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Valentines for the troops

Three southern California businessmen, who last year distributed more than 250,000 valentines and valentine e-mails to US service men and women, are beginning their 2003 campaign with a goal of 1 million valentines.

Michael Fleming, David Fleming, and Paul Kramer are asking for valentines to be mailed to them for distribution to military personnel at bases all over the world. Valentines will be sent out beginning Feb. 7. Handmade valentines are preferred.

"Last year we received tens of thousands of valentines from people in 48 states," says Michael Fleming. "The artistic creativity, messages, and prayers on the valentines were truly heartwarming." He saw many teary eyes on service members as they received the cards.

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Cards should be mailed to Farrel's Ice Cream Parlor, which is operated by the Flemings and Kramer. The address is 21516 Golden Triangle Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91350.

The trio also has a website, which includes a direct e-mail link to Navy ships deployed overseas. "Everyone in the US can send a variety of greetings to our service members from our website," says Mr. Fleming.

For further details and design guidelines, go to www.ValentinesForTroops.com.

Swimming from A to Z...

A swimmer neared the halfway point in a 1,250-mile journey down the Columbia River - a trip designed to raise awareness of its pollution levels and to encourage a cleanup.

Christopher Swain began his swim at Columbia Lake, near the British Columbia-Alberta border, last June. He said he was about on schedule for the journey that will eventually spill him out into the Pacific Ocean.

He has been swimming about 10 days a month during the winter, spending six to eight hours in the water each day. A support team, including an inflatable boat, accompanies him. "I'm going to be swimming through water that runs with everything from arsenic to zinc," Swain said at the start of his journey. "It's just a matter of picking your poison. Heavy metals we've got, radioactive isotopes, human sewage we've got." For more information, go to http://www.columbiaswim.org

Hang on, Snoopy!

A 4-foot-long nurse shark named Snoopy, kept for three years in a suburban Detroit billiards bar aquarium, was freed in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on Monday.

Marine Mammal Conservancy director Rick Trout carefully cradled Snoopy as he slipped into the ocean above the City of Washington, a 100-year-old historic military shipwreck about 6 miles off Key Largo. Trout kept control of the female shark, which is sporting a bright red identification tag on its front dorsal fin, until they reached the wreck and she was allowed to swim free. Snoopy was about a foot long when she arrived at the Fifth Avenue Billiards in Novi, Mich., in 1999. She shared a 500 gallon aquarium with another shark and other fish. Snoopy flourished on a diet of calamari, shrimp, and occasionally, other inhabitants.

"Nurse sharks belong here in the Florida Keys and pool sharks, the human kind, belong in Detroit," said Trout.

Quote of the day

'Let there be no doubt: There are large numbers of countries that are signed up

to be helpful in the event that force is needed in dealing with Iraq.'

- Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, disputing suggestions that the US may have to take on Saddam Hussein's forces alone.

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