Archive for the “Random Musings” Category
The end of a typical year for me is a sprint … finishing up work projects, shopping for gifts, preparing to leave town for the holidays, etc. It’s a high-energy month.
The end of this year has been more of a limp. My dad died two weeks ago and was cremated soon after, but his memorial service isn’t until Sunday. My mom was understandably drained at the end of that experience and didn’t want to deal with the arrangements for awhile. The Older Brother had to undergo knee surgery for a torn meniscus (same procedure I had two years ago) the next day and was out of commission for a spell. So two weeks after the fact, there’s no real sense of closure. Maybe Sunday will fix that.
(By the way, my dad told me years ago that when he died, he wanted us to dump his ashes in the water hazard on the 17th hole of the Lincoln Greens golf course — that way he could spend eternity with all this golf balls. I doubt my mom was able to honor that request.)
I took a few days off from work after my dad died, then worked from home for a few days, then went back to the office. Two days after that, I got socked with a head cold/sinus infection/ear infection or whatever the @#$% it is. Haven’t had anything like this one in years. The megadoses of vitamins C and D didn’t work their usual knockout magic. Maybe I was overdue, maybe it was bad luck, or maybe emotional stress weakened my immune system just enough.
I still have the infection, and it’s been seriously zapping my energy. I sleep 10 or so hours per night, then need a nap in the late afternoon. Back in the day, I would have gone to a doctor, who would have prescribed an antibiotic, just in case the infection was bacterial instead of viral. Now that I’ve learned quite a bit about the importance of the gut microbiome, I’m choosing to just wait it out. I don’t want to decimate my gut flora unless absolutely necessary, which means I’ll only take an antibiotic when I’ve got a dangerous bacterial infection.
I’ve tried sit down and write a post or work on the book a few times, but my brain refuses to cooperate – probably because it doesn’t like residing in a head jammed full of gooey stuff. So I’ve been going to work and then coming home and vegetating in front of the TV – after a nap, if need be. I managed to get to the gym once for a workout, then came home and slept for two hours.
So like I said, I’m limping towards New Year’s this year. We’ll attend the memorial service on Sunday (driving to Illinois and back all in one day, since we have dogs, hogs and chickens who need tending), then Chareva’s relatives start arriving on Monday for the holiday. I apologize for the long absence, but I don’t expect to take up active blogging again until after New Year’s.
So to the Christians out there, Merry Christmas. To the Jews, Happy Hanukah. To followers of the Master of Sinanju, Merry Feast of the Pig. And to everyone, Happy New Year.
See you in 2015.
p.s. – Thanks to all of you who posted kind comments about my dad.
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My dad passed away early this morning after a years-long fade from Alzheimer’s. We knew this was coming, but I’m nonetheless not exactly in a blogging mood. There will be a memorial service in Illinois at some point, but arrangements haven’t been made yet.
I posted the following letter/essay on my other blog some years ago. Since that blog is currently dormant, I’m posting it again here while I take some time off. I don’t plan to deal with comments other than to click the Approve button, so I’ll thank you all ahead of time for your kind thoughts and good wishes.
It’s impossible to explain a father’s influence on his son in something as measly as a letter. I could write volumes and still have more to say. So let me just talk about your shoes.
Although more than forty years have passed since I was a little boy, I still remember waiting for you to walk through the front door at night after work. You were HUGE. You wore dark suits and serious business shoes, usually black or brown wingtips, polished to a high shine. You always struck me as being in a bit of a hurry, and when you strode across our wooden floors, those shoes went BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.
I wanted to grow up as soon as I could and wear shoes like yours. Sometimes I would pull a pair of wingtips out of your closet and remove the wooden stretchers – which took some effort for a skinny kid like me – and slip those big shoes over my feet. I’d try walking in them, stepping carefully to avoid tripping. I wasn’t big enough to make them BOOM, but I liked the way they looked.
I knew the wingtips were your working shoes. I didn’t really understand what kind of work you did, but I knew working was how you took care of us. I knew the dark suits and the booming shoes and the daily trips to your office were the reason we lived in a nice house, and also the reason we didn’t look like the shabbily-dressed kids we saw when Mom took us along for her charity work.
