blog. We spent the week in Berlin, one of those über – (no pun intended) – European cities. While we were there, one of the many museums we visited was the Bauhaus Archive, a museum devoted to the Bauhaus school of design.

For those of you who missed that chapter in 20th century intellectual history (I did) – the Bauhaus movement was a school of modern art and architecture that sought to fuse the gap between art and industry by sublimating “art” in the romantic sense to the exigencies of 20th century technological progress. This school of thought was urban, minimalist, and sought, above all, to privilege functionality in design (so well captured in its motto, “Form follows function.”) In many ways, it was the aesthetic movement that paved the way for mass consumption.

With its hyper-utilitarian streak, the Bauhaus movement sought to hide the messiness of artistic creation – its flourishes, its sentimentality, its “coffee grinds” if you will. And while that yielded some really cool buildings and furniture (click here for some iconic Bauhaus chairs), the overall feel was one of clear lines and uniformity of purpose, if not form. (Read Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House for a particularly trenchant treatise on this point.)

Which is a long way of saying that as with architecture, so too with espresso machines:  sometimes the beauty of adulthood lies in that which is unpredictable and highly personal.

Which is also why – as I stood there grinding my highly messy-yet-original espresso this morning – I decided that today’s re-entry wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Image: Bauhaus Dessau by Mark Wathieu via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Keep Your Brain Active As You Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I had a senior moment the other day. I was talking to my daughter about my elementary school, and I started listing my teachers one by one. But when I got to fifth grade, I drew a complete blank. I could envision the lady perfectly – plump, jolly, liked to wear purple – and even remembered that her name began with an “F.” But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name.

I can be forgiven this lapse, of course. It was, after all, 35 years ago (cough.) But it was another sign that as we age, our memories aren’t quite what they once were.

In that spirit, here are five tips for keeping your brain active as you age:

1. Work. Pay no attention to all those French people behind the curtain, striking their hearts out because Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. New research reported in the New York Times last week shows that postponing retirement is actually better for your brain. Coining the phrase “mental retirement” to capture what happens when your brain is no longer getting regular exercise, the study shows that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive and memory tests than people who are still working.

2. Walk. But in case you’d still prefer to be living on the beach at 65 rather than toiling away in an office cubicle, be sure that you walk a lot in paradise. Another study out last week shows that walking at least six miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia. Which is good news for me, even in my new-found hip, urban status as the owner of a collapsible bike. One thing that not owning a car really does is get you used to good, vigorous walks.

3. Be Social. Back when I wrote about five reasons to be optimistic about middle age, I referenced some new research showing that  – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. (See #1.) Turns out that one of the things that keeps the brain developing as we age is being social. In addition to getting out and meeting people, people who volunteer and help kids also seem to age better and help their brains.

4. Use the Internet. OK, this one is controversial, especially coming from someone who warned you not to get an e-reader lest it chip away at your capacity to engage in sustained, concentrated thought. But there are two sides to every story. And a lot of scientists – Harvard’s Steven Pinker, for one – think that far from damaging our brains as we age, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales. Colin Blakemore, a British neurobiologist concurs. As he notes – reacting to the prevailing “internet ruins our minds” thesis:  “At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus, the pocket calculator or the Sinclair Z80.” So by all means, grab that new Kindle, Grandma. And get a Twitter account while you’re at it..

5. Eat lots of fish. Many parents will be familiar with the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) for brain development in utero and in young children. (Neurotic parenting confession #346b: Until my son – who was born allergic to just about everything – was two, we regularly spiked his rice milk with flax seed oil for precisely this reason.) But it turns out that these so-called “good fats” are also increasingly seen to be of value in limiting cognitive decline during aging. Fish, for example, is a great source of EFAs. Flax-soaked salmon, anyone?

*****

On Monday, I was over on www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about reform of the British welfare system.

Image: thyme salmon with leek coulis by elana’s pantry via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Drinking Fountains Making A Comeback

Still or Sparkling?

Apparently, that’s not just a question for restaurants anymore.

Last week  – and proving, once again, that it really *is* the coolest city on earth – Paris unveiled a water fountain in one of its parks that serves – wait for it – sparkling water.

The move was motivated by a desire to make Paris greener. The average person in France drank 28 gallons of still or sparkling water last year, making this country the eighth biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, according to figures from the Earth Policy Institute. That’s a whole lot of plastic waste (262,000 tons to be precise.)

