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What if you lost everything you owned? Would it matter?

2009 is an opportunity to see things differently.

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There's something so sweet about a new year. No matter how many times I've seen that ball drop, I'm not immune to the excitement that comes with the chance to start over. To change. For as many times as we heard the word in 2008, 2009 is the year to do something about it. The weather outside is undeniably frightful, but maybe it's grown dark enough for us to see the silvery opportunities lining those gray clouds.

Late November I was in San Francisco for a book reading. The book, "Submerged," is an anthology created to benefit survivors of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, to which I'd contributed an essay about my experience working with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.

I traveled from my home in Santa Barbara, about five hours south, with Jenny, my best friend from college, for the occasion. The evening went well – despite the fact that I'd sooner take a stick to the eye than volunteer for public speaking. Later, Jenny and I and a couple other friends went to dinner.

At one point, I noticed my BlackBerry blinking at me. I saw I had five missed calls from my husband Ryan. And two messages. That's not like him. I stepped outside to call him; he sounded strange.

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