Sunday, July 1, 2018

I LOVE Gymnastics, but...

I don't know if I should classify this as a question thrown out to the world to answer, a rant, or a call to action. I am generally not the type of person to speak out. Sure, I share my experiences, I try to advocate for others when I can, but I'm not one to get up on a soap box or hit the streets with signs and chants to demand change.

I've become more confused and irritated by something lately, though, and it A) boggles my mind that more people aren't concerned about it B) makes me wonder if I'm just missing something that everyone else understands and C) has gotten to the point where I am compelled to speak out.

My issue? Gymnastics dress code. I have been sitting, for hours at a time, through nearly a decade of gymnastics practices [so far]. Something that has remained consistent over all those years is that when the girls (of all ages) practice, they - almost without exception - all wear shorts over their leotards. There isn't much to the shorts; they barely reach the classification of "Daisy Dukes". Still...the girls just feel more comfortable with them on. It makes sense. Who wants to be doing splits in a glorified bathing suit, especially once you hit an age when you start seeing some changes in your body that you're not quite used to or comfortable with yet?





When you compete in meets, though, the shorts aren't allowed. They don't care if, say, you've just started your period and you don't feel comfortable using a tampon. You're left with the choice of either using a pad and hoping nothing shows [which would be beyond mortifying, of course] or just calling in sick for the meet. I'd call in sick every time, personally.



WHY???

Men's and women's gymnastics are really two very different sports (there are 4 events for women, 6 for men, and only two of the 4 women's events are common between the genders). That being said, men and women gymnasts, alike, are generally judged on the same (or very similar) attributes - athleticism and form. So...if judges can watch a man do a floor exercise in shorts and determine how straight his legs are, his body alignment, etc. with no issues, why can't a woman wear shorts, too? Clearly it's not an issue of the shorts hiding some critical aspect of form when the woman performs a skill. If that were the case, coaches wouldn't allow shorts during practice, as they would hinder their ability to properly coach.




After all the press gymnastics got recently about sexual abuse, I thought maybe...just maybe a silver lining would be that the general "sexualization" of the sport (not necessarily intended these days, but left over from years of tradition) would be scrutinized. I listened carefully to the news reports and read through the articles with a hopeful eye. Nope...nothing. No mention of dress code. No question as to why the female athletes must wear less than the male athletes.


I went to my daughter's coach and voiced my irritation with the policy. I know of at least one family that quit gymnastics because the mom didn't feel comfortable with the competition dress code. I've often wondered how many girls quit - not because they're "done" with the sport - but because they don't feel comfortable competing with so little covering them.

My hopes soared when she responded, "They're actually working on adjusting the dress code right now."

"Really?!" I asked, lighting up with a gasp of excited near-disbelief and wide, hopeful eyes. Could my silver lining theory have possibly been right?!


"Yeah," she said, "They're trying to come up with a full-body suit option with a head covering that would allow for religious inclusion."

My shoulders slumped. My gasp turned into a frustrated sigh. Great. Apparently girls are allowed to compete with their entire bodies covered if their religion demands it. Slightly more modest attire for the comfort level of the gymnast? No. Not important enough to change the decades-old dress code. It's bathing suit or full body suit - nothing in-between. ...Regardless of what their male gymnast counterparts are allowed to wear.

52 comments:

  1. At least as a dancer we could wear tights under our leos but I always felt the same way. Another reason why E will never becoming a competitive gymnast.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, Kim, and for sharing your thoughts! :) ~Stephanie

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  2. Stephanie, I confess that I had never given this topic much thought until reading your post . . . and I now have to acknowledge that you have made a very strong point. For some reason, the males are able to even wear fitted bike shorts under their shorts (as in your pic of the guy in the blue and white outfit), or even full length stretchable trousers. Yes, the females do look a delight to the eye but the sport is not about "eye candy", rather the ability of the gymnast. Given all the controversy of late, one wonders why internationally this is still not a topic of discussion and action. Sadly, it is effectively covert sexism on a grand scale.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, Joy, and for sharing your thoughts! I'm getting a number of responses (both written and verbal) that begin similarly to yours, "Huh...I hadn't really thought about that before, but you know...you're RIGHT!" Hopefully enough people will stop, think about it, agree with us, and force the Powers That Be of the gymnastics world to re-think the dress code. Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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  3. RESPONSE ON FACEBOOK FROM MAUREEN: What a crap double standard. You are so right about why this is wrong on every level. I didn't even consider this previously. Keep fighting, even talking about it is a good start.

