The Magic of Menopause

Image result for Oil of Olay I don't intend to grow old

When I was about twelve I saw an Oil Of Olay commercial in which a devastatingly beautiful woman, probably in her thirties said,” I don’t intend to grow old gracefully, I intend to fight it every step of the way.” That, my friends, is my mantra. My mother in law has been trying to tell me I am getting older and need to accept my adult limitations since I became a mother in my twenties. I used to say phooey to that, though it’s gotten harder since I hit my fiftieth birthday.

I wore a two piece swimsuit into my forties (not a string bikini, I was never that much of an exhibitionist, even at sixteen), I love rock music and I love the sun. There lies the rub. I love to bake. I love to swim, bike, and float. I love to read outside. My forehead looks like some crazy speckled brown chicken egg with creases across it. That’s why I wear bangs. Sometimes I consider growing out my bangs, then I pull my hair back and take a good look at what the sun has done to my forehead and I know I am doomed to banged hairstyles until I just do not care anymore.

Last fall I had my hair braided at the renaissance festival. The large frizzy haired earth mother asked me if I wanted my bangs braided in or left down. “Down,” I tell her,” I am not ready to show the world my awful speckled wrinkled forehead!” She laughed and told me I would eventually get over it and not care.

I am pretty sure she is wrong.

Image may contain: Kimberly Bryant, smiling

I have been blessed with a nearly wrinkle free face. I turned fifty last year, and I still have no crow’s feet except when I smile, no lines around my mouth. Just the strategically hidden forehead. When I meet new people and they learn my age, they are usually surprised. I have very few gray hairs, they didn’t start showing up until I was forty eight.

I think it’s partly because I drink water and don’t smoke. But also because of Clarins and that very Oil of Olay that I saw advertised as a kid. When I was in my late twenties and between teaching jobs, I worked for the cosmetic company Clarins, and spent a week in training. Oh, I was excited! I had a red Clarins coat with brass buttons and slept in a hotel in Tulsa at the company’s expense, and I spent the days in classes learning all about skin care ingredients and regimens and self tanner. While I worked for the company I had access to all the products, and I got hooked on skin treatment twice a day: serums and multi-regenerante creams and even a bust lifting gel- all mine to use. I skipped the self tanner because I loved to lay out, and as my old youth minister said, I could get a tan just standing in the shower. When I went back to teaching and had to reduce spending, I switched to Oil of Olay. I remembered that commercial from the 1970s, and my Grandma June had used it, that seemed like a good recommendation to me; and I have applied it faithfully ever since, though I did move from the regular stuff to the anti-aging stuff ten years ago. Fortieth birthdays require such moves.

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My face and hair haven’t caught up yet. But my knees and back have. Oh, yes. I may look younger, but with four ruptured discs and two grinding knees, I walk like a 98 year old granny if I sit in one position for too long. Two nights ago I almost fell out of bed because I couldn’t make my joints bend fast enough to catch me when I stood up to go to the bathroom for what seemed like the fifty second time overnight. My hands hurt if I try to sew, my eyes require reading glasses, and to my horror I have started snoring if I try to sleep on my back. God, that is humiliating.

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But the worst is coming. It’s happening right now. The Change. That mythical transition from Mother to Crone. That evolution from fertile to dried up husk. That proverbial factory shut down. If mothering is magic, what is it when you lose the ability to become a mother? Is it still magic? I don’t really know just yet.

I don’t have hot flashes. Thank all the goddesses that ever lived in moons or trees or clouds or water. No hot flashes.

For me, it’s been about anxiety and insomnia. Oh, and gushing. And clotting. And cramping. And headaches. And desert dryness. And pudge.

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Right now, it feels like really dark magic. It feels like pain and loss. Do I want to have any more kids? No, not even a little bit. I am not even very excited about the prospect of being a grandparent. I am not that cliche’ mom asking my kids when they are going to make me a grandma. I will love on the babies of extended family or former students. That’s enough for me.

