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Mrs. Stapleton in Memoriam (A Salute to Teachers)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mrs. Stapleton died yesterday. At 97, it was not unexpected, but it breaks my heart no less.

I thought she had died in July 2010 when my Paralegal Studies graduation announcement was returned. I was destroyed and my heart hurts as badly now as it did then.

Last month, out of the blue, her daughter reached out to me to let me know my beloved teacher was still alive. She explained that the reason my card was returned was that Mrs. Stapleton had moved into an assisted living facility the year before. I rejoiced to hear she was still alive! I dashed off a joyful letter and took the opportunity to again express my love and appreciation for her.
This evening, her daughter sent me an email with the news that Mrs. Stapleton died yesterday quietly in her sleep after fighting a respiratory infection for a week. Jane’s husband is undergoing treatment for leukemia so the service will not occur for a few weeks. I cannot go, but I sent my love and prayers to Jane. I think they live in Texas and he will not be able to go with her to Albuquerque for her mother’s service. I wish I could be there to give her a hug and to make sure she does not feel this burden alone.

Mrs. Stapleton was my first grade teacher and the school librarian. She had been my older brother’s teacher the year before and I met her several times when she came to the house with his lunch box, art shirt or whatever else he’d forgotten.

When I came into her classroom, my life was changed permanently. My home life was terrible and Mrs. Stapleton made school my sanctuary. I could not go outside for PE with the other students, so I spent that time in the library with her. She taught me to love and care for books. She ignited my passion for learning, awakened the flame of intellectual curiosity that still burns today. Years later, I learned that she went to bat for me even then. Back then, first graders were given IQ tests that were primarily tests of manual dexterity and coordination, neither of which did I have. Mrs. Stapleton stood up to the principal, refusing to put those results in my permanent file. She did not want those scores to follow me, to label me, for the entirety of my scholastic career. What wisdom!

In second grade, I wrote a story and Mrs. Stapleton “published” it for me. She typed it on thick pages in big letters and used my own artwork to illustrate it. She bound it with a red velo-bind spiral (red was my favorite color). I wish I still had that treasure!

I attended Aztec Elementary into my sixth grade year. Mrs. Stapleton was always my go-to person for a hug, a chance to cry or to get another book or three. When I had to change schools, I was absolutely heartbroken and could not imagine school without her! I think it was about then that she gave me a trinket box from Mexico. Mother did not want me to keep it, but Mrs. Stapleton prevailed. I was amazed as I had never seen or heard Mother lose! I still have that box, albeit without a few of the decorative pieces of tile that adorned the exterior.

Two years later, my life was turned upside down. I was sent to live with my dad (whom I had never met) and, two weeks after that, my brother died saving another boy’s life. Dad sent me back to Albuquerque for boarding school. I thought I was being turned out of my “second” family, but it turned out to be the best thing for me, made all the better by the continuity that having Mrs. Stapleton in my life represented. She was the only person who knew me when I went by my stepfather’s name and continued to know me after I started going by my father’s last name. That reads as just a collection of words, but, given that this change occurred while I was 13, it represents a complete and profound bifurcation of my childhood.

Through the years, we exchanged letters. I sent my high school and college graduation announcements and there were always birthday and Christmas cards. Seeing her familiar name and address on the envelope was always an occasion for joy. I read my mail in a lowest-to-high-priority order, saving the best for last. Her mail was always last!

A lot of holes exist in my memories, chunks of time that I don’t remember, but memories of Mrs. Stapleton are vivid from me being small enough to fit under the chalk rail in first grade, finally being tall enough to sit in a first grade desk without a block under my feet when I was nine to a million more through the years. For three years after college, I lived in Albuquerque. We met at Furr’s Cafeteria more than once and spent more time talking than eating. Often that lunch out included my stepfather’s mother who had been a third grade teacher. They talked shop, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

The last time I saw Mrs. Stapleton, she was in the hospital and she had a therapist coaching her to breathe more deeply in order to inhale some kind of medicine from a large green hose. I don’t remember why she was there, but I do remember cheering her on! Mrs. Stapleton started laughing at my enthusiasm and passed her therapy. It was a precious moment! The thing was, she used to cheer me on. I wore a leg brace through some of my grade school years and, when she was on playground duty, she kept an eye on me. I felt braver; emboldened to try to run (I loved to run even though I could not do it well). I felt protected because she did not let the boys tease or bully me. She always encouraged me to do more, to try harder and to strive to achieve my best.

