How to Dance Your Way to Better Health

 

More and more, the experts are telling us to clear blocked emotions as a necessary part in your healing journey. Dr. Northrup’s “You have to feel it to heal it” and other variations make complete sense. Yet, many of us – my hand’s raised her – are so out of touch with how we feel, it’s a challenge to truly GET that concept.

There was no room in my upbringing for the full spectrum of emotions – how many of you had parents who gave you space tantrums? Laughter or tears or outbursts of any kind, my brothers and I were told to “settle down”. The only emotions we ever saw in full regalia was anger – my father’s, sometimes my mother’s when we’d driven her completely up the wall – and never something we were free to send back in their direction.

Raised to use my head, I had little inkling that the feelings I knew had any depth beyond the small ripple they created in my mind and moods. Being a good girl, I was encouraged to keep it that way.

Believe it or not, I actually learned how to feel from a book. I was at my first yoga retreat, and picked up a stray copy of Gay & Kathleen Hendricks’ Conscious Loving. That was when, at age 29, I learned that emotions are felt in the body. Yoga was the doorway to my more fully realized self, in that it gave me the tools and space to start along a path of integrating all my parts – body, mind, heart & soul.

It’s been a long, ongoing process to learn – nearly another 20 years for me to find the courage to explore my feelings to their very fullest. For the longest time, I was scared of big emotions, in others as well as myself. They are so chaotic, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

And you know what it’s like, you want to do things that make you happy and get through the negative emotions as quickly as possible.

Thing is, emotions are neither good nor bad. Like the rain, they have no inherent value. In cold & dark November, it’s depressing, at the end of a scorching July day, it’s a godsend. The rain necessary for life to shift and change and grow.

We try so hard to increase our joy, always looking for the shortcut or the magic bullet to happiness & love, that we’ve lost touch with the healthy aspects of anger, fear and sadness. We have no time in our schedules to give them space, so we ignore them, override them with a smile or suppress them with pills, alcohol, sugar and other drugs.

Emotions are like water. Close them up for too long and two things can happen. With no hint of movement, the pool stagnates, creating a breeding ground for mould, bacteria, parasites (auto-immunity, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, IBD,…) Holding back a river requires a strong dam and a lot of physical energy, depleting your body’s defenses and feeding such states as anxiety or depression. There’s also the risk that the slightest crack in the wall will release a wild, even destructive flood.

Like water, e-motions are nothing more than energy-in-motion. They need to flow. They become unhealthy when we avoid them or let them get pent up.

Your core emotions, and the physiological responses they create in your body are part of your communication system. They are in place as part of your survival.

Follow the movement, the dance each one invites you to share and you’ll see what I mean.

(I’m serious, stand up and do this with me – maybe one day soon I’ll add a video to help this along.)

We start with Joy or Desire.

Think of something that has made you just overflow with happiness. Where do you feel it? Likely, it’s somewhere in your torso, your heart centre. Sit with it a moment until you feel the movement in there. Perhaps it’s open-chested, shoulders back, leaning in.

Desire is a step forward.

It says, This feels good, this nourishes me, let’s go for it!

It connects you to the world and people and situations that light you up. That nurture you and help you grow. It’s that feeling of a little girl seeing her mom after a long absence and running to her full-tilt, with open arms.

The direct opposite of Joy is Sadness.

Think of something that makes you sad. Where do you feel it and how does it move? Still in your torso, I bet, though closing inward this time. Sadness retreats, curls you into a ball.

It tells you where you’ve disconnected, be it consciously or not, from your loved ones, your community, your sources of nourishment.

It’s part of your survival in the same way that a seed ensures the survival of a plant. The seed’s job is to disconnect, to leave the mother plant. It’s a tightly closed capsule that contains all the energy and nutrients necessary to create a whole new plant. Once it finds the ideal environment and gets exposed to a bit of water, it cracks open.

When you’re sad – usually at the (forced or planned) disconnection from someone or something you love – you can feel uprooted. It’s survival to gather your resources and save your energy until conditions seem safe again. Shedding a few tears (or buckets-full!) will eventually crack open your heart and mind to re-engage with life.

Anger is your inner mama-bear at work.