Now and then you took Jerry and me to the office on a Saturday when you needed to catch up on some paperwork. We enjoyed those office trips, partly because of the old-fashioned soda dispenser, the kind with rows of metal rails that held the bottles upright by the necks. For a dime – you always seemed to have dimes in your pocket – we could slide a bottle along those rails and out the side to release it. The lid was heavy and you had to hold it up for us. But that was easy for you because you were HUGE.
I liked the way your office smelled … like paper and ink. I liked the starkness of the fluorescent lights. I liked looking at the photo on your wall of someone handing you a plaque and shaking your hand. I knew that whatever you did, you were good at it, good enough that people wanted to shake your hand. When I sat and did math exercises at my desk in school, I pretended I was in my own office, doing important work that would make someone want to shake my hand.
I don’t know exactly when I decided I didn’t want to grow up and be just like you. Certainly by the time I enrolled in college, I knew I’d never be happy wearing dark suits and working in an office. I rejected your advice about majoring in accounting. I explained, somewhat hesitantly, that accounting might appeal to you, but I’d be bored out of my mind.
That’s when I began to realize you didn’t want me to grow up and be just like you, either. When I chose pre-med for my major, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you. When I switched to psychology, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you. When I switched again to journalism as a junior, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.
I’d like to say you were simply doing what any father would do, but I already knew that wasn’t true. I had a girlfriend whose father disowned her when she switched her major from business to art; without any support from him, she graduated swimming in student-loan debt. In high school I had a classmate who’d been told from birth he was going to be a doctor like his father, period, end of discussion. He flunked organic chemistry in college and committed suicide.
When I had some humorous essays published after college, your golfing buddies told me how much they enjoyed reading them. I was proud to be published, but more proud to know you’d been bragging about me to your friends. When I announced I was going to quit my magazine job and go freelance, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you – after all, you had quit a comfortable corporate job to run your own business and understood the drive to be independent.
And so, in a fit of optimism, I struck out on my own … and fell flat on my face. That’s when I found out what “support” truly means.
It was embarrassing to spend part of my adult life living off loans from you, loans I knew you would never let me repay. It’s still embarrassing when I think about it. But I believe things happen for a reason; and even if they don’t, we can find our own reasons in them.
Unlike Mom, you were never comfortable being affectionate. Until you became a grandpa, it took a couple of tall drinks to pry the words “I love you” from your lips. I knew you loved me, but I didn’t fully understand that you love me, period, no matter what, just like Mom.
I kept expecting one of those loans to come with a lecture attached, firm instructions to wise up, let go of my childish dreams, go get a real job as a sales rep. But that never happened. When you said anything at all, it was along the lines of, “Don’t worry. Do something you love, and be the best at it. Things will get better.” Those years, painful as they were, finally made it clear to me that you didn’t just support me. You supported me.
I’m happy with my life, Dad. It’s been a thrill to play in a band, act in plays, publish humor in magazines, travel the country as a standup comedian, and produce a film. But without you behind me, encouraging me to pursue my dreams, I wouldn’t have done half of those things. At some point, I would’ve given up.
I once asked another comedian what his parents thought of his act. He said they’d never seen him perform. They didn’t think standup comedy was a respectable career, and they weren’t going to encourage him by showing up. He asked if you and Mom had seen my act. I just said yes — I didn’t think it would be polite to say, “Yes, many times, and they bring their friends.”
You didn’t choose my path, and I didn’t follow in your footsteps. But when I look back, I realize I’ve worn your shoes many times.
When I left a secure job to pursue my own goals, I was wearing your shoes. When I wrote clearly and powerfully, I was wearing your shoes. When I made people laugh out loud with a witty observation, I was wearing your shoes. When I worked and re-worked a programming project to get it exactly right, believing that “good enough” isn’t good enough, I was wearing your shoes. Every time I returned money to someone who accidentally overpaid me, or gave to a charity, or helped someone in distress without expecting anything in return, I was wearing your shoes.
These past few years have not been kind to you, Dad. Cancer, Alzheimer’s and age have diminished your body and your mind. Your quick steps have slowed to a shuffle. I’ve had to hold your arm and help you navigate the single step from the garage into the house so you don’t trip over it. On some days, you don’t recognize Mom and have to ask who she is. I know the next time I visit, you may not know who I am.