I do not know Mrs. Stapleton’s birth date. I always figured it was during the summer because, otherwise, we certainly would have celebrated it at school. She emailed me about being proud that she had turned 90. I gleefully sent her a $90 check, a salute to my youth when aunts and grandparents would give money to match the birthday. She wrote back saying she would not cash it, that she was embarrassed to have mentioned it. I replied that I would respect her choice, but it was a sincere gift. I sent the money to a local grade school that had nearly empty library shelves. With the check was a letter explaining the gift was being made in her name and why. When I told Mrs. Stapleton about it, she sent some more books for the school and one book for me.

When I saw that book, I was frozen in time for long minutes. It was Whose Little Red Jacket? A book I knew very well back when. When I was in first grade, I had a red jacket that looked exactly like the cover of the book. That was always the story I begged her to read. It was always the first book I wanted to check out of the library. Mrs. Stapleton finally refused to let me check it out because she wanted me to choose more challenging books to read. When I opened this “where-in-the-world-did-you-find-it?” book, I was stunned to discover that the protagonist’s name was the same as mine, even though she did not spell it correctly. I had absolutely forgotten that fact about this book. To think that she either kept that book or rounded it up later for me absolutely staggers my imagination!

Years ago, I read something that made sense to me. The book said that people who are important to us are “balcony” people. Whether dead or alive, even if they are no longer present in our lives, their contribution to our lives is such that we continue to feel their influence – as if we feel them watching us from a balcony and that, feeling their presence, we make the better choice. For me, that has to include my beloved first grade teacher. I owe all of my success to her. Without her nurturing during those early years, without her continuity in my life, I would not have learned to love to learn, to treasure books and to be anxious to learn as much as I could about everything. Without her positive influence, I shudder to think how I would have turned out. It is because of her influence that I am not a statistic. The news is full of stories of those accused of crimes blaming their past as the source of their bad action. I could never be on a jury, hear that claim and vote for the defendant because I, too, had a horrible childhood and did not make those same choices.

Teachers were greatly respected back then. Even now, despite her more recent cards where she signed her first name, I still call her Mrs. Stapleton. Though I am honored she wanted me to use her first name, that was never a bridge I comfortably crossed.

It was not until I grew up that I began to see Mrs. Stapleton through more mature eyes. I marvel at her investment in her students, remembering how she came to our home more than once not just to drop off things we'd left at school but to talk to Mother about us. I salute her strength in standing up to her principal and my Mother on my behalf. Most of all, I treasure her loyalty. As she said in an email to me once, even then, we had a special relationship. Yes, we did and yes, we do.

Tonight, my heart is full of tears. As time flows, the pain will ease. Underlying that pain are a few absolute certainties. She had a profound impact on my life. I loved her and she loved me and we knew that about each other.

My challenge is to live the rest of my life in a manner that honors her memory and to find a way to honor her in a manner that allows her legacy to continue.

How fitting that I should write in her memory…

Love without end,
Your first grader

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CATLADY52 2/17/2012 3:00PM

    Mrs. Stapleton must have been a very good influence to be remembered for such a long time. I feel that there are quite a few of her former students who feel the same way as you do. The mrs Statpletons of the world are few and far between. Treasure the memories. emoticon emoticon emoticon

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CARRAND 2/11/2012 8:45PM

    Your teacher sounds wonderful. What a blessing to have had her in your young life.

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DBCLARINET 2/11/2012 10:50AM

    Wow, what a heart-warming story!

This reminds me of a comment I read a long time ago. It dared you to name the five most recent Nobel prize winners, and then it asked you to name your five most influential teachers, mentors, etc. Obviously, naming your teachers is a lot easier because they touched your life directly.

From a young teacher's standpoint, a couple years ago, I accepted the "challenge" of teaching a clarinet student who has selective mutism. She was a challenge -- it took months before she would give me anything more than a nod of the head as a response to any questions. When she actually responded with a full sentence, I felt like I was on top of the world. When she asked her parents to come into the room so she could tell me a story, I felt like we had finally connected. I ended up having to move away, but as you can tell, I think of her not infrequently. I think I learned more from her than she learned from me.

You meant as much to her as she meant to you.

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LIBBYFITZ 2/11/2012 3:16AM

    Wow! A beautiful peice of writing!
What a wonderful woman she was.

I still remeber the name of my first grade teacher and she played the piano at my wedding.