Without going overboard, think of a situation that pisses you off. Notice where it sits in your body and how it wants to move. It yells and waves its arms around and snarls and wants to throw things – it basically says, Keep the hell away from me!

Anger can be scary in that it is large and loud, but it’s purpose is not to inflict harm.

Anger protects your from harm. It helps you set and maintain healthy boundaries – that perimeter of safe, personal space around you. It kicks in when that safety has been breached.

Bears don’t attack people for the heck of it. Generally a wild animal will only attack if you’re too close to their shelter, their food or their children – when you’ve threatened their basic needs.

If you’re angry (frustrated, irritated, impatient, annoyed, irritable,…) it’s an indication that your survival, that one of your needs – what you need to both survive and thrive – has been removed or threatened. (See this list of basic human needs that, yes, include things like touch and attention.)

Anger moves up and out. It’s loud and needs a lot of space. Follow that flow – better out than in!

A child psychologist once gave me the “anger rules” for my boys. They basically say you’re allowed to be angry, you’re just not allowed to hurt anyone (including yourself) nor damage anything. She encouraged us to make an angry corner where the kids were allowed to punch pillows, shred paper, yell & scream or whack a door frame with a tea towel when the need arose.

Try giving yourself permission to do the same. You might even want to put on a timer so you don’t go too far overboard. (The tea towel one is great, especially when you also yell all the furious, horrible things you want to say to the person/situation that has you riled.) Let loose in your tantrum! Then let yourself settle back into the calm. You’ll find that you are now able to deal with whatever was bothering you with a more rational & productive approach.

Maybe I’ve left Fear for last because it’s my own particular nemesis.

Call it childhood programming or part of my path, but fear is my first reaction to any situation even remotely out of my comfort zone. It blows up to unreasonable proportions. I’m a great one for lying in bed at 3 am turning molehills in mountains that threaten to crush me in their shadows.

What scares you? How does it show up in your body? Fear is a step backwards…or in my case, turns me around and has me run away screaming. Fear can also freeze you in place.

Its purpose is to keep you out of harm’s way. When you get to the edge of a cliff staying stock-still or stepping back are the only wise choices.

Fear says, This doesn’t feel right, let’s get out of here, or check things out before taking another step. When you’re walking down a dark road, it’s the feeling that reminds you to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Fear has a tricky counterpart: it can be the feeling your ego sends when you’re about to walk down an unfamiliar road. Because you have no way of knowing which twists and turns and cliffs you’re likely to encounter, it tries to prevent you from going that way at all.

I’ve learned to use this type of fear as a tool: it reminds me when to step back to reassess and informs me of how huge the potential reward and growth will be at the other end. (This can be a strange concept to wrap your head around – some days, I’m not sure if I get it fully myself – it will likely show up as its own exploration in a later blog.)

Emotions are the energy of life. The dances they lead you on are the steps to a more fulfilled, more expanded, more fully actualized version of you.

Emotions are the cues to being fully yourself. In the physiological world, the distinction between what yours and what isn’t falls in the realm of the immune system. Giving free flow to how you feel will improve your ability to stay strong in the face of disease.

Want to know the beautiful part of exploring my emotions? The more space and time I give them, the less afraid I become of them, the more confidence I have to say what I need to say, the more likely I am to express what I truly need. The repercussions of this on my life blossom continuously.

How do you move with and through your emotions? Which one gives you the hardest time? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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PS I’ve started using Bach Flower Essences to help support myself and clients through the many movements of this dance. If you want to know more about them, contact me here.

The Skinny on Fat

Finally getting around to writing about the last of the micronutrients. (If you missed the others, you can still read my thoughts about protein, tips on eating enough protein and how to find good carb sources from earlier in the year.)

What better time to talk about fat than the lead-in to the holidays and the prospect of all the deliciously rich food on offer.

Let’s first clear the air by saying that fat isn’t bad for you. It’s absolutely necessary to your health. Eating fat doesn’t cause you to put on fat…unless you eat it in poor qualities and excess quantities.

Why You Need Fat

Your brain is made of 60% fat, and your nerves are coated in the stuff. Without that insulation, all those electrical signals flying around at light speed would go haywire.

