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Fitness Focus: Body Conceptions

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One thing you miss when you’re pregnant is the dancing. You know, the out-all-night-in-heels, a few-too-many-drinks, sweaty-bodies-on-the-dancefloor dancing. The kind of dancing that makes you forget about everything else in the world except the thump of the music. But we’ve got good news, pregnant girl: you don’t have to give it up (ok, except maybe the all night and heels and drinking part).

Listen closely: Body Conceptions. Founded by fitness guru and former dancer Mahri Relin, Body Conceptions (or for those in the know, BoCo) is an exhilarating workout set to an amazing playlist. Not only can you get your groove on, but you can also create long and lean muscles, and build stamina and functional strength….which is a whole lot more than I ever gained from those late nights of rocking out pre-pregnancy. And since instructors are either pre- and postnatal certified (or on their way to certification), BoCo has become a hot ticket for pregnant gals all over the city who are looking for a fun, challenging and totally safe alternative to those late nights on the town.

Below, Relin fills us in on how she fuses dance and fitness for a can’t-miss class for pregnant gals, new moms and anyone looking for a generally good time.

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What happens in a typical Body Conceptions class?

A signature BoCo class intertwines dance sections consisting of simple, high energy dancing and jumping movements with sculpting exercises that focus on the arms, thighs, abs, and seat. While each part of the body has its own dedicated section of class, many exercises integrate several muscles at once and require recruitment of the core. The exercises can range from very small, exhaustive movements (like pulsing up and down repeatedly in a low lunge) to bigger dynamic movements (like throwing in a few mountain climbers or punching the arms with weights), all set to music. There is also a strong emphasis on stretching, both in the middle and end of class.

Once we have methodically targeted all parts of the body, we turn off the lights and dance with abandon. I don’t care about form at this point. This is the moment to feel sexy and strong! We then stretch and breath together to end the class.

Give us the 411 on the studio and classes – where are you located and what’s the vibe?

We offer most of our classes out of Stepping Out Studios at 37 West 26th Street on the 9th floor. We have also started offering some classes in Jersey City and will be collaborating with FiTiST to offer classes in the Hamptons this summer. (Contact us for more information on our classes outside of the city!)

I have always believed very strongly in creating an environment that is welcoming and supportive for everyone. To me, fitness classes should never make anyone feel excluded. This does not mean that the classes are easy or simplistic by any means! We want to encourage everyone to have a blast and to push themselves beyond their limits but in a place without any judgment or competition. Our trainers are hard-core, but they are also some of the warmest and most helpful people you’ll meet.

Which classes are ideal for pregnancy?

We have a great pre- and postnatal private training program, but we don’t currently offer public classes specifically for pregnancy. I recommend that someone who is very nervous about modifying for pregnancy should consider trying a private session with us before going to our group classes. For those who are a little more comfortable, our class can be a great option. Make sure to come early to discuss modifications with your instructor, and don’t do anything in the class that feels uncomfortable. The instructor will also likely make choices that keep you in mind.

Although this isn’t prenatal, per se, why are so many pregnant women drawn to this workout?

Pregnant women love our workout because they find it challenging, fun and effective. This workout keeps them flexible and strong. Many of them go through their pregnancies without any aches and pains because of the muscles we target, and they also feel happier and more energized after their sessions. It also helps them continue strengthening their abs so that they feel stronger during labor and recover more quickly after the pregnancy.

How are your trainers tuned into pregnancy? Postnatal?

All of our trainers are either certified pre- and postnatal exercise specialists or are in the process of obtaining their certifications. In addition, we run a special BoCo pre- and postnatal training program focused on adapting the BoCo method to pregnancy, and I work very closely with my trainers when they have pregnant clients. We are not doctors of course, but we encourage our clients to keep an open dialogue with us about any issues that arise, and we will communicate with their doctors if they request it.

After a client has a baby, it’s important that she waits for her doctor to clear her to exercise. There are also issues to consider that are unique to post-pregnancy. We will not throw our clients back into classes as if they were never pregnant. We are very aware of issues like diastasis recti and the continued presence of relaxin in the body, among other things. Women need time to re-condition after they have a baby!