Hugs from Australia! emoticon

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_LINDA 2/11/2012 12:34AM

    This is a very moving tribute that brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful you had this woman in your life from your most delicate early years and on. So glad she invested the time in you and made you blossom.
I share your sorrow in the loss of this remarkable lady.
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Humbled = Attitude Adjustment

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I've been having a bad attitude for a while now about looming stress at work. My friend and coworker Yvonne is going on two vacations - one this Friday to Mexico to photograph monarch butterflies and next month to Canada to photograph the harp seals. Of course I am happy for her, but I am not at all happy about covering her desk. Past experience shows that she will be at least nominally grateful, her boss will merely grunt at me and they will expect that I will somehow be able to do her desk all day and still do my job! On top of that, I am training and mentoring a brand new student employee and trying to support 7 attorneys. I have no back-up when I go on vacation. So I have been full of self-righteous resentment and have not been happy about that. My internal efforts to adjust my attitude have not been successful.

Then last night, I clicked on an email link and read a really inspiring story. This week was the anniversary of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester by a German sub in 1943. A lot of men died that morning, but it could have been worse. Four chaplains were on board and they gave away their gloves and life jackets, spoke words of encouragement and faith to the men as they helped them get on lifeboats. As the ship sank, the chaplains stood arm in arm on the deck and prayed.

If they could do that, I thought, I can certainly handle what's on my plate! I once gave a Toastmaster speech about being surrounded by heroes. My elder brother gave his life at age 14 when he saved another boy's life, my younger brother has put his life on the line more times than he will tell me wearing the uniform of the US Navy, my father served in the army during the cold war, both grandmothers were nurses during WWII - the list goes on.

Reading the story of those four chaplains made me cry. I can only hope that. if ever presented with the opportunity to give of myself to someone else, that I would follow through.

Today's training session for the new process on Yvonne's desk went much better than I anticipated. I sang the Prayer of St Francis on the way to work and my resentment was gone. At the end of the day, I had an amazingly smooth commute home - I did not expect that given that I had stayed late. I am at peace and grateful for the attitude adjustment. I needed that!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ROX2013 2/10/2012 6:40PM

    Thanks for sharing such a inspiring story and I am so glad your day was better than you thought it would be. Makes me remember to count my blessings instead of the disappointments.
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CARRAND 2/9/2012 5:26PM

    I'm so happy for you. I woke up happy the other day, and had a really good day. I finally realized that the day was good because I was happy, rather than the other way around. A good attitude makes every go smoother. Other people respond to your happiness in a positive way, and things get better and better. Hang in there. Do as much as you can in a cheerful manner, and praise yourself, even if your coworkers don't seem to notice.

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NEWMAC2011 2/9/2012 12:14AM

    So glad that your day was better than expected.

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CATLADY52 2/8/2012 3:40PM

    Every so often we can read or see something that reminds us that what we see as obstacles are nothing more than ripples in the pond. emoticon I hope tomorrow will be better than today.

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LIBBYFITZ 2/8/2012 9:33AM

    emoticonI still think it is a bit unfair with what you are expected to do at work.

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_LINDA 2/8/2012 12:58AM

    That is very, very generous and noble of you. I don't think I would be handling it that well. I simply wouldn't think its fair and that I was be used and not appreciated. That begs the question, why wouldn't Yvonne cover for you if you must cover for her?? That is a very heavy workload they are expecting you to carry..
I hope your peaceful state of mind continues..
Very well done!!
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BAMBI31311 2/7/2012 11:55PM

  So glad you found your peace. Resentment only hurts the person feeling it, your co-worker won't feel it, glad you have let it go. Best of luck.

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A Hug that May Save My Life

Thursday, February 02, 2012

I have pretty much floundered for the past year for a variety of reasons and a collection of excuses. A few months ago, I joined the at work WW program, more to be the last person they needed in order to go than because I thought I would benefit. It was, for me, a colossal disaster both in terms of tonnage not lost and the emotion spiral that went with that.

They are trying to get the next session going, so I went to support the team. Most of the people at work are at goal or very close. I am the biggest by far. I am still morbidly obese. I have not committed to the session and it looks as if it is not going to go. They need 20 and they are not close to getting that many (people at goal do not pay so they don't count towards the body count.)

As we left the meeting, one of my friends pulled me aside and asked me how I am doing. She is at goal and has been for a while. She knows I have been struggling (it's obvious because my size has not changed much). In the course of the conversation, I said that I am not sure I can succeed but I know I need to because my life depends on it.

Long story short, she gave me a hug and said that she will walk with me every day if that is what it will take. I asked if she was sure and she said she is because we are friends. What I said about my life being at stake really caught her attention. It is not melodrama, it is the truth.