Your cells are surrounded in fat, keeping their functional molecules contained away from the watery medium of your body.

Your sex hormones are made from fat (cholesterol, to be precise), and your body fat is necessary to certain stages of their production & metabolism. I’m talking estrogen, progesterone, testosterone: your ability to reproduce. Not to mention all the fun & games to get you there!

Cholesterol is also the base for vitamin D (for your bones and immune system), and for bile, so that you can digest, you got it…fats.

You know all the hype about getting enough essential fatty acids, vitamins A and E? Unless you eat a variety of fat, you’re not getting these goodies.

The fat under your skin insulates you from temperature changes. Boring? That fat also keeps your skin soft & silky.

I know you’d like some of that padding to go away, but it’s actually a protective layer for your vital organs.

Fat, when heated, carries the aroma of a meal. It’s why your food smells so delicious: Nature’s way of stimulating your appetite.

When you eat a bit of fat in a meal, it actually slows the digestive process, so you’re satisfied sooner and feel full longer. (Yes, fat, just like fibre, helps you eat less!)

Now tell me, how is any of that bad for you?

“But it’s so high in calories!”

True. A gram of fat has 9 calories, where protein and carbohydrates have 4. There’s a reason for that.

Fat is a storage molecule.

(Technically, we refer to these molecules as lipids: oils in plant, fat in animal/human.)

The sun’s heat gets trapped when a plant makes sugar (carbs) – we release that energy when we eat the plant (or eat an animal who’s eaten the plant). The plant concentrates that heat into the seed as oil, ensuring it has what’s needed to endure the winter and sprout again come spring.

Animal or human, the fat stores on the body ensure we’ve got the energy to make it until the next meal. (Don’t forget, we’ve evolved through eras of feast or famine.) Like the plant, or the squirrel in your backyard, you have the capacity to store up for a long cold winter.

As a keeper of calories, lipids hold your heat.

Let’s look at what that means at a deeper level.

During the height of summer, a plant’s oils evaporate & disperse into the atmosphere as its perfume. Its essence. It’s how the flower expresses itself, declares its presence to the world, attracts the bees & butterflies that ensure its reproduction. It’s part of what we love about flowers.

Could we say that our essence also manifests through our lipids?

The thoughts, memories, emotions sparking around your brain; the decisions you make and your ability to carry them out, via nerves, to your motor activities. They’re all facilitated and made efficient because of fat.

Your femininity – your curves, your ability to nurture, be receptive and creative, your ability to attract a mate and have a baby – all of it flourishes because of your fat.

Every cell in your body, the houses of your DNA, the machinery that builds and rebuilds the physical aspects of your being, would fall into chaotic disarray without the fatty membrane that keeps it whole.

You solidify the boundary of who you are and you glow with inner light because of the fat in your skin (like an oil lamp).

Just as the flower attracts others with its scent, your own essence – the heat you give off to the world by being fully present in your life – sparks connection with others. In love, in friendship, in work, in community.

To ensure that you’re glowing to your fullest potential, there are, of course, a few guidelines. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of this already, but it bears repeating.

The Quality

You need to eat a balance of 3 types of lipids for your body to work at its best.

Saturated:

These fats are easily recognized because they’re more solid at room temperature. Mainly from animal sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, butter & cream), they’re also found it coconut and palm oils.

The plant form of saturated fat are very easy to digest and actually help burn other types of fat because they’re made of short chains. That is, they provide easily accessible energy.

Egg yolk also contains a fatty compound known as lecithin, which eases your body’s ability to get the fat where it needs to go without damaging any arteries along the way.

Monounsaturated:

Found in poultry fat, which is why it’s more viscous than lard from beef or pork.

The best (and yummiest!) sources are avocado, olives and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated:

We know these as the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6.

Omega-6 are in animal meats, poultry, nuts & seeds and plant oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, etc.), i.e. in fried foods.

Omega-3, the mood-calming, anti-inflammatory fat, comes in fish, grass-fed animal food, seeds such as flax, chia, hemp; nuts like walnut.

Fats and oils are “bad” when they’re out of proportion or no longer in their natural state.

Overheated, these lipids are damaged and lose their nourishing effect beyond the calories they add. (Different oils can withstand different temperatures.)

