2020 – The Year of Presence

If you read any other reflections from 2020, you’ll likely hear themes ranging from, “2020: What in the actual fuck?” to “2020: When will it end?”. They are comical in their sad truth, but being the eternal optimist that I am, I can’t help but look at the bright side of everything. After all, just because we can’t see the light during our darkest times, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. 

As I reread my 2019 reflection, I’m really present to all that has and hasn’t changed, and what was created with new space to grow. Some people say 2020 was a total shit show, but I think the chaos that occurred is what we humans really needed on so many levels. Environmentally, emotionally, spiritually. For me, the most prevalent theme was presence. Not just letting what I didn’t know was going to happen – just happen – but really BEING with it. 

Overcoming singing in front of people has been a long journey I’m slowly getting better at. Somehow my friend Jordan managed to convince me do this for his project Tiny Boat Sessions.

The first couple months of the year started with so much momentum. Having come back from our furlough at The Center for Wooden Boats (CWB), everyone was excited to get to work and we had a lot of work to make up for with being closed trying to plan for the year. It felt like running a marathon without a finish line and smashing my face into the wall at the same time, but in a way that I knew would be worth it. We worked hard to get ourselves set up for 2020 events and development, we were on a great path!

Then came a pandemic. COVID-19 – Coronavirus. An infectious disease that was spreading at rapid rates without a cure. While we had heard about it towards the end of 2019, it slowly seeped its way into the news, and arrived to the US at the end of January, the first case in Washington reported at the end of February. Not much was known about the disease then (at least what my lazy research came up with), we thought it mostly only affected the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. In all honesty, at the beginning of March I thought it was just a disease that was being over dramatized and the spreading of fear was caused by the media sensationalizing it. I was over how the media can create such hysteria in people. Watching the news is like asking for an anxiety attack. The wild reporting, vague descriptions of symptoms, and unclear answers made it hard to understand the impact of what was happening until it was too late. At the time of writing this there has been over 81 million cases reported around the world and the US alone has over 19 million. It’s astonishingly sad.

We (CWB) were once again furloughed as Washington started to abruptly shut down, eventually the governor announced an official “stay-at-home” order at the end of March to help “flatten the curve” (aka reduce the spread of COVID-19 and number of positive cases). Without regular testing options, long incubation periods and asymptomatic people, it was impossible to know who had it and when. Regular free testing came available later that spring with a nasal swab test (AKA what felt more like alien probing for brain scraping). 

We all know the profound and dramatic impacts COVID-19 has had on all our lives. How scary it was/is, continues to impact us here in the US, while some countries have returned to normal (another reason I should move to New Zealand). Everyone experienced 2020 in different ways and yet the same way and while I don’t want to belittle the massive and serious impacts of COVID-19, when I think of 2020, I want to focus on what came to life this year for me, in addition to acknowledging all that has been lost. These are the elements that allowed me to not just survive, but thrive. If anything, 2020 has all caused us to change the very definitions of words we’ve known our whole lives. Because as we all know, the only constant in life is change.

COMMUNITY: We are not just better together, we are stronger

It’s ironic that during a time where we physically can’t be with each other, we somehow feel stronger. This year, I have seen communities come together in a way that inspires me to believe with confidence, that there is still good in the world. Many nonprofits, small businesses, and artists were places that already had limited margins for handling a crisis like this, and it made my heart swell to see people come together to support the places they love. CWB was a lucky entity that with the combination of having the dedicated staff and resources, we were one of the few places that were able to reopen at a limited level early after the shutdown. After moving our auction to a fully virtual format in 3 weeks with only 1 full time employee, we hoped to raise $75,000 and instead brought in just under $129,00 and I cried with so much gratitude to see the magic of CWB happening before my eyes. In a place where things hardly ever go as planned, the fact that we took something on none of us had ever done before with limited resources and time, to see it succeed in such a great way really made me feel like the work I was doing was worthwhile. Unexplainable and undeniable magic of our community.

The bloopers of our virtual campaign still brings a smile to my face as we all tried to figure out what was happening. I had fun brushing off the cobwebs of my college video production memory trying to make this all happen (socially distant!) in addition to the fundraising.