Apparently, the French are perfectly happy to drink tap water. But the major stumbling block is that they prefer it with bubbles. So – following on a successful experiment in Italy – the Paris authorities decided to meet the consumer where he or she lives…and added some carbonation. (Before you go dismissing those frivolous Parisians, allow me to confess that I can relate.)

The fizzy French fountains (sorry, it had to be said) build on a revival of water fountains around the globe. Here in London where I live, Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned a special advisor two years ago to look into where public drinking fountains might go in the city and how much they would cost. About a year ago, a fancy public drinking fountain was unveiled in Hyde Park, the first public drinking fountain in this city in 30 years. Shortly thereafter, more fountains were installed at heavily trafficked rail and bus stations.

And it’s not only in Europe where drinking fountains are witnessing a renaissance. In California, a new law requiring schools in California to have free drinking water available in cafeterias is awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. (It’s hard to believe that this has to be legally mandated, but there you have it.)

It’s funny, but until I read about the fizzy fountain in Paris I hadn’t stopped to realize what an endangered species the public water fountain had become. Back when I was a kid, they were quite literally everywhere. But somewhere along the way, we began to identify shared drinking fountains as a public health concern, even though there’s no evidence for this (and some evidence that more bacteria live within bottled water.)

Now they’re coming back. A combination of recession-induced economics coupled with the growth in awareness about the environment has revived the idea that public drinking fountains might be a good thing.

I wonder what else we’ll see come crawling out of our collective unconscious in the category of formerly-bad-but-now-we-realize-not-so-much. My money’s on Crisco.

Anybody?

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the demise of press freedom in Mexico as a result of the drug wars.

Image: Drinking Fountain Moon by Kevin H. via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Grown Up Beers To Drink

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been a beer drinker. In my youth, when quantity tended to weigh more heavily on my mind than quality, I wasn’t terribly discerning about what I drank. Budweiser…National Bohemian…Coors Light – it was all the same to me.

As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve come to be much pickier about what I drink. This is partly a function of my growing awareness that hangovers in adulthood aren’t nearly as much fun as they used to be. I also suffer from  migraines, and – for better or for worse – I can no longer drink anything but beer (and only one at that), unless I want to bring on a bad headache. And, let’s face it. I didn’t want to be another one of those middle-aged women drinking to excess.

But here’s the good news. Now that I’m confined to only one type of alcohol – and very limited quantities therein – I am far choosier when it comes to what kind beer I’m willing to drink.

Here are five “grown up” beers that I can recommend:

1. Kasteel Cru. This is actually a champagne beer – (not to be confused with Miller High Life, the so-called “Champagne of Beers.”) It’s made of champagne yeast that comes from malted barley. I sampled it the other night when my husband and I went out to celebrate our anniversary and we wanted to try something different. It’s got a clean, elegant taste and if you love normal champagne but it doesn’t love you, this is the beer for you. It’s also the ideal alcoholic drink for those of us who can’t decide if we’re really high-brow or low-brow in our tastes.

2. Badger Golden Glory – Admittedly, this sounds like some kind of moonshine you might get from your distant uncle’s farm in Appalachia. But it’s actually a quite refreshing premium ale subtly flavored with a hint of peach. And amazingly enough – despite the peach extract – it doesn’t come off as at all fru-fru. One of my more “manly” guy friends recommended it and I’ve been sold ever since.

3. Corona – Here’s a beer that never goes out of style. When I first began drinking it as an adult, I used to feel horribly guilty – like I’d never quite outgrown that Spring Break in Cancun during my junior year in college. (Yup, been there; done that; got the tee-shirt.) But when it’s like 100 degrees outside and you need a cool pick-me-up, there’s nothing better than a Corona with lime. Click here for easy instructions on how to put the lime into a Corona. If nothing else, you’ll score lots of “cool points” with those who’ve never seen this done before (speaking of not growing out of Spring Break…).

4. Daas Blonde – I love Belgian beer. But this one – which I was recently introduced to via my organic grocer – is a real gem. It’s a premium organic Belgian beer that uses fresh Wallonian spring water, organic wheat and barley and is certified organic by the Belgian and UK Soil associations. Because, really. If you’re going to consume all those calories, you need to know that it’s also good for the planet. But, seriously folks. Delicious.