I am embarrassed that it’s even happening. But it’s nice that I don’t have to shave my legs as much. Though if there is even a musical about it playing in Las Vegas, aptly named “Menopause the Musical,” I guess I shouldn’t feel so lonely about it. Maybe it’s something to laugh about?

Here’s the thing: with age, you’re supposed to get wiser, right? More at peace. Calmer. Sophistication personified. I feel like a drooling monkey, squishy in all the wrong places, troubled by memory loss and inflexible joints (seriously, who thought PiYo would be a less stressful workout?)

I know that true beauty comes from the spirit within, and that “pretty is as pretty does.” I try really hard to be kind and positive (really, I cannot imagine any more damaging ager that negativity, except cigarettes. Those are brutal). However, I also think I would like to be one of those ladies who can rock heels and an age appropriate pencil skirt, whose skin is smooth and moisturized, and whose aura oozes confidence and magnetism.

Getting older sucks. Seriously. But…

Two of my favorite people in my entire life were my grandmothers. And they got older. They did. And I adored them anyway. And so did their husbands. And their children. And their grandchildren.

My grandmothers were awesome. Both were elegant and loving, and gifted in their own ways.

Maybe you have seen “The Age of Adeline,” a film in which the main character, Adeline, experiences a scientific miracle that halts her aging. She is forced to watch her own daughter age into an old woman, she can’t spend a life being married, she protects herself from all long term commitments and ties, lest someone discover her secret. Played by the stunningly beautiful Blake Lively, she looks perfect in every era of fashion, from 1920’s flapper to 1960’s hippy to today’s beaded column evening gown. You think you would make a pact with the devil to have that time, and that figure, for all time to come! But at the end (spoiler alert!) she does begin aging again, and that first grey hair, after 80 years of being ageless, is a miracle to her.

Aging is, unbelievably, a gift.

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So, here’s what’s coming, though not gift wrapped with a pretty satin bow: a wattle neck (dear jesus, I will need strength and humor to get over that), floppy arms, long boobies, and spotted hands. A cool gray pixie, a la Judi Dench. Continued efforts to stay fit, like the 85 year old lady in China who works out 90 minutes a day at home. Sewing for my eventual grandbabies (they are inevitable and I know I will love them when it happens). Gardening and developing a green thumb for my fairy garden. Time on my patio watching birds. And hopefully, with concerted effort, the grace of my grandmothers.

Changing the Tapes: Oct. 6, 2015*

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I had been doing really well on feeling more peaceful with my body. But today, I had a turn. We went to a party Saturday night, and I saw the photos today. I look big to myself, soft around the top of my halter dress.

What’s so frustrating is that I had felt pretty that night. Not Jennifer Aniston pretty, but me pretty. Hair up in curls, my usual understated makeup, pretty coral shoes. Bam- photos arrive in  my inbox and on Facebook.

So I have spent the afternoon trying to change my talk.

Here are my reminders for today:

No woman in either side of my family is willowy. None. We are all, both maternal and paternal lineage, athletic in build. Some are more fit than others, but none of us has that tall, thin, size 4 figure with long slender legs. I have got to understand my gene pool.

I exercise. I do. I don’t try to run anymore, the doctor told me I could stop that nonsense because it truly hurts my damaged knees. But I walk, I do cardio and yoga, I just laid almost an entire pallet of grass by myself. I do bicep curls with rocks and tricep dips on benches. I am as active as my poor joints will allow. I will always try to do more and do it better, but for this moment, with a show just behind me and a faire season three days away, I am doing my best.

I eat fairly well. Could I cut a few carbs? Yes. Could I reduce my wine intake? Probably. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t want to. I don’t have wine every night, but some nights (like last Saturday) I have too much. I know exactly how many donuts I have had this year (for the record, it’s four and a half, so I still get another one and a half in 2015). I rarely have big dessert, but I do allow myself a few shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers every once in a while. I eat salads, but yesterday I had a kids sized mushroom Swiss burger. Because here’s the thing: I honestly believe good food and drink are one of life’s pleasures. Like a beautiful cloud formation lit with a setting sun, or puppy breath, or baby toes, or hugs, or trees (or hugging trees for that matter, which I have in fact, done), food is good. It is part of what makes it wonderful to be human.