But I know who I am. I’m your son. And in my mind, you’ll always be huge … and you’ll always BOOM when you walk.
I love you, Dad. Thanks for the shoes.
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You ever go to a big party, go to the bathroom, flush the toilet, and the water starts coming … up? This is the most frightening moment in the life of a human being. You’ll do anything to stop this. You’ll lose your mind and start talking to the toilet: “No, please, don’t do this to me. No, come on, you know this is not my responsibility! I didn’t make this happen!” – Jerry Seinfeld
Of course you caused it to happen, Jerry. You flushed the toilet, which filled the bowl with water. More water went into the bowl than went out, and so it overflowed. Call any reputable plumber and ask why a toilet overflows, and that’s the answer you’ll get: more water going in than going out.
Heh-heh-heh … just kidding. A reputable plumber would explain that something has clogged up the system, then charge you a hefty hourly fee to fix the clog.
Back in my standup days, I opened a few times for a comedian I really liked named Tom Parks. He had a good bit about his toilet backing up into his bathtub. (I don’t remember it word for word, and paraphrasing won’t be as funny. Sorry about that.) Parks called a plumber, who fixed the problem and then apologized for the bill, explaining that house calls on a Sunday are billed at two-and-a-half times the usual rate … to which Parks replied, “Buddy, here’s all I want to know: is the @#$% gone from my tub? Yeah? Then you can charge me whatever you want.”
Fortunately, the plumber didn’t attribute the problem to more @#$% entering the tub than exiting.
I bring up the toilet humor because of yet another raging debate about the relevance of calories-in/calories-out (CICO) on the Fat Head Facebook group. I don’t have time to read all the posts in the Facebook group, much less comment on them, but I did chime in on that one. Here’s what I wrote:
Arguing about whether weight gain/loss is caused by the hormonal effects of diet or CICO is like arguing whether your toilet overflowed because of a clog in the pipe or because more water went into the toilet than went out. CICO always applies, but that’s the HOW of the result, not the WHY.
I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept for some people to wrap their brains around, but apparently it is. So I’ll try to explain one more time:
Those of us who believe losing weight isn’t as simple as restricting calories aren’t denying the laws of physics. People have accused Gary Taubes of ignoring the laws of thermodynamics, but frankly, that’s beyond ridiculous. The man has a degree in physics from Harvard, for pete’s sake. His first award-winning book was about physics. It seems rather unlikely that when he wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories, he just up and decided the laws of physics don’t apply to obesity or weight loss.
What he’s tried to explain in at least a couple of speeches I watched online is that yes, of course, if you increase your body mass, you consumed more calories than you expended. If you decrease your body mass, then yes, of course, you expended more calories than you consumed. But that’s all the calories-in/calories-out equation can tell us. It doesn’t tell us the actual reason weight gain or weight loss occurred.
As I was trying to get across in my Facebook comment, we’re talking about the difference between HOW vs. WHY. If my toilet overflows, then yes, more water entered the bowl than exited. That’s HOW it overflowed. But that’s not WHY it overflowed. The WHY would have something to do with a clog in the pipes.
People who insist that gaining weight is caused by consuming too many calories and that losing weight is therefore as simple as consuming fewer calories are confusing HOW with WHY. The HOW of gaining or losing weight is always the same: a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit. But that doesn’t mean eating more will make you fat or eating less will make you thin. Your body is rather opinionated about how much fat mass it wants to maintain and will adjust your metabolism accordingly. That’s where the WHY comes into play.
In his book The Calorie Myth, Jonathan Bailor wrote about a group of research subjects who consumed an extra thousand calories per day for several weeks. According to the CICO equation, they should have all gained 16 pounds. Nobody gained that much (the most anyone gained was eight pounds), and some of the naturally-lean subjects gained a mere half-pound. So let’s look at HOW vs. WHY for those lucky people:
- HOW they avoided getting fatter: the calories they expended matched the calories they consumed.
- WHY they avoided getting fatter: their bodies are hormonally geared to stay lean and responded to the extra calories with a corresponding rise in metabolism.
