I finally pulled the trigger and wiped the laptop clean. The only way it would boot up was in safe mode, and I ended up barely using it for a month. I stopped putting anything new on the computer, since I would only be adding more things to back up or lose. I think I copied everything important, but there may be a few surprises down the road.
I was fortunate to have my own Geek Squad to help me - my brother. He even pulled up in a VW Bug to complete the package. He has done this sort of computer overhaul multiple times personally and for work, so I just stood back and read off the 25 digit product keys when needed. So far the thing is running just fine. Tonight will be about reinstalling programs and moving important documents back to the laptop. I am currently waiting on Service Pack 3 to install. When I get Outlook back up, there will be a flood of e-mail coming my way. Sorry about any month old responses you may receive.
With the fresh start, I am going to do my best to load only important things back on the computer. There was so much junk clogging up the system - programs I barely used, leftover parts of things I thought I uninstalled, and 7 or 8 years worth of pictures and music. When I bought the laptop three years ago, the 80gig hard drive was four times what I was used to, but it didn't take long to cram it full of important and trivial stuff.
I am about to go through a purge of household things as well. Stuff that has been piling up for decades, and has taken over the house. It will feel good when I'm done I'm sure, but the pile is intimidating. I'll be digging through 20 years worth of things and deciding what is still important enough to hang on to. I need to set the bar pretty high, so it may be a painful trip down memory lane.
The first step is always the most difficult. The laptop was a small one in the right direction. I just need to keep moving forward, one box at a time.