Not for me the diet shakes and rice cakes. Life is too precious. Does that mean I eat all of it, every time I want it, in unlimited portions? No. But I eat some. Occasionally.

See, I am going to do a thing that is very brave for me. I am going to publicly say what pants size I wear: a 10. Mostly- today, my pants were size 8. Eight years ago, I was wearing sizes 6-8 in everything, but when I injured my neck, that went to a size 8-10, and there I have stayed. It’s the largest I have been, ever, except when pregnant.

For some people, a size 10 would be their dream size. For others, they will never own pants this big. For me, this seems to be where my middle aged self has landed.

When I see myself in the mirror, I see a healthy looking mom, until I look at photos.

BUT, DAMMIT, I DON”T WANT TO NOT LOVE PHOTOS OF MY LIFE JUST BECAUSE I THINK I LOOK PLUMP! MY LIFE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY WONDERFUL.

The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!
The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!

So here is what I propose: All photos of myself will be looked at through a filter of love. I will be grateful for the experiences being photographed. I was having a blast with my darling husband and awesome friends Saturday night. I was laughing and dancing my fool head off. That must be my photo filter. Not Toaster or 1977 or Earlybird- just me being grateful for a body that is pretty healthy, that can climb around and lift stuff, that can hug my loved ones, that houses me in all my weird, neurotic glory.

Not one more minute of today will be wasted on worrying about my body shape. Only joy. And maybe a shortbread cookie for good measure.

*This is part of an ongoing series in my journey, today is the first time I am posting publicly. We’ll see how it goes!

Skeletor or Staypuft?

female nude

I find myself in a corner. A prison of my own construction.

I want to take a moment to talk about weight. I know this is not an original topic, nor will my message be a great revelation. But I am okay with that, because I think we just have to keep talking about this. We have to own what we have done to women in this country, and that takes constant, repetitive chipping away at the wall.

Yesterday, I went to the preview of a show my husband has been working on, a 1920’s murder mystery at the Prohibition Club in downtown Houston. Prohibition is the home of the Moonlight Dolls, a premiere burlesque troupe. Their photo is below. Look at them. They are all beautiful. And after weeks of rehearsing with them, my husband says they have body image issues, too. What the hell is wrong with us?

Dolls

I knew it was going to be a rough afternoon for me. About ten minutes into dinner, after watching a tiny twenty-something girl in a cute, wee outfit spin on a trapeze, then having four tiny twenty-somethings do the Charleston in g-strings and bandeau tops, I fled to the bathroom, where I sobbed on a toilet for pretty much the remainder of the show.

When I emerged from the stall, I found a large woman bent over the sink, eyes squeezed shut, breathing deeply. She, too, looked traumatized. She finally stood up, squared her shoulders, and went back to her table. I didn’t. I stood in the lobby and read a novel on my Kindle.

There’s a tape that plays in my head, almost constantly. It goes something like this:

“You shouldn’t eat that…suck in your stomach…look how thin that lady is…I bet she has more self control…I bet she is more lovable…how many minutes have I exercised this week so far?” You get the picture. I count calories on an app and worry if I forget to enter something.

When I was a kid, I remember two media moments that embedded themselves profoundly in my psyche. The first was the Special K ad campaign “Can You Pinch an Inch?” The commercials showed people playfully pinching their tummies,and if they had more than an inch of pudge, they needed to go on a diet. For a twelve year old girl approaching puberty, that dangerous message sank its claws deeply. I understood that my body must stay thin to be acceptable. The second media moment came when Cosmopolitan magazine declared that thighs must not touch, and featured an article in which perfectly lovely women who were at healthy weights were shown at a ten pound weight loss, and trumpeted for how much more beautiful they were after that weight loss.

