NASCAR Hall of Fame

No trip to North Carolina is complete without checking out the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As luck would have it, the NASCAR Hall of Fame just happened to be right next to the my hotel and the convention center. It was super convenient. And, the conference organizers rented out the whole facility for the evening for our “special event” during CS Week.

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The highlight of the event for me was definitely getting this photo with NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, who was there promoting Midnight Moon and signing autographs.

They were doing free tastings of Midnight Moon, handmade moonshine based on Junior Johnson’s family recipe. Despite all of the delicious varieties, I skipped the moonshine tasting in favor of getting a picture with Junior. I’m sure it’s delicious but Brian told me that it’s really strong and warned me to stay the away from it.

Here are a few more pictures from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend this conference because I don’t know if I would have ever seen the NASCAR Hall of Fame otherwise (it wasn’t on the bucket list) and also it was a super duper fantastic conference. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it several times already but one of my favorite TED speakers, Shawn Achor, was our keynote speaker on the second day.)

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CS Week rented the whole facility for our “special event” so we were free to explore every inch of the museum. It was awesome! I think the look on my face in this photo pretty much sums it up.

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This is a racing simulator like none other. You get into real cars and race other people. Alex and I didn’t want to stand in the long line so we skipped it.

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I heard it was really fun, though.

There was also a pit crew simulation. They had two stations set up so that you could compete with another group to see who could do it faster.

Back on the main level, there was a bluegrass band.

There was also lots and lots of food. There were food stations and bars at every level of the museum so you didn’t have to hungry.

I was in sensory overload so I missed taking pictures of the rest of the food but I had to take a picture of this one. As if bread pudding weren’t decadent enough. They made theirs with Krispy Kreme donuts!

Alex and I got some souvenir photos.

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I’m not a huge NASCAR fan but the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a really cool museum. There were so many interactive things on every level. I couldn’t take a picture of everything.

Brian was jealous about this part of the trip. I think he would have really enjoyed the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We may have to go back to he can experience it.

See you soon, Charlotte!

2015 NPC Midway USA Championships

I can’t speak for Brian but I’ve been stuck in a rut lately and decided I needed some inspiration. As luck would have it, some of our friends were competing in a fitness competition so I ended up buying us a couple of front row tickets for that. Brian didn’t mind going because he knew he’d be looking at half-naked women all evening.

Here are some pictures from the show for you guys to enjoy…

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Some of the classes were stacked while others only had one, two, or a handful of entrants. Lots of competitors in this class.

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Top five below.

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With their medals.

Next class.

Top five with medals.

Another class.

Top five with medals.

Then the winners of each class take the stage to be judged together. They’re competing for the overall title.

Every inch of their body is scrutinized by the discerning judges.

They’re even made to switch places. It’s quite intense. Who do you think won this one?

Then we go through the whole thing all over again for the open classes. I don’t really know much about fitness competitions but I gathered, from watching all of the contestants, the open classes are tougher. At least in novice, previous winners can’t compete. In the open classes you’re competing with pros.

Top five with medals.

Next class.

One of the winners from novice made the top five.

Another class.

Top five.

Again the winners are judged together for the honor of overall winner.

Check him out.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer watching the women.

Our friend Jeanne is rightmost in the above photo and leftmost below.

Here’s a video of Jeanne.

These women had the most amazing booties. Actually, I take that back. They had amazing everything.

Here’s our friend Amanda. There were lots of competitors in her class.

Here’s a video of the introductions.

She got third in the novice class.

Here she is again in open.

Video from the open class.

There was some stiff competition but she managed to take home fifth.

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Morgan was the open bikini overall champion.

Here are some videos of posing routines.

Winners get to do a pose down.

I’m so glad we were able to watch our friend Jeanne compete.

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I don’t know about Brian I’m totally inspired. I’m up 20 pounds from my pre-thyroidectomy weight and I’m so ready to start shedding my excess baggage.

Congrats to all of the winners and all of the competitors last weekend. You guys are an inspiration to us all!

Blackfinn Ameripub

On one of the nights our group walked to the EpiCentre in downtown Charlotte to find somewhere relatively inexpensive to eat. We were originally going to go to Fleming’s but it had four dollar signs next to its name on the restaurant list. We had to keep it three or under because some people ate at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and already blew the dinner budget. Yup. That happened the night before I arrived. I totally missed out!

To David’s credit, he did get one of our vendors to take us out to dinner one night. They must really like David because they took us to a fancy restaurant called the Capital Grille. The food and service was fantastic. It was a wonderful dinner.

Anyway, he tried to find a different vendor to take us out the next evening. No luck. That happens when you’re just window shopping I guess. Vendors only like to wine and dine you if you’re actually in the market for their product. Our other existing vendors were busy courting new customers. We were on our own.