Processed – hydrogenated, heat extracted, bleached, deodorized – they are stripped of their natural properties, stripped of their essence, their subtle energy.

Which means that your body won’t necessarily recognize them as usable material.

These altered molecules, when not assimilated effectively into your body, create more work for your liver. Plus, they hang around as free radicals – the scavenger molecules that wreak havoc, leading to cardiovascular disease and cancer (among others).

The Quantity

You need 20-30% of your calories from fat. If you’re that average person who eats 2000 calories a day, that translates into 44-55 g of fat each day.

To give you an idea, you need 3-5 servings a day…not a lot:
2 tsp of butter, oil, nut butter = 10 g
2 egg yolks = 9 g
½ avocado = 15 g

You need 1/3 of each type; saturated, mono & polyunsaturated (in equal proportions of omega-6 and omega-3).

As you indulge this holiday season, you’re storing up some extra heat for the winter.

Remember that, as you curl in with more quiet, indoor activity through the cold months, you give your soul a chance to feed its essence for your re-emergence next spring.

No matter what you do eat (or skip) this holiday season, make sure you’re doing so from a place of joy and celebration. (If you missed it, you can still listen to last year’s webinar to help with this.)

In the comments, I’d like to hear jow you struggle with the idea of fat or the enjoyment of fatty-rich food. When you share your thoughts, you open the possibilities for others.

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feature image by bb_matt via freeimages.com

Our Obsession with Protein Part II: The Straight Facts

I’ve gone off on a philosophical tangent lately in the blog. Now that we’ve moved into earthy Taurus, it’s time to ground back into some practical information and straighten the record about protein. In the first segment of this topic, I introduced you to the big-picture-importance of protein, and the reasons why we’re obsessed with it at this particular time. Today, we get down to the nitty-gritty details of why we need it, and how much we need.

I recently gave a talk about food at the local running club and, naturally, the discussion veered towards protein. This happens because people associate it directly to muscle. Really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg where protein is concerned.

WHY YOU NEED PROTEIN

As I explained in Part I of this segment, protein is the building block for every aspect of your physical container. It’s the structural material for all connective tissue in the body:

  • Your protective layer: skin, mucous membranes, nails & hair;
  • Cartilage, ligaments and tendons to hold you together;
  • Muscles so you can move;
  • Your nutrient & communication highway: blood vessels;
  • Bones & teeth: yes, they need Ca, P, F and Mg to give your body solidity, but those minerals are encrusted on a protein matrix, like a heavily beaded bodysuit.

“Protein gives me energy.”

Yes & No.

Protein does indeed provide energy (calories), but because it’s required for so many specific jobs in the body, it’s more practical to rely on carbohydrates & fat for most of your energy needs.

The extra energy boost you feel from protein has more to do with the functional molecules that do the physiological work and keep communication flowing.

  1. Hormones of Action:
    • regulate & control all bodily functions from the glands in your brain;
    • control your very metabolism (how you use calories);
    • keep your blood sugar (brain food) balanced;
  2. Neurotransmitters: send electrical & chemical impulses through your brain & body for instantaneous responses to life with its many twists & turns;
  3. Antibodies: help maintain your integrity by creating boundaries between what’s yours and what isn’t;
  4. Enzymes: facilitate just about every chemical reaction – and there are millions.

HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED

As I said last time, the body recycles and reuses amino acids (the units that link to form protein) in whatever combination is needed at a given time.

Because of that sustainable quality,  protein has the lowest requirement of all the macronutrients – only 10-15% of caloric intake, as compared to 65% & 25%, more or less, for carbohydrates and fat.

Protein Math 2

Protein Math: click on the image for the full view

NUMBERS ARE GREAT, BUT HOW DOES THAT TRANSLATE INTO FOOD?
It’s not as difficult as we seem to think.

First, a reality check: the average American eats 100 g of protein daily. Much more than enough; an amount that sets us up for problems (I’ll get to that in a sec).