Working at CWB has had it’s challenges this year, but I feel grateful that I think we’ve been blessed with more opportunities than most places. The fact that we have the docks and the water, allowed us to operate on a marginal level to keep getting people out on the water. Sailing is a naturally social distant activity and Nora was able to run an incredible season of youth programs getting over 600 kids out on the water this year. AMAZING. We shifted towards making events virtual and paying tribute to the unfortunate lives that we lost this year. For me, the most significant was the loss of Colleen Wagner, our cofounder, whom I felt was just starting to get to know. She passed in January of this year, but I was so grateful to have received one of her handmade cards, and to be able to work with her over last year. She really was such a spirited soul, I can only imagine what she had been like “back in the day”. I am grateful we were able to organize an event to honor her life and contributions in the best way we could given the circumstances.

The sailpast memorial was so overwhelming for me. There was a profound moment during the sailpast: watching the boats whistle or ring bells signifying her end of watch. My heart swelled. It felt like saying goodbye to a generation that can’t ever be repeated or replaced. I teared up with deep gratitude for everyone who was present, for the Wagners, especially Colleen, who’s tenacity and creativity really brought CWB to life, and she lived to follow your dreams. The countless lives that have been changed through CWB is insurmountable and all because Dick and Colleen wanted to share the joy of being out on the water with everyone. If we could all just take a fraction of that selfless passion and apply it to our own lives and community, I think the world could be a much better place.We don’t need to be perfect. May we all find our true callings and be lucky enough to share it with the world. Share your joy.

Another bright side this has been getting to know the Wagner children, David and Mike. Working with them on sorting CWB assets and for our new podcast, has been such a honor and treat. Mike made me the most lovely sailboat pin from an agate (he said it was his first one!) and a sweet note on some scratch paper from The Old Boathouse. I am such a sentimental sap, it may seem like scrap paper to most, but the hand written letterhead by Dick makes this a treasure to me.

Our new podcast, Down at the Boathouse, is hosted by Josh and I but my hope is that eventually the volunteers and significant members of our community will help host and share the stories of wooden boats!

 

I am most excited about our most recent episode, Small Boats – Big Adventure, which I did with my friend Nate. Nate talks about his unique experience with rowing from different facets of his life. He’s a great person and a great storyteller! I am so excited for the rest of the episodes we have lined up.

Photo by Sanderling Photography

I also discovered my new favorite place in Seattle: Beacon Food Forest. It is an AMAZING community permaculture food garden. I have not found a space that filled my heart up that much since the day I found CWB. I had ventured to creating a food/flower mandala this year, but didn’t make it happen…but perhaps I can make it happen in 2021. I could go on forever about this place, but what would probably be best is if we just went for a walk and visited it!

It breaks my heart thinking of all the small businesses and restaurants that have had to close or are struggling just to make it during this longer than foreseen time of living in a pandemic. People that were once my restaurant family struggling to adapt to sudden mandates that make it nearly impossible to operate, those that are able to stay open are building structures for an entirely new business model if they can swing it. All the places that make living in this city bright and vibrant, forced to close their doors, making the city feeling even more lifeless than it already does with people shuttered in their homes. The Keep Music Live campaign gives me hope that one day we can all just get sweaty and meet on the dance floor one day.

Who knew I would only get to see 5 live shows this year. My last live show was Polecat at The Nectar on March 6. It was their farewell tour weekend, and who knew that was also basically the farewell for us to live music in general in Washington. It’s been an amazing 10 years getting to see them perform and get to know the crew. One of the bands I’ve probably seen in the most varying venues…from The Tractor Tavern, The Crocodile, The Nectar Lounge, Jungible Festival, 4 Peaks Music Festival, The High Dive, The Wild Buffalo, Summer Meltdown, and Riverfest…I’ve had so much fun with them. 

Music, god I miss live music. Watching your favorite people via livestream only goes so far and you mostly just want to do it to support the artists, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the experience of being at a live show. One day though…we’ll be together soon…

Go outside. Leave space for grace. 