She gave me a hug and we are going to walk tomorrow. Her name is Linda, just like one of my SparkFamily members!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

STAROFD00M 2/6/2012 3:34PM

    You CAN do this!!! Just focus on 1-2 small goals a week and work your way slowly to where you want to be. And what an amazing friend! I've heard some wonderful things about WW as well, it sounds like you have some great support. And of course, your sparkpeople fam will always be behind you 150,000%
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WOWPLAYER 2/5/2012 8:59PM

    Glad you found someone to walk with you!! It makes a huge difference. (I miss my neighbor she moved away we used to walk together and I did a whole lot better then) Keep going at your goals, I started doing less than 1000 steps a day, and now I'm working on 10,000 steps a day....and it has taken about a year...I have had mixed results with sparkpeople, I get bored with adding in stuff LOL probably like every one, but even when I quit, I come back so even if you get sidetracked come back! I haven't lost the weight I wanted to but I am going to start measuring...I think my portions are larger than I think and I am totally adicted to sugar so I think I sabotage the weight. I am switching to a smaller plate they say that helps! Good Luck! emoticon

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ROX2013 2/5/2012 3:43PM

    Sounds like you got yourself a true friend and walking partner. I know you can do it!

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CARRAND 2/3/2012 7:14PM

    What a good friend. Accept her offer to walk with you and you will be helped in so many ways.

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DBCLARINET 2/3/2012 7:00PM

    Thanks for the comment on my blog!

That sounds like a true-blue friend. And you're right, your NOT being melodramatic. Your life does depend on it. Glad you found someone who understands!

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BYEFATNANNY 2/3/2012 12:34PM

    She sounds like a gem. Great to hear there are such fine people out there and you get to work with her and have her as a friend. She sounds like just the help you need. Enjoy your walks

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LIBBYFITZ 2/3/2012 7:02AM

    So glad you got a REAL hug! They are the best. That is fantastic to have a walking buddy! emoticon emoticon

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_LINDA 2/3/2012 12:01AM

    That is fabulous! I am so glad you are finally getting some real life support that you so very much need. Kudos to Linda! Enjoy your new exercise buddy! I am SO HAPPY for you!!!
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MISSY455 2/2/2012 11:35PM

    So glad that your friend is going to walk with you. It has made a big difference for me since my friend and I started walking together. I feel so much more accountable to getting out there, no matter what I feel like because I know she got out of bed at 6 AM to walk with me. I hope that this gets you started in the right direction.

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41 years and 2 years

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today is my older brother's birthday. It is his 41st birthday in heaven. He died saving another boy's life. In death, the world saw he was a hero, but he was and is my hero in life. I thought about eating out for dinner, but traffic was too much, so I just came home. I thought about buying some sweets for dessert and walked to the corner store, but did not like anything I saw there. If only I'd stopped there, this would be a celebratory blog. I smashed a banana with chocolate flavored almond butter and spread it on some cinnamon graham crackers. In the background was an emotional story on that show called "Freaky Eaters", I had never seen the show before, but was doing dishes when it came on and did not change the channel when a story similar to mine came on. I cannot blame it on the emotional triggers. I should have changed the channel.

A few days ago was my 2 year anniversary on SparkPeople. I meant to blog, thought about it a few days before, but did not remember the day of. Perhaps it's because I am not pleased with how this journey has gone over the past year. I am not anywhere near my goal weight, not anywhere near making the full lifestyle change I thought would be part of my life by now.

I honestly am not sure I can succeed. That scares me because I know my life and the quality of it is at stake.

This is not fishing for encouragement or compliments or whatever. It is where I am today. I do not even dare fully express my thoughts.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CARRAND 2/2/2012 7:56AM

    Remembering your brother must be a sad time for you. You can be strong. You can get where you want to go. You're still here trying. emoticon

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ROX2013 2/1/2012 10:33PM

    It is hard to see progress when we are looking and expecting perfection. Sometimes you need to sit down and list all theright things you have accomplished and know there are many. I find myself chalking up the not dones instead of the great things we all accomplish each day. So, I go back read some of my old blogs and then realize how much I accomplished. I still have to loss the weight and get back into a exercise routine but I can truly say that I am no longer afraid to start again! I know I can do it! And so can you! emoticon

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    So sorry for your loss. I have also lost a brother. 6 years ago. I still feel the pain like it was yesterday. You can do this. Emotionally and physically. You can do this. I'm not gonna sugar coat it for you. You do what you have to do to survive. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

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WONDEROONA 2/1/2012 8:21AM

    I'm so sorry about the loss of your brother. It must be tough. You know how tough it has been for me with the death of my mother. I gained back everything that I had lost!! We can do this together. One day at a time, one step at a time. C'mon.....we can do this!!

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LIBBYFITZ 2/1/2012 6:57AM

    To have lost a brother in such tragic circumstances is sad. I feel for your loss and heart ache. Think aobut what would he would want you to be doing at this stage in your life?