Food for 60 g protein

For a great article about plant-based protein: http://kriscarr.com/blog-video/my-crazy-sexy-guide-to-plant-based-protein/

For a summary of amounts in conventional protein-rich food: http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/highproteinfood.htm

NOT ENOUGH PROTEIN

When you don’t eat enough protein, you lose body mass: hair, nails, skin, then muscle starts to break down; wounds don’t heal well and you get sick more easily; you become lethargic, and in the extreme your blood will degenerate. In fact, any of those signs could be a red flag that you need more protein in your diet.

Continuing the analogy of the temple from Part I, when you don’t replace damaged bricks, nor maintain the mortar, the structure will eventually crumble. Necessary tasks will remain undone when you spread the staff too thin.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

The other day, I heard someone at book club announce, “You could never get enough protein.” Why, oh why do we hold onto the idea that if some is good, more must be better?

Eating too much protein doesn’t come without a price on your health. As a reflection of the consumer society in which we live, a high percentage of protein in the diet creates issues similar to the overcrowded landfills and plastic islands in the ocean.

High protein consumption

  • Dehydrates the body: water is necessary to the reaction that breaks peptide chains (strings of amino acids) apart.
  • Increases tissue acidity, the playground of inflammation and feeding trough for cancer. Calcium & other vital minerals are drawn out of your bones to buffer the acid.

To make up for a relatively low intake of carbohydrates, amino acids are converted to glucose for energy, an inefficient conversion that requires energy to perform.

  • This same reaction creates ketones and nitrogen-based bi-products, which in turn
  • Force the kidneys work harder to eliminate the wastes, potentially allowing them to back up in a toxic traffic jam.

All this extra peeing is how protein has become the latest panacea in our eternal quest for weight loss solutions: That big initial weight drop is nothing more than water loss.

ARE YOU ABLE TO TAKE IT ALL IN?

I touched on this last time, but let’s talk about it concretely:

So you eat adequate protein for your age, gender, activity level (see the box above), yet how much of it are you absorbing?

Before the protein-digesting enzymes can do their job, a protein needs to be denatured (uncoiled) by stomach acid. Not enough acid, and that protein stays pretty much intact through the rest of the digestive ride, leading to putrefaction.

Translation: feeling full & heavy or heartburn after a meal (esp. if it includes meat); bloating & smelly gas; constipation. (As well as the signs of low protein mentioned above)

The good news is that this is easily fixed

a)     lay off the antacids (talk to your health care professional if you have an ulcer or true high stomach acid);

b)     drink a glass of warm water with 1 tsp of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar before your meals (or after if you have heartburn)

Hope this helps clear up some of the confusion. If you have any questions, bring them to the comments below, so everyone can benefit.

 

Strengthen your Immune System from the Inside

Spiritual ImmunityIt’s that time of year in the northern hemisphere: the beginning of flu season. It had been my intention to share nutritional ways to support your organism from whichever viruses are floating around this year.

Instead, I wonder, have you ever taken the time to consider the holistic significance of your immune system and how it works to keep you healthy?

The Immune System (Re)-Defined

The immune system (IS) is your body’s defense against disease; no news here. But did you know it’s in fact one part of the complex messaging system in your body that includes your mind and emotions? The field of psychoneuroimmunology has broken open the mysteries of how hormones, neurotransmitters and the various immune responses work constantly to keep you healthy on a minute-to-minute basis.

On its own, the basic function of the IS is to differentiate between self & non-self.

Let’s take a step back and look at that role metaphorically.

Differentiating self from non-self: what’s yours and what’s not. From a psychological viewpoint, that’s called boundaries.

A healthy immune system is all about having healthy boundaries. Immunity is about not letting something in, or not letting it affect you. Like that saying, “I am immune to his charms,” meaning the guy has no sway with you.

Again, from a physiological POV, the 1st line of defense is the skin and mucous membranes: the actual physical barrier that protects you from your environment. The skin also delineates the human form, it literally defines your (physical) edges.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m out of sorts emotionally, I feel as if “I don’t know where my edges are”. I trip or bump into things, and I have a hard time making decisions that are right for me. At times like this, I’ve been taken advantage of, or I let someone else’s priorities rule my mind.

Let me draw you a picture:

You work long hours and barely have time for your family, let alone yourself, because you’re afraid there won’t be enough money to pay the bills. You say yes when the boss asks you to work over the weekend because it’s nearly salary review time; you have to say no to your daughter’s big soccer game.