5. Beer Ice Cream. OK, I haven’t actually tried this one yet. I only learned about it last week when my colleague Joann Weiner talked about it on her post about the unusually relaxing week she spent in Washington, DC and beer ice cream made a cameo. I’ve subsequently learned that beer ice cream has been around the U.K. for seven years now. I’m terribly excited to try it. As someone who loves ice cream *and* beer, I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a twofer since they invented the Fluffernutter sandwich!

Image: Hefe Weizen (Wheat Beer) from DOS82 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Become A Vegetarian (By a Non-Vegetarian)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post was inspired by an article in the Washington Post that caught my eye. It noted that the American Dietetic Association has recently adjusted its guidelines to state that vegetarian diets can be healthy for children as well as adults.

Personally, I love meat. Bacon…steak…lamb chops. Bring it on. Plus, I’ve got a kid who’s allergic to most fish and nuts. So that pretty much ensures that we’ll continue to eat meat for some time as a family. Still, the more I learn about vegetarianism (and the more films I see about the meat-processing industry – see below) the more I call my own carnivore tendencies into question.

So in the grand spirit of “Do as I say, not as I do,” here are five reasons you should become a vegetarian:

1. Slaughtering animals is vile. Don’t believe me? Go see Fast Food Nation. That should safely do it for cows. Still don’t believe me? Go see the new documentary, Food, Inc. There goes chicken!

2. Tofu is surprisingly OK. Let’s face it, tofu is gross. It looks weird, feels weird and tastes weird. But if you slather it with enough sauce it’s just fine. And very, very good for you.

3. Vegetarians have less cancer. Or so this new study claims.

4. Vegetarians aren’t all freak shows. The single best defense of vegetarianism I’ve ever read was by Taylor Clark in Slate Magazine about a year ago. And he doesn’t like tofu either!

5. Vegetarians may have better Sex. The jury’s still out on this one but hey, why not try it and see?

*****

If you’re interested, have a look at my piece on universal health care in yesterday’s Politics Daily entitled “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Socialized Medicine.”

Image: An Experiment in Vegetarianism by Supernalorealm via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Wine Tasting: It's Not Just for Trader Giotto Anymore

My husband and I went to a wine tasting the other night.

As someone more at home with a bottle of beer, I always feel terribly grown up when I go to a wine tasting (which, by the way, I do quite rarely, despite having gone to one in Helsinki last week).

This time, we were invited by someone I barely knew, so I really feared the worst. In fact, we almost didn’t go at all.

Part of our reluctance stemmed from what happened the last time we went to a wine tasting with people we didn’t know. It was about eight years ago, right after we’d moved into a new neighborhood. I’d joined a local women’s group, thinking it would be a fast way to make friends. And so, when I saw that someone in the group was hosting a wine tasting, I thought:  Why not? My husband likes wine and maybe we’ll meet some like-minded souls.

Huge mistake.

If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, it works like this: You’re given a bunch of different wines to sample “blind,”  and then, at some point in the evening, the names/origins/grapes etc are revealed. There may even be a contest.

But at this particular gathering eight years ago, it didn’t work that way. Instead, just as it seemed like the “moment of truth” had arrived, the hostess – now thoroughly sloshed herself – stood up and announced that we’d all be playing a little game called “Guess the Price.” She then began brandishing the different bottles of wine and instructed people to shout out their guesses as to how LITTLE the wine had cost (e.g., $9.99, $7.99, four bucks from Trader Giotto’s, etc.).

Yes, it was that bad. My husband and I locked eyes and fled the scene, scarred for life by our near-brush with suburban sophistication. (For the record: I have no issue with cheap wine and purchase it all the time. It’s just not something one usually associates with a wine tasting…)

But another reason we almost took a pass this weekend was that we didn’t know anyone else who was going, and so we thought:  Why bother?

As you get older, there’s a tendency to hunker down and say, hey, we’ve got enough friends as it is…we know our “type”…why take a chance on someone new? Let’s just go see a movie and call it a night.

But I feel like it’s important, every once in awhile, just to give it a go and try something new. Because there are always new and interesting people to meet out there. Plus, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and do something – like wine tasting – that you’ve sworn off (even if for good reason!)

And guess what? We had a great time. It was a beautiful flat, there was plenty of interesting conversation and they served great wine. Plus, this handsome Italian guy named Marco was pouring all evening. What’s not to like?

*****

A new website on AOL called Politics Daily launched today. Looks like a great line up of writers!

Image: Wine Glasses by Slack12 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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