Here’s a paragraph from Good Calories, Bad Calories:
When physiologists began studying animal hibernation in the 1960s, they again demonstrated this decoupling of food intake from weight gain. Hibernating ground squirrels will double their body weight in late summer, in preparation for the winter-long hibernation. But these squirrels will get just as fat when kept in the laboratory and not allowed to eat any more in August and September than they did in April. The seasonal fat accumulation is genetically programmed – the animals will accomplish this task whether food is abundant or not.
So simply limiting food intake didn’t prevent the calorie-restricted ground squirrels from getting just as fat as their free-eating brethren.
- HOW they got just as fat: they consumed more calories than they expended.
- WHY they got just as fat: hormones released before the hibernation season commanded their bodies to get fat, and their bodies heeded the command … even if doing so required a drastic reduction in metabolism to provide the surplus calories to store as fat.
Here’s another paragraph from Good Calories, Bad Calories:
In these experiments, researchers remove the ovaries from female rats. This procedure effectively serves to shut down production of the female sex hormone estrogen (technically estradiol). Without estrogen, the rats eat voraciously, dramatically decrease physical activity, and quickly grow obese. When estrogen is replaced by infusing the hormone back into these rats, they lose the excess weight and return to their normal patterns of eating and activity.
Oops. I guess getting fat is all about eating too much and exercising too little after all. Those rats ate voraciously and sat around being lazy. That must be why they got fat.
But wait …
When researchers remove the ovaries from the rats, but restrict their diets to only what they were eating before the surgery, the rats become just as obese, just as quickly; the number of calories consumed makes little difference …. “If you keep the animals’ food intake constant and manipulate the sex hormones, you still get substantial changes in body weight and fat content,” [researcher George] Wade said.
- HOW the rats got fat: they consumed more calories than they expended.
- WHY the rats got fat: removing their ovaries caused a hormonal imbalance that commanded their little rat bodies to accumulate fat – which they did, despite no increase in food intake, probably by drastically reducing metabolism.
Awhile back, I watched a TV documentary called The Science of Obesity. It wasn’t very good overall, so I didn’t write about it. But there was one intriguing section about a woman who was lean her entire life, then became morbidly obese within a year. She limited herself to 1500 calories per day, but didn’t lose any weight. Her doctor insisted she was lying about her food intake.
So she did the smart thing and found another doctor – who ran a slew of tests and found she had a tumor on her pituitary gland. Was she consuming more calories than she was expending while becoming obese? Yup. Gaining weight always requires a surplus of calories. Does that mean she got fat and stayed fat because she was eating too much? Nope. She became obese because of the tumor, which caused all kinds of hormonal hell to break loose.
I recently had a good friend tell me he finally cut way back on his carb intake, especially his bread intake. (Interestingly, he wasn’t persuaded by Fat Head to change his diet; it was a personal trainer who finally got through to him.) He’d been eating less and less over the years in a failed attempt to drop some weight. I remember hanging out with him over a weekend, and he didn’t eat anything until dinner – but then bread was the first item on his dinner menu. Bread, a salad, and some salmon. That was it.
Anyway, after making the dietary change, he told me, “I swear, I didn’t do anything but ditch the bread and potatoes, and 15 pounds just dropped off like nothing. I was never hungry. I never felt deprived.”
- HOW he lost weight: he expended more calories than he consumed.
- WHY he lost weight: a change in diet triggered some kind of hormonal shift that moved him from fat-accumulation mode to fat-burning mode.
Maybe he unconsciously ate less, even though he insists he didn’t. Maybe he started releasing fatty acids at a faster rate and didn’t feel hungry because he was eating his own fat. Maybe he started eating more protein, which requires more energy to digest. Maybe his metabolism perked up. Doesn’t matter. The point is, something about the change in diet fixed the WHY of his inability to lose weight. He absolutely, positively expended more calories than he consumed while losing … but he didn’t count calories or consciously restrict his portions in order to do so.
When we switch to a better diet and end up losing weight (and keeping it off) for the first time in our lives, it means we’ve finally addressed the WHY of excess fat accumulation. The HOW of weight gain (whether we gain fat or muscle) is always the same: consuming more than calories than we expend. CICO and hormones are not mutually exclusive explanations, any more than a clogged pipe and water-in vs. water-out are mutually exclusive explanations for an overflowing toilet.