One day at a time. It is my 2 year Sparkerversary in 2 weeks time and after losing 5 kgs in the first 6 months NOTHING else has come off! I still weigh the same, but I keep plugging along as I don't like the alternative, emoticon

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BYEFATNANNY 2/1/2012 1:43AM

    No shame in being emotional today and yes emotional eating is a problem we all have...as long as you don't resort to excuses like "bad traffic" or simple stuff, hang in there, tomorrow is another day.

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MISSY455 2/1/2012 1:15AM

    You are still here, and you are still plugging along. I, like you, haven't made the progress I thought I would this year for many different reasons. As long as we are here, I have to believe, we are trying to get to our goals. As Linda said, just focus on one thing at a time, you can do this. You are worth the effort!

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_LINDA 1/31/2012 11:48PM

    So sorry for the sorrow the remembering of this tragic day brings you.
Happy belated emoticon
One thing. Its never too late to start over. Small steps, from the beginning. LOTS of people come crawling back to Sparks after having regained the weight they lost. But you have dared to remain, failure to advance for all to see. That takes some form of guts. Not to go slinking away in misery. So that can only mean there is a Spark within you, waiting to be reignited again. You DO have some wish to make this a permanent change or else you wouldn't be here. Think about it and think about one thing you need to urgently get under control. No more than one thing. Focus all your being on it. Put it on your calender as a daily must. Until you do this one thing, your day is not done. Doesn't matter what it is. Water drinking, 10 fitness minutes, tracking or measuring all your food. Just pick something you know will help and what will make you feel better. You can do this. Your Spark friends will be here as always to cheer you on..
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Head's Up on New SP Feature (Sharing Blogs)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The leader of one of my teams emailed me the following:
Some of you may not be aware of a new SP feature recently added before members were advised.

There now is a new share bar added to our blogs that allows other members who "like" them to share them on their Facebook wall. Is this something you want? Many of us discuss personal thoughts, feelings and weight loss information in our blogs on SP that we'd just as soon not share with the Facebook and Twitter world. This new feature is a default setting on our SparkPages, however, it can be turned off.

If you'd like to turn this new feature off,

Go to your SparkPage.
Click on Edit My SparkPage.
Uncheck the "Show share bar on my blog posts" option on the upper right of the page.
Save your changes.

While nothing that we share on the internet is really private (for that reason alone we should be cautious as to what we do say in our blogs) and many of you may not be concerned about this new default setting on SP, this was new info to me and I wanted to pass it on as I only learned about it from a member on another team.

I have a Facebbok account, but I do not share anything about SP on it. I am leery of Facebook's respect for privacy, so I am very careful about how I use it. I DO enjoy being in touch with distant family and friends, but do what I can to minimize chances for anyone attempting to do nefarious things with my information.

This is, of course, a personal decision. Other people may have a different comfort level.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

POORGIRL_DIET 1/17/2012 9:44PM

    For some reason I don't have that button but I know I write allot of personal things on here and I am now a bit panicky as just in case other friends and family members read it on facebook. I am now raging that Sparkpeople have added that to their feature, its just stupid and an evasion of privacy. Thanks for the heads up though

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ROX2013 1/16/2012 11:53PM

    Thanks, I am having to learn my way around again. I do not post to Facebook very much, too many people who may have access. I prefer my thoughts and info I share here on sparkpeople to stay here. If it is something I think I want on Facebook I will put it out there.

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BYEFATNANNY 1/15/2012 7:53PM

    I have made my Sparkpage private, so not anyone on the internet can read my blogs or see my sparkpage. My old Sparkname was Hemi87 and every "car guy" looking up Hemi car engines could see my pics and read about my weight loss journey....kinda creepy. I don't like people sharing my blogs, albeit few and far between. Thank you for letting us know.

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_LINDA 1/15/2012 5:48PM

    I was furious when I saw that button, and was happy when my Spark friends were quick to publish a fix for it. I think it is too much that every site you go on has connections to Twitter, FB, you name it. I like Spark people just as it is and think it is a far better site standing on its own. Thanks for taking the link off your page. Quite a few people have not so far. It actually blocked some words in a person's blog and that was just annoying!!
Hope your Sunday is going well!

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CATHEMARIE 1/15/2012 5:38PM


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GIANTPANDA 1/15/2012 5:34PM

    I just became aware of that feature today and opted out of it. Like you, I also keep my Facebook and SP pages separate. It did surprise me that I hadn't heard about this feature earlier. Not so long ago, I discovered that some of my blogs were on the Internet, just out there. For that reason, I decided to make my SP page private.

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LISA_B68 1/15/2012 5:18PM

    Thanks for the heads up.

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