I’ve always known the mountains are my temple and the water is my home, but prioritizing that kind of self-care was not only essential for this year, it was a privilege. The pandemic honestly couldn’t have hit us at a better time here in Washington. With outdoor recreation being one of the limited activities we are able to do, the time of year was just right. I spent many afternoons and mornings on long walks through the neighborhood, admiring flowers, and weekends camping in the mountains. I am so grateful to call PNW my home, and be able to enjoy all the beauty it has to offer. The trails seemed extra crowded this year so it made it a great challenge to seek new places or go midweek to avoid the crowds.

As far as accomplishments, I went on my first solo backpacking trip! I chose Marmot Pass, as it holds such a special place in my heart. It’s where I first met Kevin and Jamie, and our forever friendship was born 10 years ago. I also chose it because I didn’t want the extra challenge of navigating a new trail. It kept the focus on being sure I was prepared with all that I needed and working on getting myself up the mountain. I spent an amazing 3 days watching marmots, hooping, reading, and sweating. Despite being in less than desirable shape that I was, I took my time, gave myself a little grace, and did it! 

       

The summer was filled with new hikes, camps, and all the quality time I could ever want with my favorite people. I really could not have asked for more. I even went for my first night hike, which might have been the best first date ever. Hitting the trail at 1am, falling asleep on a bed of moss in a field of wildflowers as the sun started to rise…accentuating the simple beauty nature has to offer. Hiking back down before 10am while being serenaded on the trail. Yes please. Alas, magical life moments don’t always equate to compatibility, but I appreciate experiencing it all just the same.

One of the things I have come to appreciate with all of this quarantine time is the time and space for A LOT of reflection. At the beginning my hope for humanity was for everyone to take a closer look at what really matters to them. Share gratitude and focus on what they have. I think Mother Earth has been sending us cries for help for years, and my hope was for people to listen. To begin to think about living in new ways, new possibilities, and to truly think about our impact in the world. There are ways for all of us, big or small to take actions to reverse climate change. The earth is such a gift, and we must take care of her. This has been a terrible way for us to be forced to learn how, but there is no denying that it has been good to the earth and being a catalyst to wake us up.

Black Lives Matter

Speaking of waking up…wow what a year for social justice and racial equity. While there have been too many names that have come before…the names that were given the attention that was needed this year: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery

In the space of staying at home, being connected to our peers and society through the internet/phones, Black Lives Matter showed up seemingly unexpectedly, like the gunfire that has taken innocent lives, it shot through us all and it couldn’t be ignored. But this issue has been on simmer for far too long and was now boiling over our newsfeeds. Standing by saying you’re not a racist was no longer a responsible option. We came to recognize where we each play a role in perpetuating systemic racism, and how we can all take responsibility to not just be supporters, but allies in the fight for equality.

The morning after riots broke out at protests in downtown Seattle, I headed down to help clean up. Most of the damage had been cleaned up or was being wrapped up by the time I arrived but I continued to walk through downtown witnessing the aftermath, the lingering tensions that remained. It was eerily quiet. The pandemic has quieted the streets downtown with less people and less traffic. I found myself in the International district, grateful to see community come together and help each other, but also witnessed the searing anger that people were expressing with one another. It broke my heart.

As someone who has never been a part of a protest, I felt this kind of shame for not being there. While I know there are many ways to take action, not just showing up at the protests, I still felt the need to show up. I am willing and able and believe in human rights. However there were so many demonstrations happening all around the city and I wanted to a part of one that was actually organized by the Black Lives Matter group. On June 12, I went to my first silent protest with Black Lives Matter – King County. Thousands of us walked for about 2 miles, in which I spent the time reflecting on the lives lost and what I could do about it. This photo was the only one I took after making a steep assent and taking a moment to see all of those behind us. The girl in the lower right corner is everything.

In my own little bubble, my privilege as an Asian American is nothing like what black people have had to deal with their whole lives and for generations before them. I’ve started recognizing the microaggressions I’ve experienced, and even participated in myself. And nothing can be explained or simplified enough for this post, but I am grateful for the opportunities to take actions in my own life to be a part of this fight. Being on the right platform to have meaningful conversations feels like half the battle. 