We ended up at Blackfinn, a two dollar sign restaurant that’s conveniently located right as you arrive at the EpiCentre. Several people in our group wanted to check out Howl at the Moon, a piano bar in the same area so it was perfect.

Here are some pictures of our food…

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I think these are the crab cakes.

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Steak!

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Meatloaf.

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Blackfinn Ameripub on Urbanspoon

I had the grilled mahi, except I subbed spinach for broccoli because I love spinach.

I didn’t get a picture of the other plates because they were either duplicates or too far for me to reach. To check out the other foods, I guess you’ll just have to go to the restaurant. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

Overall, I really liked Blackfinn. The food was good and the prices were reasonable. The menu is extensive so there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a steak or seafood person or you just want plain ol’ chicken, you’ll find something on the menu that appeals to you. It’s great for large groups with different tastes. No one will end up starving.

They also have a great selection of starters, some of which are quite filling. Blackfinn is a great choice for if you just want to have appetizers and drinks. We got to try the crab cakes and ying-yang shrimp starters. Both were very good.

They have flatbread pizzas; all sorts of salads; pork, chicken, steak, and seafood entrées; sandwiches and burgers; pasta and noodle dishes; and they even allow you to order extra sides for sharing. The dessert options looked really good too, but we didn’t have any. No one was interested after all of the cheesecake and other desserts they were feeding us at the conference. LOL.

After dinner Sunni and I walked back to our respective hotels. I registered late and ended up the Hilton Charlotte Center City, while everyone else in our group got rooms at the Westin. I found out the next day that, since Howl at the Moon wasn’t open yet, the group ended up at the Tendril after party at Whisky River, where they had an open bar all night long. They said it was a great time; even better than the piano bar.

I was bummed about missing out at first but, after finding out that some of them stayed out until 2 AM, I didn’t feel as bad. I really wanted to be at breakfast early the next day to get a good seat for Shawn Achor’s keynote so there was no way I could hang. Walking back to the hotel right after dinner was a good call.

Mimosa Grill

Mimosa Grill was my favorite restaurant out of all the restaurants I got to try in downtown Charlotte. I think I liked it so much because the food is so fresh. Our server made it a point to tell us that the vegetables are all locally grown at least half a dozen times during our meal. It was almost comical.

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Jokes aside, what I really liked best was the mimosa tea. It’s the most delicious non-alcoholic beverage I’ve had in a long time. I’ve had Arnold Palmer’s (half lemonade, half iced tea) before but their tea takes it up several notches. Chad liked it so much that he got multiple refills. I can’t pick on him too much about the refills because I did too. It was delicious. I wanted to go there again and again just for the mimosa tea.

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I had the lobster mac and cheese. Not the best choice. That part of the meal was just okay. I prefer the one here at Wine Dive better. I though the mac and cheese was a tad greasy. The salad was great, though. Probably because the veggies are super fresh. The super delicious tea made up for the lackluster mac and cheese so I forgave them.

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David had the sea bass.

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Chad had crab cakes, which is what I wish I would have ordered. The crab cakes were piled on top of each other with fried green tomatoes sandwiched in between. He said they were just as scrumptious as they looked. After seeing his plate, I really wanted a do over.

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Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

Alex got a very healthy salad, which looked amazing also. I bet it was really good. You know, because the vegetables are super fresh, being locally grown and all. LOL.

I joke around but, truly, I really liked Mimosa Grill. The prices were reasonable and the food was delicious and I wish I could have bottled that mimosa tea and brought it back with me to Kansas. I tried to talk the group into eating there again on our final day in Charlotte but no one really wants to eat at the same place twice, no matter how great it is. Usually when you’re out of town, you want to try a bunch of different restaurants. Specially ones that you can’t find your hometown. Such is the case for me, anyway.

Although, Brian seemed really interested in the Nascar Hall of Fame so I see another trip to Charlotte in my future. See you soon, Mimosa Grill!

Hilton Charlotte Center City

These are pictures of my hotel room in Charlotte, NC.

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The room was small but sufficiently furnished.

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I really have no idea why they put so many chairs in a tiny room. I would be just as satisfied with only a bed and more floor space. LOL.

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The desk did come in handy on nights that I needed to catch up on work.

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The bathroom and shower was pretty basic.

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I had an oddly shaped room at the far end of the hotel. I thought it was a weird shape at first, but it was really functional the way they had the furniture situated. It made the space work.

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The hotel is conveniently located next to the Charlotte Convention Center.

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View of the front of the hotel, which I didn’t get to see much of because I always went the back way next to the train tracks, because it’s the quickest path to the Charlotte Convention Center.