Cosmo

I was not getting affirmation from my family when it came to weight or looks. When I tried to get my mother to tell me if I was pretty, I was told I was shallow and vain for wondering about my looks, when maybe a simple compliment for an insecure girl would have done a world of good. When I was about thirteen, I remember I hugged my maternal grandma and when I told her how much I loved hugging her, her reply was something like, “I’m fat.” when I protested, she told me that my grandfather would love her more if she could just lose twenty pounds. How’s that for a message about weight’s affect on your worth?

One time, though she didn’t think I could hear, my other grandmother, while looking at pictures I had just had made and was so proud of, commented that I looked like I had put on about ten pounds (I was fifteen and wore a size eight, which would now be a 4).

In drill team, we had to weigh in once weekly, and the officers were allowed to know our weights. I was always on the cusp of being sidelined, at 5’6″ and 128 pounds. In my freshman year of college, the coed p.e. instructor, a man, did a caliper test on all of us, in front of everyone, and declared me “obese” on my form. I weighed 135 pounds and wore a size 8.

A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!
A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!

You see, I was coming of age in the 1980’s, when Jane Fonda was everywhere and Karen Carpenter was the first celebrity to die of anorexia. Now there are scholarly articles on the prevalence of weight loss articles and images in the media in the ’80’s and what effect it was having on women’s body image. Health was out, thin was in.

(Fittingly, while proofing this post, I heard a commercial for Medifast “Be the best version of you!” on Pandora. It’s everywhere and all the time, I tell you.)

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I have never, ever been able to shake the worry about my weight. I worked as a fitness instructor through my twenties, and spent most of my thirties teaching beginning dance to eighth graders. Now, after one knee surgery, a severely sprained ankle, a possible rotator cuff injury, and a spinal surgery that removed two cervical discs and replaced them with a steel plate, I still work out as hard as my body will let me. I hurt, but I keep trying, because I want to be thin. I have ten pounds that I keep gaining and losing, but it’s always the same ten pounds. I will lose it, it will come back. Thankfully, though, it’s only the ten. I don’t lose ten then gain back twelve. I have been wearing the same size for five years now, an 8 or ten, depending on fit. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to buy a dress in a 12 recently. Stupid boobs. It’s too big around the waist, but I had to have the room at my chest!)

I tried my hardest to instill healthy messages to my two daughters about their own bodies. I knew how much I craved doses of reassurance when I was young. I fear my own insecurities rendered me a hypocrite, but I did try. Kate Winslet, an exquisitely beautiful and gifted actress, was recently cited on Huffington Post: “I was chubby, always had big feet, the wrong shoes, bad hair,” Winslet told Bear Grylls during an episode of his NBC show ‘Running Wild With Bear Grylls’ that aired Tuesday. “When I grew up, I never heard positive reinforcement about body image from any female in my life. I only heard negatives. That’s very damaging because then you’re programmed as a young woman to immediately scrutinize yourself and how you look…I stand in front of the mirror and say to Mia [her 14 year old daughter], ‘We are so lucky we have a shape. We’re so lucky we’re curvy. We’re so lucky that we’ve got good bums.’ And she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I know, thank God.’ It’s paying off.”

skeletor stay puft

There has to be a place between Skeletor and Stay-Puft for this woman in her 40’s (child of the 80’s pop culture reference!) If I get too thin, my face looks drawn and skeletal, if I am too heavy, I look puffy and unhealthy. I must find the balance. More importantly, I need to change the tapes that play in my brain. I need to stop looking at myself in the mirror and castigating myself. And though I haven’t carved the word “FAT” into my own thigh with a pair of scissors since 2009, I still recite it to myself in a million ways every day.  It’s time to move forward, to come out of hiding in the bathroom stall, to see myself for what is deeper than cellulite, and to be grateful for my healthy, strong body. Hell yeah, I can pinch an inch. What of it?