This year I started a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at CWB. While CWB has always been a place that welcomed all and always did well with getting underrepresented communities on the water, it seemed to be something that was sometimes overlooked or forgotten with the loss of staff turnover. My hope with the committee is to be more proactive with our outreach, and to always have inclusion strategy be a part of all our programming, not just limited to specific programming. It is a slow process to bring these strategies to life, but I’m grateful to be in a position to help make this happen. The conversation of diversity in sailing has long been a topic often overlooked in a community that has traditionally consisted of white men. One of the things I’ve learned is that there have always been women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in sailing, but their stories were just not often as heard or celebrated. My hope is to be able to bring those stories to life and share them as much as I can. It is a long journey, but I’ll try my best while I can.

You create your own magic

It was a strange year for racing and boating in general, but I am beyond grateful to have the opportunities and access to boats at CWB for my own mental health. The day after we were all furloughed, a group of us took a bunch of El Toros out and it was a beautiful breezy day on a surprisingly empty lake. It was these moments I wanted to savor the magic. I did however, FINALLY manage to make an official El Toro group on facebook (Seattle Bull Sessions) so that I can eventually create an official El Toro Chapter in Seattle. The International El Toro Association hasn’t replied to my messages…but at least it’s a start and we only have 19 members so far, but hey that’s more than the el toros we have available which means many of them are private owners!

 

The annual birthday el toro bonanza took place, despite Duck Dodge not happening. It was a BREEZY night and we went out anyway and I practiced my jello shot throwing skills (not as good as beer grabbing skills apparently). I also learned bodysuits are not great for when you do a crappy gybe and take water on over the rails and you’re basically sitting in a pool of water the rest of the time. You are basically creating a bowl shaped slip and slide.

In addition to the El Toro Regatta we were able to put on in lieu of festival, we organized a Halloween Mario Kart theme El Toro Sail! It was AWESOME. LOTS of wind that day too. And zipping around (or sailing backwards…) with a speaker blasting mario kart music, I could not wipe the smile off my face and joy that filled my heart. SO MUCH FUN.

I finally got to go for my first overnight cruise in the San Juans! In all the years I’ve been sailing, I’ve only been for day trips or gone through the San Juans to get to Canada. Anchoring in a bay, chasing sunsets in a rowboat and adventuring to tiny rock islands, watching the sunset while making dinner, playing with bioluminescence, falling asleep watching the stars through an open hatch cozied up in a sleeping bag, waking up to the sunrise and popping my head out like a meerkat to colors reflecting off the glassy water….it was everything I dreamed of and more.

The next day was filled with some of the most exciting sailing I’ve done at the helm of a boat. The photo above is probably the happiest I felt all year. Tiller in hand, rail in  the water, the guys reefing the main, and Christmas music blasting from below. THIS IS SUMMER. Couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

We finished The Kitten! My first boat project, first woodworking classes, and can’t believe we finished it project! Because of COVID-19, we couldn’t have volunteers in the shop to finish the boat, so we got her trailer ready and Ben finished her up at his shop. I went up one weekend to help Ben fit the combings on the boat, which was the tedious but I also love working on stuff like that.

When Ben brought her back for the christening, she was BEAUTIFUL. Incredible beautiful boat! We kept the christening ceremony small for the donor who bid on the naming rights for the boat. We named her Lucile, after his late wife and livestreamed it for family and friends around the country and we even had people from Europe join us! It was such a sweet event, and to see Gary and Scott, who we haven’t seen for months, it took everything in me not to run up and squeeze them. I missed them so much! They’ve been well into quarantine but it really made my heart swell to be able to have them join us on the docks as we toasted to Lucile.

Turns out it was also time for me to sell Trouble. It wasn’t so much a hard decision but a sad one. After figuring out she wasn’t a Mini 12, it was hard to justify keeping her. Without a fleet to race with and homes for her falling through, and the fact that I decided I need to buy a car…it was time to sell her. I was sad to see her go, but mostly disappointed we didn’t get to do the things I wanted to do with her. But I know she’ll get more splash time with her new owner. In the meantime…I have a car for the first time in 5 years!

Invest in memories, not things (but in this case, it’s both)

After paying off my credit cards (a financial goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year) I decided it was time to grow up and get a car. At first i was just going to get a cheap used car, but in the end, I figured I should just get something that made more sense for what I actually needed a car for. Making some sacrifices here and there, and this yuppie got a subaru just like every other pacific northwest person. And then Brandon was the one that came up with the genius name for Lambo. Based on this ridiculously hilarious song (just listen to it). Lambo helped me create memories and soul surf through a year of living that quarantine life.