Or, how about this one:

Your pre-teen really wants to go to a party weekend that you feel is wrong for his age. You tell him no, out of a desire to maintain his best interests and your values. He rants & screams all sorts of threats and insults, bangs his door. Do you maintain your decision. Or, do you worry that his frantic behaviour is an indication that he’ll act in some rash way, so you give in.

Here’s another:

You need time to yourself this weekend, to recharge your personal batteries. You look forward to puttering in the garden and curling up with a good bodice-ripper. But your sweetie is counting on you to go to the family gathering at his mother’s cottage. You go out of obligation, or stand your ground and feel guilty all weekend.

These types of scenarios send messages to your mind & body that your values, needs and priorities are secondary to everyone else around you. Keep this up, and eventually lose sight of what’s yours and what’s not.

Physically, that’s what your IS does. It lets in and/or defends against organisms seeking access to, and energy from, your body. Because of its strong ties to your thoughts and emotions, its actions can happen as a response to love or of fear.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper. OK, a lot deeper.

The Self.

When I talk about the (capital S) Self, I’m referring to your Higher Self, your Spirit. The part that connects you to the Cosmic Whole, that carries the blueprint for who You are.

As a messenger within your organism, the IS is a part of the Soul’s guidance system. Your soul is kind of like the GPS that helps you navigate your Spirit’s map. The Soul leads your body, heart and mind towards the greatest expression of your Self.

On an energetic level, the IS helps you grow into that full expression, by acting as a messenger that determines what is true to You and what isn’t.

When you prevent that growth, by suppressing immune responses (such as acute fever & inflammation), the IS cannot convey its messages effectively. The message needs to get louder to be heard.

The results of a faulty immune system manifest as susceptibility to infections (viral, bacterial or fungal) on the one hand, and allergies on the other. (The extremes of those opposites play out as cancer and auto-immune disorders.)

The diminished IS comes from a lack of self-care (read: Self-Love). The hypersensitive responses are an over-reaction born from Fear.

To break boundaries into their simplest form, it’s all about saying Yes or No. Looked at another way, boundaries are formed/maintained/breached depending on whether we act out of Love or out of Fear. (As with the examples above.)

When we eat chicken soup for our illnesses, how much of the immune-boosting of the soup comes from the Love of the mother or grandmother who made it?

Several studies at Linda Loma University in California document the direct impact of sugar on the IS. (Google it for details.) Large amounts of sugar – an addiction used to replace any lack of sweetness or love in our lives – brings with it a false sense of well-being that simply over-excites you, then leaves you drained and wanting more.

Kind of like a bad boyfriend.

Physiologically, the adrenals feel the brunt of that impact.

The adrenals play a key role in our response to stress (they’re the source of adrenaline & cortisol). Did you know they’re also responsible for modulating inflammation – one of the non-specific immune responses? If they’re not happy, then neither is your ability to respond to invaders.

The adrenals are a part of the 3rd Chakra, the Will. This emotional energy centre oversees your ability to take your place, to stand your ground. It’s the home of your sense of Self. It’s depleted by fear and enhanced by self-love.

Poor adrenal health is something I deal with almost constantly in my practice. As women we live our lives from our should’s, from the needs of others and out of fear of losing them. No matter what type of issue she comes to me with, there’s often a piece that leads right back to a woman’s 3rd chakra and her adrenals.

As you prepare for the winter, check in on how solid you’re feeling on a mental-emotional level.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I live my life according to what’s true for me?
  2. Do I honour my own values?
  3. Am I able to say No when something’s not right for me? Do I say Yes when something is?
  4. Do I have a good support system? In 2 of her books, Dr. Christiane Northrup points out that simply having the perception of strong emotional support enhances a woman’s immune response.

One last reminder: A healthy body and immune system does not necessarily mean that you’ll never get sick – it means that if you do, you’re equipped to deal with it.

What will you do to improve your sense of Self before hunkering down for the winter? Share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments below – you might provide inspiration and support to someone else!

If you like this post, be sure to Like and Share it with your Friends & Followers!

I wish you a winter filled with rosy cheeks and laughter!

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