I found this wonderful blog by a sociologist who spent a year without mirrors. She researches how body image affects women, and spent a year living without a mirror. I intend to spend lots of time at her site!

http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/

Pass On The Salt, Please

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I loved Sunday School when I was a child. Felt boards with figures of Bible characters were how I remember learning the stories of the good book, watching the sweet grandmotherly women manipulate these flat figures as they narrated the tales of Old Testament and New. And the puppets! Big mouth puppets made of felt with fuzzy acrylic or yarn hair that led us in church songs like “Blue Skies and Rainbows” or “Roll the Gospel Chariot.” I loved Sunday School, I really did. There was a story that always puzzled me, though, and that was the story of Lot’s wife.

You may not know this one: God has decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of its evil, and one Godly man remains. Lot and his family have been warned to flee the impending disaster and NOT TO LOOK BACK AS THEY LEAVE.

But Lot’s wife does. And God turns her into a pillar of salt. A freaking pillar of salt! As a child, I just didn’t understand why God would choose such a harsh punishment for simply wanting one last glance back at one’s home. The twin cities were corrupt and toxic, yes, but they were also familiar. They were home. I don’t know that I understood this until recently.

Let me explain:

I recently left my twenty year teaching career. I hadn’t really planned to. I finished my Master’s degree in my field (Theatre), I thought I had turned the corner on what had been an extremely difficult transition with a new principal, I had started the preparations for the coming school year’s production schedule. We had even started making the costumes for the planned fall production: a steampunk version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Boom! On a Friday afternoon, upon arriving home from a week teaching drama camp, I learned that a position that I had been coveting for three years had magically become available: to be the School Days Coordinator for the Texas Renaissance Festival, the largest renaissance faire in the country, a faire I had worked at for fifteen years as an entertainer.

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I struggled with the decision for about ten days, then took a deep breath and resigned my teaching position. And ever since, I find myself looking back over my shoulder, wondering if I made the right choice, fretting that my replacement would not take good care of my program, at moments desperately missing those great core theatre kids, and sometimes wishing for the chance to direct something.

It’s crippling, really.

In moments of clarity, I remember that I felt like I was slowly suffocating from the workload.

I remember that for every wonderful kid who smiled and tried, there were four who spoke rudely or whose apathy was a line drawn in the ground of the battlefield that is the classroom.

I remember that my administration treated me like a child.

I remember that my voice was ragged, and my own creative endeavors outside of school nonexistent.

It was toxic. Maybe not always, and maybe not for everyone, but for me, my school and career had become a poisoned place.

I think the Divine One knows that to look back can hinder you until you carry that misery forward into the new life He has laid out in front of you. She knows it to the tune of salt. It is as though He refuses to allow you to carry that forward. It will keep those with you from travelling forward as they should. I don’t know why God chose such a drastic means of chastening Lot’s wife, but I am trying to remember that I do not want to become my own living salt statue, inert and crumbling, unable to connect with my husband, kids, or friends.

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I need to let go, and look forward to the blessings that await me on this new path:

Golf cart rides with my husband out on the verdant grounds of the renaissance festival, a renewed singing voice, time to write, respect from my boss, and work that is challenging on a large scale.

Walking away does not make me a loser. Setting down a burden that is smothering is not a failure. Life is not only struggle, it is release.

Note: I was searching through my drafts and found this one. This very week marks one year since I started my new job. My replacement took good, if disorganized, care of my students. I still miss teaching, but I am getting better at looking ahead and dreaming of what possibilities might lie ahead. 

I hate drinking water.

WaterWho doesn’t love Jennifer Aniston? She’s the perfect woman. Perfect hair, sun kissed skin, and blinding white teeth atop a gorgeous red-carpet-ready physique. She drinks Smart Water. I know this because she does their ads. She tells me that if I drink Smart Water, I will look (oops- I mean be healthy) like her.

As I get older, I am trying really hard to rehabilitate all the bad health habits from my youth. Awful sun damage from my baby-oil-lying-in-the-kiddie-pool-baking-in-the-sun teenaged afternoons, eating orange slice candy on road trips or during stressful tech weeks at work, and not drinking enough water are top on this list.