What adjustments do you make to the concept for pregnancy?

This is a little complicated to answer because every pregnant woman is different and because things change from trimester to trimester. I tell every pregnant client that they are in charge of our workouts and that they need to tell me the minute something feels uncomfortable. These thresholds may be very different from person to person. Also, clients who have been working with me for a long time tend to train at a completely different level because they can tolerate greater intensity, and they're not asking their body to do anything that feels new or crazy (which is never a good idea during pregnancy!).

Regardless of the person I'm training, there are still a few universal adjustments I tend to make:

-Some clients continue to do a little cardio, which consists of lots of jumping. By mid-second trimester, we usually end the jumping and choose different methods of raising the heart rate. We pay attention to the rate of exertion (which can be different for different women). On a scale of 1-10, we never take it beyond 8.

-We never put our women on their stomachs

-We don't do extra deep lunging that can stress the lower pelvic ligaments and tendons

-We don't do any extreme twists

-We don't ask women to lie directly on their back for extended periods of time after 19 weeks. (We've worked around this using rollers - very fun discovery for us!)

What about postnatal?

Postnatal training is cognizant of the labor recovery process and how deconditioned the client may have become during or after pregnancy. Most women have trouble feeling their abdominal muscles post-pregnancy, and this can be especially true after a C-section. It's important for all postnatal women to rebuild their abdominals from the inside out - starting with the deep transverse and pelvic floor muscles. We also look out for abdominal splits and adjust the abdominal exercises accordingly. Women still have relaxin present in their bodies for several months post-pregnancy, so it's important to keep in mind that their joints can still be a bit loose and more vulnerable to injury. We might not throw them right back into complex cardio in the beginning, and we might also try to use more stable body positions through the session. As with pregnancy, it's important to treat each postnatal woman as an individual and let her body guide the process. It's also important to reassure her that her commitment to exercise is so great. She will "bounce back" for sure. But she should also be patient with herself!

What are some of the Body Conceptions exercises that benefit a pregnant woman in particular? What about a postnatal woman?

We have a pretty big roster of exercises, so it's a little hard to be too specific here. For the most part, our pregnant women really benefit from the thigh work, which gives them lots of leg strength and joint stability. Our abdominal work adapted for pregnancy has been key for getting women through labor and regaining strength post-pregnancy because it focuses so much on the pelvic floor and deep transverse "corset" ab muscles. Our glute work is also essential to supporting the body during pregnancy and taking pressure off the quads and lower back.

Any advice you’d give a pregnant gal who wants to keep up with her regular exercise routine?

Many women who have been exercising regularly can keep their exercise routines through their first trimester at least. The exception is if they are in danger of getting hit in the stomach, falling, laying or putting pressure on their stomach, twisting, or shifting their weight or direction too suddenly. The other danger is if they're engaged in something that makes them stop paying attention to their body signals. Examples might include competitive sports, teaching fitness, and stage performance. In these instances, you purposely ignore any sign of pain or discomfort in order to achieve your goal of performing at your very best. You can often miss signs of danger that are very important.

I would encourage any active woman who becomes pregnant to contact her trainer or fitness studio and ask lots of questions. Find out how knowledgeable they are about pregnancy and how much they can guide you. Even if it's too expensive to get a trainer regularly, consider having one or two seasons with a pregnancy/fitness expert to walk you through the things you should or shouldn't do through the pregnancy. See if you can meet your instructors early before class to walk through possible modifications. (We do that regularly!)

Regardless, I am a broken record when it comes to pregnancy and exercise. Go for it, but put your body front and center. You will know when something feels wrong, so always pay attention to those signals. Try not to put your body through new or extreme exercise, but lots of what you're doing already can continue. And in terms of exertion, you can definitely sweat, but keep the intensity at a level where you can still talk and breath well.