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  4. RESPONSE ON FACEBOOK FROM ARSHAD: Sad to hear this happening. Fight it...

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  5. I’ve never thought of this before, but yes, you are right! And is it true they don’t wear tights either? If so, I would hate that. Poor kids! It would be good if that could change. Rant on! Hopefully you’ll get some support!

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, Val, and for taking the time to comment. You are correct. No tights! You can have underwear and a bra, but they had BETTER not show (or points off)! Thank you for support; I'm hoping someone within the gymnastics "Powers That Be" will hear (and, better yet, maybe even respond). We'll see! Thanks again, take care and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

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  6. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM JOY: I love watching gymnasts perform but felt uncomfortable about their outfits. Not being a gymnast, always thought it was due to performance. Should have realised. Great post! Change needs to happen.

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  7. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM CPSHEPPARD: I read your article. I always liked the one piece look. There is a lot of gluteus maximus showing these days.

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  8. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM SARAH: YES! So so true! As a kid, I never competed, largely because I didn't feel comfortable only wearing a leotard. I loved the sport, the feeling of flying, that sense of accomplishment when you landed a new skill for the first time. But not the leotards.

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  9. Gymnastics and cheerleading. I always thought if an adult wanted to dance and dress like a stripper it was her choice. But having minors do it is beyond uncomfortable.

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    1. Thank you so much, Peggy, for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I'm hopeful that the people in power for US Gymnastics will take notice and make changes. Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

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  10. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM R. LEE CLARK: Thank you, Stephanie. If gymnastics were safe and easy it would be called football.

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  11. My daughter wears shorts over her leo because all the big kids do. She doesn't have a strong opinion about her body yet (she's 9). I also have a 12 year old, who is not a gymnast, and I couldn't imagine her feeling comfortable in a leo for the very reasons you addressed -- she's not comfortable in her changing body yet, so how could she be comfortable in only spandex covering it?

    Great article and *maybe* by the time my 9 year old hits puberty there will be another acceptable competition wardrobe!

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I wholeheartedly agree with your hope for change! Take care and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

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  12. I had not given this subject any thought at all until I read this blog. We watch gymnastics all the time and it is always a favorite Olympic sport to watch on TV. Now, I do strongly believe it is time for a dress code change and perhaps this would boost confidence, performance and self respect.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for weighing in on the matter. I'm hoping that if enough voices speak up together, that someone "in the know" will make the appropriate policy changes. Thanks again, take care, and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

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  13. Great article, although I must confess I disagree to some extent.
    The problem with attempting to adjust the dress code of girls in gymnastics is illustrated in the last point – a desire to cover women due to religious reasons. Unfortunately the optics associated with demanding women and girls cover their body play into this ugly trope that women’s sexuality is something that is done TO them, rather than something they do. It’s like certain adult commentators who see girls in crop tops and exult that “girls are too sexualised these days”. Perhaps stop to think that it is YOU (the adult) who is sexualising them, rather than it being something forced upon them. What women wear is not a spectator sport for other women or men. A large part of feminism was (and is) an attempt to emancipate women from being judged by their appearance.
    Also, men and women have every right to dress differently.
    To call for more conservative or gender-neutral clothing in gymnastics reminds me of the recent banning of Formula 1 grid girls. The concern was that they were there purely for the lascivious eyes of onlookers, completely negating the agency and choice of women who should be allowed to work as whatever they want (so long as they are not exploited). Some of my friends, who are healthy happy women with careers, lost jobs out of this. There is a kind of envious snobbery around the issue – where certain women associate lack of dress with a vocational underclass (someone in this thread mentioned “strippers”). I would remind you that you sound exactly like the religious extremists or old fashioned anti-female-liberation aristocrats of the past.
    I believe in a sex-positive brand of feminism, the true liberation movement of women from a society that told them to “cover up”, in which women and girls have choice and can wear as much or as little as they want without being judged.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your well-thought-out views on the matter. You bring up a number of fantastic points. The only issue I take with your argument is that it seems you mistook my motives. I don't want girls to cover up because *I* feel they're not dressed appropriately. I want girls to have the opportunity to wear what THEY feel comfortable in. Like I said, in practice - almost without exception - they all CHOOSE to wear shorts. I happen to say ALMOST because my daughter happens to be one who doesn't always wear shorts. She does from time to time, but often forgets them at home and doesn't really care. Yet. She hasn't hit puberty. That seems to be when the girls start to care more on the matter. I certainly don't make her wear shorts. I just want her happy. When the girls are competing I feel they have the right to feel happy with what they are wearing, and I've actually heard girls complain about not being able to wear shorts in competition and (like I said) I have seen girls quit the sport over the matter. I don't necessarily think shorts should be mandatory in competition. I'd just like to see them available as an option. Thank you, again, take care, and have a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