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Also next to the hotel is the Childress Klein YMCA, which is accessible via a covered walkway. I asked for an “away card” from my home YMCA before I left but it turns out that I didn’t need one. Hotel guests have complimentary access to this YMCA branch. You just have to show them your room key and sign in on the clipboard at the front desk.

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There weren’t many options as far as group exercise classes went, at least not for the time frame I was there because I was tied up in conference activities the entire time and, by the time I was free, it was way late.

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The gym did have a decent running track (9 laps equaled 1 mile) and an olympic-sized lap pool. That was cool. The hours are quite limited though. The gym closes at 9 PM Monday through Thursday and even earlier on Fridays and Saturdays. They are not even open on Sunday.

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The only way I could make it work with my conference schedule was to go at 5 AM. Surprisingly, there were a lot more people at the gym than I expected for that early in the day. I saw a few guys walk in with their suits in hangers. I’m thinking the branch’s main patrons are downtown Charlotte workers who go for an early morning workout before heading to work. In which case, their operating hours make a lot of sense.

Anyway, I just have to put a plug for Hilton Charlotte and the entire city. The hotel staff was super nice. When you fly in via Atlanta and experience the airport customer service there, interacting with the friendly people of Charlotte is quite refreshing. It’s truly night and day. Everyone I met in Charlotte was wonderful. And, I think the niceness must be contagious because even the people who weren’t from there were also really nice. It was such a nice experience I wouldn’t mind going back just to visit next time.

I hope to see you again soon, Charlotte!

Mother’s Day Weekend

I hope everyone had a fantastic Mother’s Day weekend. We started ours off on Saturday night with grandma.

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They had a lovely reception at Cherry Creek for all the women residents. There were snacks, fruit punch (fake sangria) and sangria. They even had an acoustic guitar player.

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Grandma got a lovely carnation from Sharon.

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She also got first dibs on the sangria.

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For our part, we got grandma a Mother’s Day card and the Annie soundtrack that she’d been wanting since we watched the movie.

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Kudos to the Cherry Creek staff for putting together a nice reception for the residents.

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On Sunday morning we met dad, mom, and Jenni at Piccadilly Grill for brunch. We were on a bit of a tight schedule because mom and dad wanted to be at Derby Bowl for Logan and Matt’s first bowling league at 12:30 PM and then I had a Zumba class to teach in Andover at 1:00 PM. We managed to make it work.

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Here are some pictures of the fantastic brunch spread.

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The buffet today was double the size of their normal brunch.

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In addition to the regular buffet, there was a waffle station, omelette station, and a ham and roast beef carving station. They also had smoke salmon, various cheeses, and tabouli. Piccadilly is a Mediterranean restaurant after all.

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There was a huge selection of cakes and pies for dessert.

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Made me wish I didn’t have to teach Zumba so I could stuff my face silly. I still tried, though. At almost $25 per person, you best believe I tried to get my money’s worth. LOL. I’m kidding! I behaved (for the most part).

Piccadilly Grill on Urbanspoon

Anyway, I’m really glad that we got to have brunch today at Piccadilly. Brian told me that they’re going to be tearing the place down so today was the last Mother’s Day brunch before the demolition happens. I hope that Piccadilly Grill returns after the new building is finished. The thought of the restaurant closing really makes me sad. There are very few places that serve a fantastic brunch buffet here in town and Piccadilly is one of them.

If you’ve never been to Piccadilly Grill, I highly recommend checking it out. Specially since their days are numbered. Who knows when they’re reopen or if they reopen after the construction is complete. Check them out and let me know what you think in the comments below.

52nd Annual Honors Night

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Brian and I had the privilege of attending the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Honors Night a couple of weeks ago. It was at Beech Activity Center this year, the same place that Cards for the Cure has been held that last few years.

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You wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s the same place though because the tables were all decked out for Honors Night, complete with fancy table center pieces (each table had a different one) and a few bottles of wine.

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The event is a celebration of individual, corporate, and architectural achievements that enhance the Wichita community. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception received the Keeper of the Plains Award, an award recognizing an architectural project completed by a firm, organization, or individual, which has contributed to the beauty of our community.

I’ve never been inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral) since I’m not Catholic but the restoration is impressive. I definitely want to check it out one of these days and see the remarkable architecture in person.

Mr. Steve Clark received the Chamber’s most prestigious individual award, Uncommon Citizen. It’s an honor bestowed on those who have made uncommon contributions to the people and institutions of Wichita year after year.

Wichita State University received the Spirit of Wichita award which is only given to an institution that was previously recognized with an Over the Years award at least 20 years ago. This year’s Over the Years award recipients were Meritrust Credit Union, LDF, and Youth Entrepreneurs.