Can you give us one Body Conceptions-style “do-at-home” exercise that pregnant women can try during pregnancy when they can’t get out to a class?

One of my favorite thigh exercises during pregnancy is called “Wide Second.”

-You stand with your feet turned out and placed slightly wider than the hips.

-Bend both knees to about 90-degree angles, keeping the knees aligned directly over the feet (not rolling forward).

- Adjust your position so that your feet are not too wide apart and hard to control or so close together that your knees are bending past your toes.

-Make sure your upper body is straight up and down (not tilted forward), and your chest is lifted with the shoulders relaxed.

-I always recommend doing our exercises to music. Try using something with a medium tempo.

-Start with your hands on your hips. Staying deep and low in your Wide Second bend*, pulse your body slightly up and down 30x to the beat of the music.

-Stay deep in your lower body position*, and reach your arms wide out to each side of your body.

-Keeping your legs still, alternate reaching your arms out to each side 20x to the music.

-Reach long through the arms. (In fact, you can even let your ribcage pull out to each side as you reach.)

-Keep your lower abs engaged.

-Put your hands back on your hips.

-Staying in your Wide Second position*, pulse both knees back at the same time 30x. These are very tiny movements that should make you feel the back of your upper thighs and glutes engaging.

-Repeat 1-3 as needed.

*If you need to straighten your knees in the middle of this exercise at any time, please do. Take one or two breaths, and return to your Wide Second position. If you have trouble keeping your balance during this exercise, feel free to keep at least one hand on a chair or tabletop in front of you.

Photography by Matt Simpkins Photography.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner have a lot in common. They are both actors, they're both moms of three, and they're both having a laugh clapping back at magazine headlines suggesting they're pregnant.

Witherspoon shared the cover of the latest issue of OK! on her Instagram recently, tagging Jen Garner in the caption and asking "Can we raise our imaginary babies together?"

"We are going to be the cutest imaginary family," Garner replied. "I'll just go ahead and move in now."

As much as we are all for an alternative reality where Witherspoon and Garner are BFFs who move in together to raise their children, it's pretty clear that isn't happening in the real world.

What is happening is speculation about women's bodies, which isn't cool. In this case, a magazine linked Jen Garner's supposed fondness for sweaters to a secret pregnancy and not, you know, sweater weather.

But women in the public eye have to put up with pregnancy rumors nearly constantly. Just recently, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge was said by tabloids to be three months pregnant, a rumor she totally shut down by drinking Guinness on St. Patrick's Day.

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And of course, no woman in history has been pregnant as often as the tabloids have made Jennifer Aniston out to be, something she's written at length about, noting that the speculation is hurtful to her on a personal level, and is damaging on a societal level. "If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues," she wrote for Huffington Post in 2016. "The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing."

"We use celebrity 'news' to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one's physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical 'imperfection'?" Aniston wondered in her essay.

Like Aniston, Garner and Witherspoon are frequent subjects of false stories that say more about our society than they do about the women they claim to be reporting on.

It's good to see these two powerful women clapping back at companies that make money peddling pretend pregnancy narratives. As much as we love a *real* pregnancy announcement, we're bored to death of bump speculation. Women—those making the headlines and those consuming them—deserve better.

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To the parent of the child who continues eating a snack from the ground well after the five-second rule expires...

To the parent of the child who isn't content unless their hands are at least a little muddy...

To the parent of the child who is perfectly happy to share sips of water from a friend's cup...

There is good news: Exposure to dirt and germs helps children's immune systems. Jack Gilbert, Ph.D., a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago—and a father of two who continually faced messy situations—looked into the effects of those potential germs on little bodies for a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

What he and his co-authors discovered about the relationships between kids and germs was incredibly reassuring. “It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial," he told NPR's Weekend Edition. "So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor—if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy's mouth, it's actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system's going to become stronger because of it."

Now the co-author of Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System, Gilbert said his bigger concerns is with the extreme sanitization we see today.

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“It's fine to wash their hands if there's a cold or a flu virus around, but if they're interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that's not a bad thing," Gilbert said. “In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child's health."