I now wear sunscreen and a hat if I am by the pool, though I have not mastered that skill in other settings. These days I keep fruit or chocolate free trail mix nearby for stressful situations at work. And I keep count of my water intake on an smartphone app.

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I start my day with orange juice, no sense in ruining it from the very outset. I feel about orange juice like some do about coffee. I need it. I need its pretty color and its sugar and its promise of sunshine. I cut my serving size down to 4-6 sad little ounces. Metabolism shifts suck.

When I get to work, the chore begins. I fill up my sippy cup. I manage one 12 oz glass, all the while wishing for Diet Dr. Pepper. And don’t talk to me about health and Diet DP. I have looked at it, I know its brown color is all chemical and not nutritious. I don’t smoke or overeat or gamble. A woman’s gotta have one vice.

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I drink water at lunch, unless we go out for Tex-Mex. Only Diet Coke with lime or frozen margaritas go with Tex-Mex. If we eat at home and Travis is fixing the drinks, when he asks what I want, I answer “water” in a voice akin to a four year old having to take cough syrup.

Back at work, I refill my cup, telling myself if I can just finish this glass, I can treat myself to the rest of my Diet DP.

Once home, what I really crave is a glass of Pinot Grigio, but instead I fill a glass with…water. Then I work out (PiYo manages to make me thirsty for actual water), or I head out for a wog. That’s what my husband and I call the ridiculous practice of walking with terribly plodding jogs mixed in. I look so pitiful doing those. The other day I took a little rest while running at a golf course (Texas heat at 5:00 p.m. is no joke). A nice lady offered to drive me back to my house on her golf cart. She said something like “I am a runner, too, and even I had a hard time with this run last week.” I wanted to laugh because she mistook me for a runner, but I was afraid to waste the oxygen. I have a water bottle in my hand when I wog, otherwise I would perish. Really, exercise is about the only thing that can get me excited about water. And as I roll through another set of PiYo push ups, which are a special sort of torture, or try to lift my foot far enough off the pavement to jog, my mantra is “You are stronger than you think you are, and there’s a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge.”

After I get my 48-64 ounces in, I get my wine, and it is like having heaven in a glass after months in the desert.

Then I pee all night. That’s the horrible injustice of this thing. I am doing what I am supposed to, drinking the water, but then I wake up every hour to go to the toilet (that’s what my newly Aussie daughter calls it). I am sleep deprived, but hydrated, so tired and frustrated! But still…I drink the water.

Here are my coping techniques for meeting the daily H2O quota:

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1. Drink water out of a sparkly cup. Bling helps everything. Except those thick soled black foam flip flops Texas women wear. I hate those things.

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2. Drink with a straw. It’s easier to suck down the tasteless liquid that way. I can get 4 ounces down in one slurp, it would take me ten times as long to get that much down if I sipped it. Bonus points if the straw is twisty. Remember how fun it was to drink out of a Crazy Straw when you were a kid?

2. Spike it with stuff. No, not fruit infusions, though those can certainly take the edge off the blandness. No, I am thinking cranberry juice and VODKA.

Water 4

3. Promise yourself a treat when you hit your goal. As you can tell from reading above, Diet Dr. Pepper (during work) and vino are my treats of choice. You might like chocolate or a ten minute Netflix break to watch Magic Mike (though watching Magic Mike will get you all hot and bothered, then you’ll be thirsty, and you’ll have to drink more…wait for it…water).

4. Drop a Jolly Rancher into the bottom of the cup. It’ll flavor your water and you can eat it when you finish! Candy FTW!

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5. Freeze it, grind it, and squirt sugary colored juice on it. That’s a snow cone. Completely legit method of hydration delivery. Especially if doused with, you guessed it, VODKA.

Whoa! Just as I hit that last period, I finished my afternoon sippy cup! Time to go get the rest of my soda out of the fridge! Take this last word from me- it’s summer, so drink lots of whatever you love, preferably by a pool or lake with someone you love sitting nearby. Cheers!

By the way, if you’re interested in actual helpful ways to get more water, give this a look:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/easy-ways-eat-more-water?sf39184943=1

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