I don’t like the CICO explanation because 1) it doesn’t actually tell us why a person gains or loses weight, and 2) it encourages people who don’t know what the @#$% they’re talking about to be judgmental — like that idiot reality TV star from England who stuffed herself to get fat and then concluded that fat people just eat too much.
But in a recent email, a reader reminded me that people who attribute obesity to hormones can be judgmental too … or least too confident that they understand the WHY of weight gain and have the answer.
This woman has been overweight for years. She’s tried everything under the sun, including severe calorie restriction. When people told her “it’s the hormones, it’s the hormones, it’s the hormones!” she had everything checked and checked again, by endocrinologists, holistic practitioners, you name it. The bottom line is that she can’t lose the excess weight, and nobody can tell her why.
I’m reminded of the “resistant obese” subjects some researchers described in a study I recounted in a previous post:
This phenomenon of people who do not lose weight is really the most tantalizing thing that confronts physicians. There are these people who can live on 600 calories and not lose any weight. On what are they surviving? If we measure their basal metabolism in terms of calories, we get figures in excess of 600 calories per twenty-four hours. It would seem that on this diet they are in a caloric deficit all time, but still are not losing any weight. I am still an admirer of the laws of thermodynamics, but these people seem to be thermodynamic paradoxes.
The researchers were describing people under supervision in a hospital. They weren’t sneaking food or lying about their food intake in a diet journal. They were locked down in a hospital, but failing to lose weight on 600 calories. I don’t think they were thermodynamic paradoxes, however. Somehow, some way, they managed to get by on that ridiculously low intake of food. Some people just seem to be hard-wired to be very fat.
- HOW they stayed obese on 600 calories: The calories they expended matched the calories they consumed.
- WHY they stayed obese on 600 calories: Nobody knows. And nobody should judge them for it. Those unfortunate people are just proof that scientists still have a lot to learn about the WHY of obesity.
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People have asked us in the past how we deal with the sugar-fest known as Halloween. For the sake of new readers, I’ll answer that question again:
We let the girls go trick-or-treating and eat the candy they collect.
Halloween is a big, fun event for kids, and we don’t want to ruin it by being food fascists. Kids were enjoying Halloween long before the steep rise in childhood obesity and diabetes. It’s not the occasional treat that screws up a kid’s health and metabolism; it’s the chronic overload of sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Those aren’t part of our girls’ normal diets.
So our girls eat Halloween candy — but the deal is that they only get three days to indulge, including Halloween night. After that, the candy goes away.
The first year we instituted that system, Sara tried to gobble up all her remaining candy on the third day. She got sick as a result, and most of what she’d gobbled down ended up in the toilet. Lesson learned … she and Alana have since concluded that there’s no point in filling their bags with a ton of candy they can’t eat without making themselves sick. In fact, after they haunted a few streets in a nearby neighborhood last night, they announced they were ready to go home.
Sara then separated out the candy she likes — mostly chocolates — and dumped the stuff she doesn’t. She explained that Pixie Stix, for example, are just a big mouthful of sugar and are way too sweet to taste good.
That’s my girl .. or my screaming banshee, at least during the evening’s festivities.
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Anyone else notice there’s been an uptick in mainstream media reporting related to the gut microbiome?
It’s even crept into my local paper, which picked up an AP article relating how artificial sweeteners could possibly tie to diabetes via its effect on said gut:
A preliminary study done mostly in mice suggests that artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people.
The study authors said they can’t make dietary recommendations but that their results should inspire more research into the topic.
Basically, the study suggests that artificial sweeteners alter the makeup of normal, beneficial bacteria in the gut. That appears to hamper how the body handles sugar in the diet, a situation that can lead to developing diabetes.
The results, from researchers in Israel, were released Wednesday by the journal Nature.
How about that. Not that this is new — the whole Resistant Starch thing triggered a lot of interest around here in the gut — the “second brain,” as one researcher called it — awhile ago.