So, what's the reason why small amounts of dirt and germs help kids?

Gilbert said the infection-fighting neutrophil cells in our bodies become “grumpy and pro-inflammatory" when they're waiting for something to do. So, without small amounts of germs of fight off along the way, those neutrophils become “explosively inflammatory" when they finally do get to tango. As he said, “That's what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies."

As for the common dirty dilemmas parents face, here are the verdicts Gilbert gave to NPR...

Should children use hand-sanitizer?

Gilbert said that hot, soapy water is the better bet in most cases.

Is it okay for a kid to eat something more than five seconds after it fell on the floor?

Gilbert said this is actually a case of all-or-nothing: Because it takes microbes less than a second to attach to food, the bigger question is just how contaminated do you think the surface really is? In most homes, he said this isn't too big of a concern.

Should you wash or lick a pacifier after it fell?

Good news to the mamas who never got around to buying those pacifier wipes: Gilbert cited a study of more than 300,000 children, which showed children of moms in the habit of licking off dirty pacifiers actually had lower rates of asthma, allergies and eczema. As he said, “Overall, their health was stronger and more robust."

Next time your toddler eats a handful of dirt, remember this: You're just doing your part in raising a healthy kid.

Here's how to make your job a little bit easier, mama:

1. Fill your own cup first

As a parent, you are always taking care of other people. The whirlwind of worry, cooking, feeding, diaper changing, snotty nose wiping, cleaning, scheduling, shopping, working, and sleepless nights leaves you feeling frazzled and drained. The cycle of constantly tending to others' needs leaves no time for your own.

But you can't pour from an empty cup. In reality, serving yourself first will allow you to best serve others. It is not selfish, it's just basic self-respect. Something you want your kids to learn, right?

So find a way to make self-care a priority. The world can wait while you take a little break to go for a walk, read a book, pursue a hobby you enjoy, do some yoga, prep healthy meals, or even take a fantastic nap.

2. Get moving

One of the single most important ways to implement self-care is to exercise. I know, I know, you've heard this one a million times. “But I don't have the energy or time, it's hard, it's boring," you might say.

But it doesn't have to be that complicated. You don't have to spend hours a day, buy expensive equipment, join a class, kill yourself boot camp-style, or even go to the gym (unless that's your thing, of course).

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Just get your body moving. Find something that you actually enjoy. Walk, dance, or follow a simple at-home workout plan in your living room. You'll find it invigorating and will be surprised at all the wonderful things it will do in your life, like boost energy and immunity, improve your sleep, and even help you think more clearly. Not to mention you'll be setting a great example for your kids to follow, double win!

3. Let boredom ring

“I'm bored."

Two little words every parent dreads hearing. That phrase sends us into a frenzy of googling activities to do, Pinterest-y snacks to make, local events to go to, and crafts to make out of toilet paper tubes. Then, when our offspring decide none of this stuff is acceptable, we throw up our hands and just give them another hour of screen time.

Why do we think we need to entertain our kids at all times?

LET THEM BE BORED.

Everyone experiences it. No one ever died from it. It's not something you need to protect your children from.

There are actually all kinds of benefits to getting bored. Boredom fosters creativity. When a kid hits that state of nothing left to do, their brain starts really firing. Bored thoughts lead to innovative thoughts, which are a good thing.

They will come up with something to do, no matter how much whining happens first. If they really need help, create a list with them that they can always go back to. If that doesn't work, you can always make a list of chores or ask them to help you clean. Suddenly anything else becomes oh-so-fun!

If they're always handed things to do, how are they ever going to handle themselves? Constant doting and attention can lead to them feeling entitled throughout life. Let them start thinking for themselves.

Remember, learning to amuse themselves helps develop problem-solving skills, motivation, and interests of their own – all contributing to healthy psychological development and a clear sense of self.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to ignore your children. It's great to spend time and do things with them, but it's also okay and even beneficial to let them figure things out for themselves sometimes.

Bonus: You might even be able to get some valuable me-time out of it.