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    2. Thanks Stephanie,
      Agreed that choice should be prevalent in the matter and cannot disagree on that assertion. However I also feel that the need for uniform standards (in this case dress) within a sport is a good thing because individuals begin with the same dress standards and are thus judged on their achievements rather than appearance. Shorts maybe, but deviating any further may take away from what the sport is actually about - one's hard work (as opposed to identity). Many thanks for your response, you have a great weekend too!

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  14. They should definitely allow both girls and boys to wear the shorts it’s not that big of a deal that they do if the boys can the girls should be able to as well! Stop with the double standards!!!

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    1. Thanks, Kaleah, for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts! :) ~Stephanie

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  15. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM LOUISE SORENSEN: It's time for shorts for the girls. Look like they'd be far more comfortable. Just one more example of something, mysogeny, patriarchy? Idk.

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  16. Hi Stephanie,

    I completely understand your desire to give athletes a choice, however I just wanted to clear up some concerns you mentioned in your article. The biggest one (which I see echoed in some comments here) is about why gymnasts don't wear shorts to begin with. It's not so that judges see the straight leg, and it's certainly not patriarchy/misogyny as one commenter suggested. It's because in WAG unlike MAG the girls do a lot of leaps/jumps/turns, and a longer leg line gives the illusion of nicer, more stretched out skills, and thus can result in fewer artistry deductions for the athlete. To clarify, the judges aren't going "oh she has long legs better not deduct," it's just an impression created by a long leg line is in the athlete's favour. Think ballerinas. Well we can't wear those thin flesh toned tights because they'll rip on the first fall, floaty skirts and stiff tutus are out too for obvious reasons, so what we're left with is a basic leotard. Now full length leggings might be an option, similar to men's longs but tighter (because men get away with all kids of bent legged-ness under their longs), but I've yet to meet an athlete who finds that idea desirable.

    Also many young girls start wearing shorts because of a desire the imitate the older girls who do. I've worked at gyms where that's the case, and I've worked at high performance gyms where not a single athlete wears shorts in training because they hate the way it looks, a culture started by older athletes and filtered down into the younger kids automatically. In those gyms, I've never even heard a kid ask about shorts.

    I just wanted to close this rather lengthy reply by saying that while your argument revolves around choice -which I sincerely appreciate - others often attack this "problem" by discussing how inappropriate it is to make young girls compete in such revealing outfits. To that I say that these are athletes doing incredible feats wearing the most efficient outfit for the task. Why are they being sexualised?

    Thanks for your thoughts and your concerns for the athletes!!

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your offer of some illumination on the purpose of the current gymnastics dress code. You started with "I completely understand your desire to give athletes a choice" and you closed with "your argument revolves around choice - which I sincerely appreciate". You understand and appreciate, but with the rest of your response, it appears you don't agree athletes should have the choice. Maybe I interpreted that incorrectly? I would counter your justification of leos-sans-shorts (which was that it "...gives the illusion of nicer, more stretched out skills and thus can result in fewer artistry deductions for the athlete") with: If an athlete is facing a decision between continuing with the sport or quitting due to discomfort with competing in only a leo, wouldn't it be better and more inclusive if she were given the choice, along with a cautionary chat about the fact that her artistry scores could potentially be reduced due to the lack of illusion of longer lines? As for your point about gym culture, I say this. I guarantee that when women won the vote there were a number of women who didn't want to vote (the desire just wasn't in their culture - they never complained about not being able to vote). The fact that some women weren't interested in voting didn't mean women - as a whole - should not be offered the choice to vote [or not]. I happen to believe the same holds true here. Sure - some girls (even many girls) may prefer to not wear shorts. I'm not saying I believe they should have to (like I said in a previous response, my daughter is often the only girl in practice not wearing shorts, because - right now - she doesn't care and feels perfectly comfortable in just a leo). But for the girls who feel more comfortable in shorts, I feel they should be offered that choice. Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a groovy Thursday! :) ~Stephanie