Adventures and memories don’t require a passport

Since flying was out of the question this year, traveling looked a lot different for me. It’s crazy to think that last year I went to 10 countries and this year…I stayed in the U.S. I decided to take Lambo on a road trip, joining Jamie and Kevin for the first 10 days on the road of their first van trip with Irie down to Utah. 

If you know me at all, I am the worst road trip partner. I usually fall asleep almost instantly, so this was a great way for me to change that story. I made it all the way from Seattle, Washington to Alberton, Montana in a day (450 miles).

For the next weekish, we watched the stars, woke up to sunrises, and I enjoyed all the amazing places to enjoy the view from the trunk of Lambo. We woke up for sunrise hikes to hot springs and found so many beautiful places to call home for the night. So much good quality time with this chosen family of mine, and time we will never get back. filling our hearts with memories and love. I am so so so so grateful to have had the opportunity and resources to make this happen. 

Hanging out in Lambo with Irie

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Don’t worry, be Irie

The birth of Irie could not have come at a better time. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I may not have been able to spend as much time with Irie. All those simple dinner nights, swing by after work or yoga, I probably would have been doing a million other things like I normally do.

I don’t know how else to say how eternally grateful I am for the abundance of quality time I’ve been able to spend with her and Kevin and Jamie this year. With COVID-19, Kevin and Jamie were very careful with who could be in their circle, which for a while, wasn’t anyone except for them, not even the grandparents. Irie was born the second week of shutdown. Trying to support your best friends with a new baby was challenging for me to navigate too, from the stance that I didn’t feel like anything I could do was enough. I wanted to be helpful, supportive, but I also wanted to give them the space they needed to be new parents. Having never really had anyone close to me have a baby (besides Marcela but we haven’t lived in the same city in years), I didn’t know what to do, and it almost felt like I was getting a fraction of what it felt like to navigate the unknown as a parent. It was an unknown of how to be a best friend/an aunt/a godmother!

Taking photos of Jamie with Irie for the first time filled my heart with an indescribable amount of love/awe/joy. Never has Jamie ever looked more beautiful and in her element. We all know Jamie would be the best mom, but watching her the last few months, I can’t imagine a better mom for Irie. She thinks I’m joking, when I say if I ever have kids I am just going to tell them that she is their mom, but I’m pretty sure I’m about 90% sure that would be their best chance at life. 🙂

When I held Irie for the first time, it felt like holding the purest physical form of love in my arms. We’ve shared so many moments together the last 9 months, I know she won’t remember them, but they mean everything to me. To witness a human grow is a precious gift. Being chosen is precious. And Irie didn’t really get to choose me, but I’m definitely choosing her. Holding her was precious in the beginning, now watching her grow and learn is the kind of precious you can’t find anywhere else. And we have had SO MUCH FUN together. From her open mouth nose kisses to bonking heads for eskimo kisses, these are the precious moments I am so grateful to have this year. My beautiful, joyful Lil’ Dumplin’.

First Time Holding Irie

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Take It Slow: growing is a long term project

I have never been someone who likes to take things slow. I’m an all in kind of person. But the last few years I’ve been learning to be patient, and building that characteristic into my own. From yoga to meditation, to detailed crafting and growing plants from seed, this year was all about expressing creativity, going with the flow, and letting whatever happens happen. This kind of mantra proved to be very helpful in many facets of my life.

   

I long for the days of farming in Italy still, but I’ve managed to find ways to keep nurturing my green thumb. Where I live doesn’t get long sun rays since we’re shadowed by beautiful tall older cedars, but working from home this spring allowed me to move my little seedlings around to the best sun spots throughout the day. It was one of the ways I learned how to break up my days working from home. I managed to make my own little outdoor living room/office where i could stand and work outside.

While everyone was working on their best sourdough baking during quarantine, I started honing in on vegan ice cream! Inspired by a new friend Will who is gluten free and dairy free, I just started experimenting with many different bases. I even created a flavor using Tres Hombres rum and dark chocolate and garden fresh raspberries!