These videos are extremely well done so I had to share them with you guys. They’re so awesome that I almost want to win an award so that I could have my very own video vignette. LOL.

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Here’s a picture of the trophies. Below is a picture of Mr. Steve Clark with his Uncommon Citizen trophy and, below that, is a picture of Dr. Bardo who received the Spirit of Wichita award on behalf of Wichita State University.

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There are more pictures of the event on the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. Brian and I are both grateful for the opportunity to attend the event and witness these honorees receive their well-deserved awards.

Congratulations to all of the awards recipients and thank you for all that you do for the Wichita community!

KANSEL Trivia Night

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Brian and I attended KANSEL’s trivia night with Karen and her husband Don and Shane and his wife Sarah a few weeks ago.

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They were quite serious about their trivia, complete with proctors throughout the banquet room and baskets for phones. Absolutely no cheating allowed.

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We may have sucked at trivia but we had the best team captain ever!

The Arlington House

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Here are some pictures of the Arlington House.

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Most of the furniture is original.

This room was first used as a parlor. Mrs. Lee converted it in 1855 after arthritis restricted her mobility. Her father, George Washington Parke Custis used it as his painting studio. This is where he painted American Revolutionary War scenes, including the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey.

This room served as Mr. and Mrs. Custis chamber. Both Custises died here. Agnes and Annie Lee were reciting the Lord’s Prayer with their grandmother when she died on April 23, 1853. You can learn more about the family tree.

This is the family dining room.

According to family tradition, Lee proposed to Mary Custis in the family dining room. Lee often gathered roses, placing one at the plate of each woman present for breakfast. Family and guests shared meals here, using the dinnerware and silver featured in this exhibit. Original pieces include china, silver, and the twin serving tables.

Meet Mary Custis Lee. Since our visit fell on the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s resignation from the US Army, there were several people in costume throughout the property on the day of our visit.

I believe this is what is referred to as a winter kitchen, where slaves prepared meals for the family. The picture below is of the winter kitchen in the Arlington House.

We were so fortunate to visit when we did.

I’m not sure all of these costumed people would have been there otherwise.

The Arlington House is like a museum that showcases the house as it would have been during that time. There’s also a memorial housed in a separate building with letters, mementos, and other artifacts. There are audio recordings at various points to tell you more about General Lee and his family. It is an amazing exhibit and one of the highlights of our visit to Arlington Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery

This is the post that grandma has been waiting for. :-)

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It was really easy to get to Arlington Cemetery from our hotel and Getting Around in DC. We basically took the red line from Woodley Park to Metro Center and then transferred to the blue line from there, which drops us off directly at Arlington Cemetery. Easy peasy.

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The cemetery is open until 7 PM but we both made a mental note to return before peak so that we could take advantage of the lower fares. Sad, but true.

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Here are some of our favorite photos from Arlington Cemetery.

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The structure that you see in the distance is the Arlington House. I have a separate blog about that. For now, here’s a picture of the Kennedys’ gravesite.

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It’s one of the highlights of every tour of Arlington National Cemetery.

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This is the outdoor amphitheater next to the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers.

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The Tomb of Unknown Soldiers is guarded by a soldier 24 hours a day, through rain, sleet, or snow. There’s always someone there marching back and forth with incredible precision. We witnessed a “changing of the guard” ceremony while we were there so we got to watch at least a couple of soldiers march back and forth.

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The soldiers moved exactly the same way. The soldiers’ footsteps are so precise that their feet land on the exact markings where the heels of soldiers that have gone before them have worn down the ground.

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The well-timed clickity clack of their boots on the pavement reminded me of a metronome. Nothing phased the stoic soldiers as they each completed their shift. Their movements so precise and mechanical that they almost didn’t seem human. They looked like wind-up toy soldiers.

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Here are some pictures from the “changing of the guard” ceremony that we had the good fortune to witness while we were there.

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The inspector walks around the new soldier and checks him from head to toe.

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The inspector makes sure that nothing is out of place and fixes the soldier’s hat and everything using the same precise movements.

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We also got to watch a “wreath laying” ceremony while we were there. Brian got great video of it. I didn’t get to take any pictures, though.

Both of the ceremonies we witnessed were solemn events. There was a huge crowd around but as soon as each ceremony began everyone fell silent. I can try to describe it and show you guys pictures but it’s not the same. These are the types of ceremonies that you just have to watch for yourself because, beyond the beauty and artistry of it all, there’s so much emotion involved.

Arlington National Cemetery definitely tops my list of things to see and do while you’re in Washington DC. With the station just outside the gates, there is no excuse to miss it. Next up, I will share some pictures of the Arlington House. Come back soon.

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