4. Give yourself a time-out

Although you probably can't take a daily nap or excuse yourself from frustrating moments in most situations, you can give yourself a little time out when you need it at home. If you need a break, just go to another room and cool down a bit. Breathe. You'll likely be more reasonable and collected when you come back.

5. Help yourself to some hygge

Um…what?

Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish term meaning “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being." It's likely a factor in why Denmark is considered the happiest country in the world.

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced culture, relaxing can be viewed as laziness or underachievement. Silence your inner critic and anyone else whose opinion you don't need. Taking a break is not only nice, it's necessary.

Just as adequate sleep is vital to overall health and functioning, a hygge-style mental rest can make you feel refreshed, full of joy, and more productive, among other things.

So have a hefty helping of hygge however it suits you. Slow down to savor a mug of hot cocoa or coffee, enjoy family movie night, slip on some warm fuzzy slippers, listen to music, Netflix and chill, go on a date night, get together with friends, bake cookies, chill on the beach…whatever makes you feel comforted and cozy. Try to make this a regular thing in your life. It's a lifestyle, not just an occasional thing.


She turns five this month. My sweet, little baby girl will be five.

I have all the typical parental platitudes: Where did the time go? I can't believe she's FIVE! Remember when she was just born? Took her first step? Roared like a lion all the time? (Okay, so that one's making a comeback.)

When she rocketed into this world, I had no idea about anything. I had no idea who she would become, or who I would become, or even that I would transform into someone else.

Looking at pictures of that day produces the same nostalgic emotion in me, directed at both of us—Awwww, I remember that girl.

I remember her, so tiny and beautiful, sweet and new. And I remember me, innocent and hopeful, exhausted and adrift. Untethered. Something changed in me the day she was born, but I didn't know that yet. And I certainly didn't know what or why or how I would get to the other side.

Five years. Five years of sleepless nights and intense love. Five years of laughs and kissing booboos and reading books.

Five years.

She's growing up. So much changes by five. I'm heading into this year pretty certain that this is the last year of being able to see any remaining baby-ness in her. I've watched it start to fade faster than ever, these past few months.

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I don't want to head into five being overly sentimental or sad. I am fiercely proud of my girl. For the way she embraces love, creativity and adventure. For how she's traversed the past few years of preschool and new friends and a little brother who is growing up fast and requiring more and more of our attention. For how quick she is to hug and laugh.

She's independent, stubborn and strong-willed. She's curious, open and loving. And she was trusted to me. I am awed. Whatever I did to earn this girl with the beautiful, magical, wonderful spirit, I will never stop trying to live up to the privilege.

And now, I wonder about myself.

I've also been trusted with my own beautiful, magical, wonderful spirit. For a little while, I stopped considering that a privilege. I stopped considering it at all. I think this is the point where danger lurks in motherhood, the point where we put ourselves on a shelf and go all-in on our kids' lives.

I also think it's okay to do that. In some ways, it's required. But we need a tether, something attached to dry land that can pull us back when we wade out too deep.

The Stevie Smith poem echoes in my head, when I think about the darkest, deepest days: "I was much too far out all my life/ And not waving but drowning."

How many mamas do we see waving who are actually drowning? So many, I think. We haven't figured out how to be moms in this do-it-all era. We're getting there, but so many of us are untethered.

I would do anything for my kids, and if it came down to it I know that I would cast aside my dreams in favor of theirs. I just can't think of a scenario where it would come down to that. I think that both can coexist.

I think I can give my kids my best and still water the garden of my own desires. I think I have to. I know I want to show them that. I want them to see me happy, fulfilled. I want them to believe that anything is possible, not just because I told them it's possible for them but because I showed them that it was possible for me.

I love them with a fierceness, and so I have learned to be fierce about my love for myself, too.

My daughter turns five very soon, and we'll celebrate her. But in the back of my head, I'll be celebrating me, too. So maybe it's really this: We turn five this month.

For me, five years of motherhood. Feeling tethered, finally.

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