While I’ve yet to perfect one that is entirely dairy free, so far I’ve discovered the ones that are completely DF are best fresh/day of, because the texture freezes up too much overnight. And immersion blenders are key for get those cashews to be rich and creamy.

I took on painting my first two murals this year! I had never considered myself an artist, but when David and Robin requested a mural for their guest room, I was excited and honored. I had no idea what I was going to paint until I got there…using paints they already had in “the shop”. But in the end, it all came together and I am pretty happy with it!

 

Then it turns out, my neighbor requested a mural for the back of his boat shed facing our property, and instead of the clip art boat shadow he showed me he had in mind, I decided to create a silhouette of Tres Hombres with a rising harvest moon. 

No shortage of any excuse for me to have fun and be sparkly! Despite not being able to go to festivals, I still crafted like I was going to one. And for my birthday this year, we celebrated with a camping trip and I brought all the festie funsies to enjoy. I made a a light up flower parasol at the beginning of quarantine and when someone was giving away a multitier box of sequins, I decided to make a flower sequin disco ball to light up every room including the back patio. The flower parasol was a great conversation starter that I enjoyed taking on my neighborhood walks. As an extrovert, not socializing has been an interesting new place to navigate. In a city that already feels isolating with the lack of friendliness, the additional layer of social distancing made it extra challenging!

  

Turns out I had enough hooping clips this year to create a simple video, so I put one together. While nowhere near as incredible as Jamie’s hooping videos, I thought it was still fun to look back at all the beautiful places I managed to find to hoop and to how to make staying at home and hooping more fun. Hint: Always wear the sequins, eat ice cream, and dance!

Let’s connect

While I’ve always considered myself a people person, the need for connection has never felt more important this year for me. This year I learned of too many deaths of friends or friends of friends or family members that died not from COVID-19, but by choice. A human life that would feel so alone, unfulfilled, or just too dark and heavy, is one too many to lose in this world. If we have not spoken in years or our interactions have been brief, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to me. I’m trying my best to continue to reach out and make connections with people, but just because I haven’t gotten to you yet, doesn’t mean you are any less important. I want to hear from you! Comment below, I’ll send you something special I’ve been working on this year!

The end of 2020 is not the end of life’s challenges, but we can do hard things

My request if you’ve made it this far into this annual word vomit of a post, is to take a few of this year’s reflections (AKA unsolicited advice) if they serve you and your community. Some I’ve shared before, some I’m just sharing now. If it serves you, take it, if it doesn’t leave it.

  • Celebrate gratitude. When we realize how much we already have, how lucky we are to be living, you can shift everyone and everything in your life. 
  • There is hope for the future, it starts with you now.
  • You are the magic that makes your life extraordinary.
  • You are allowed to change. Pour yourself some grace. 
  • Your time is a nonrenewable source of power. Spend it wisely. 
  • Your to-do list should always include self-care. Invest in yourself and you invest in your love and ability to support yourself and your community. Also: rip up that to-do list every once in a while.
  • Do what brings you joy. Share it.
  • If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
  • Don’t give into the anxiety monster. Ain’t nobody have time to worry about that shit.
  • No you’re not doing it…YET.
  • Have courage and be kind.

2021 Goals

I usually make a list of things I’d like to accomplish, and if there is anything 2020 has shown me, it is to not get attached to those goals…or at least make room for your goals to change. And instead of trying to achieve something, I’ve asked myself what do I want to see myself doing this time next year?

It seems silly and frivolous, but at the moment, I want to see myself rocking out on my roller skates and my hoop in a wicked homemade burlesque costume this time next year. Also, I’m making a damn wooden hula hoop.

Everything else is just going to be a bonus. I am leaving space for more magic in my life. The space of the unknown.

2021 Mantra

This year, my words were Light, Balance, and Presence. I could hardly remember all three everytime I tried, so let’s just stick with two.

Next year, my words are Resilience and Release.

From my heart to yours, the light in me sees and acknowledges the light in you. I hear you. I feel you. I am here for you. We’re all in this together.

Love, Sandy Flower

When all else fails, dance it out! This month my passion project was to spend at least 15 minutes a day dancing. I highly recommend it for an instant mood booster on these dark winter days! Use my confidence boosting playlist, “You Can Do It All” and rock out, or sweat it out with Dance Church!

 

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