It had been on the radar for quite awhile. I remember seeing a year or two ago research talking about how there where over 150 distinct species of this microbiome community that lives on and inside us, but aren’t related to us — i.e., don’t have any of our DNA. They have 100 times the number of genes we have, and weigh at least a couple of pounds. They drive all kinds of chemical and physiological processes in us, but have been largely unstudied.
Like I said, not new. What is new is that it’s news.
I didn’t think the general media would be reporting on this stuff for years. I mean, you’re just starting to see LCHF get regular respectable mentions, and now even saturated fat is getting better press, but that’s been a decades-long haul.
Within days of seeing the artificial sweetener/diabetes story, I also saw a couple of other “gut” articles in Yahoo’s new links. One was from Forbes on the same idea, but this time specifically targeting diet sodas as culprits through the same mechanism of altering the gut balance. Then, another linking through to the Huffington Post(!) regarding food allergies:
Mice that were raised in a sterile environment or given antibiotics early in life lacked a common gut bacteria that appears to prevent food allergies, US researchers said Monday.
The bacterium, called Clostridia, appears to minimize the likelihood that rodents will become allergic to peanuts, and researchers would like to find out if it does the same in people.
In the meantime, they found that supplementing rodents with probiotics containing Clostridia later in life could reverse the allergy, according to the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…
The precise cause of food allergies is unknown, but some studies suggest that changes in diet, hygiene and use of antimicrobial soap and disinfecting products may lead to changes in the bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract that leave people more susceptible.
I’m not sure what I found more amazing; that the HuffPo would cover something accurately, or that I would read something they printed.
To be clear, many of these studies were looking at mice, and we know that is far from a “gold standard.” I didn’t perform Tom’s normal exercise of pulling up and dissecting the source articles.
First of all, that’s not in my wheelhouse. But mainly, I’m not interested specifically in the research, per se — it’s the fact that it’s seeped into the regular press, and is providing answers to some questions many people seem to be seeking better answers to. Like, “how come all of these kids seem to be allergic to everything these days?”
I also find it interesting in that these are reporting findings that aren’t in line with the current medical establishment zeitgeist. The reports indicate the answer may be in less medicine, less sterile environments, less industrial foodstuffs.
I really didn’t expect to see anything about the gut microbiome until Merk or Monsanto or someone figured out a way to patent a couple of them, then that’s all we’d hear about.
I think it’s possible that the things Tom talked about in his Vox Populi speech — why people just don’t believe the “experts” in medicine, nutrition, etc. and are looking to the “wisdom of crowds” — are starting to guide the questions that get asked, and the stories that get covered. A couple of years ago, the only answer to food allergies was testing, avoiding, and a prescription. All of your reported options resided in the medical establishment, because those were the only people who got asked.
Now, it’s looking more like the press and regular folks are starting to clue in that there’s other options. Like, keep little Johnny away from the Pink Stuff unless it’s major, and let him go outside and eat some dirt.
Just your grandma told you. See, it was science after all.
Well, Tom should be wrapping up the big parts of the book by now so Chareva can start doing her part. Sorry you got stuck with me for an extra week, but it should pay off in the end. The Wife and I are going down to their farm next week, so maybe I’ll get a sneak preview. At least I’ll get to try this “disc golf” thing.
Thanks for putting up with me. See you in the comments.
The Older Brother
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Hi again, Fatheads.
This wasn’t on the agenda, but I just had to see if anyone else caught it. If you’re a veteran Fathead, you’ll remember Tom’s “Science for Smart People” presentation he gave on the Low Carb Cruise a couple of years ago. By veteran, I mean a ways back since this was was from over three years ago.
Anyway, towards the beginning, when he’s talking about how Pattern Recognition is pretty much hard-wired into us, he uses the kids in horror flicks as an counter point. I’ve think I’ve got the relevant section queued up here (if not, drag it to around the 5:45 mark) — it runs for about a minute:
Okay, that always stuck in my mind. Then, a couple of nights ago, I saw this commercial:
Didn’t know if any of you also found it hilarious, albeit vaguely familiar!
BTW, if you’ve never watched “Science for Smart People,” you owe it to yourself to check it out, or maybe watch it again. You might also share it with your or your kid’s Science teacher.
The Older Brother
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