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    2. You're right that I personally do prefer that the "uniform" is consistent and so I prefer to build an environment where athletes don't feel uncomfortable in a leo. However (and I apologize for neglecting to write this in my first response) athletes are, in fact, permitted to wear shorts in the current JO competitive code, as well as in the FIG code. There are some restrictions - they must be the same colour and material as the bodysuit - but they can be worn and may be worn either over or under the bodysuit. Maybe further discussion with your coach is in order?

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    3. You are correct. I was not aware of that. It appears to be a well-kept secret among coaches, then, because in many years of attending meets I've never once seen a pair of shorts (in compulsory, optionals or Xcel)...and something tells me there are at least a few athletes who would have preferred to wear shorts if they knew they had the choice. Thank you for getting back to me, take care, and have a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

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  17. Totally agree, and I'm all for capri length leggings being allowed too. Not everyone wants to have their thighs showing, and this is supposed to be about the movement, not the wardrobe.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lizzy, for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your contribution to the conversation! Take care and have yourself a groovy Thursday! :) ~Stephanie

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  18. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM ANDREA DANIEL: Oh, my goodness! What a great point you’ve made. I never thought about it before reading your blog. Wonderful post.πŸ‘πŸΎπŸ‘πŸΎπŸ‘πŸΎ

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  19. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM LAMOUREAUX LAZARUS: something I have never considered...but is an excellent point. Great read...

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  20. I have read all the comments, and the only reason I can see that a leotard without shorts is the competition attire is due to the need to see a 180 split. I am not a women's judge, but I can see how bike shorts would make that a little harder in the split second timing of WAG.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I would think if shorts made it difficult to determine body shape/extension on splits that shorts wouldn't be allowed during practice. Not just judges need to evaluate performance; coaches do, too. Apparently they can see all they need to see, since they are clearly allowed in practice (at most gyms). Furthermore, according to someone who commented previously, shorts are currently *technically* allowed in competition - it's just that those who are responsible for making the decision about what the girls will wear at meets have, thus far, decided to not offer shorts as an option to the athletes. Thanks again, take care, and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

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  21. The girls must have same freedoms as the boys. There are so many sexual deviants out there and I would not want my daughter or son to wear something they despise. It is called FREEDOM. There are too many rules. I am sure a girl can do a great split in shorts. Sex sells and that is a fact. I also feel that girls must have a choice to wear leotards to help support muscles and add some color to the sport. It is about skill not exposing private parts, which are sacred to some folks. I am tired of girls/women having to be less dressed than the boys/men. Thanks for sharing and I agree with the author on this matter...MG

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, MG, and for sharing your thoughts. I agree. About the only sport I can think of where I feel worse for the men than the women is diving. I wince nearly every time the men hit the water, fearing every time that their tiny little bathing suits will fly down their legs with the impact of the water. Seriously; there must be SOMETHING they can wear that won't hinder their diving, but will still COVER them! Thanks again, take care and have yourself a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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  22. RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM VADIM DOVGANYUK: 100% agree with your post.
    2 of my sisters are gymnasts and they previously shared videos of their practices, until they received comments of strangers that were plain disgusting. And even beyond that, they were of adult men, while they are both below the age of 18...

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  23. CONTINUED RESPONSE ON TWITTER FROM VADIM DOVGANYUK: And it is not just them who experience this, almost all female gymnasts receive inappropriate messages.
    I don't understand how @gymnastics is letting this continue, while the solution is so simple and obvious...

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  24. You are spot on. I never though much about it either, until I was watching the Olympics one day with my teenage sons in the room. I found myself turning the channel.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I'm hoping if the gymnastics "powers that be" see that enough people feel this way, they may change their way of thinking. Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

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  25. As a mother of a Level 7 gymnast, I completely agree with you and have asked this question aloud many times. Many young female gymnasts repeatedly comment about why can't they wear shorts in competition. Moms repeatedly ask why and how to deal with periods, tampons, pads etc. It's definitely time for change.
    Here is how the rules are stated
    "9. Present herself in the proper attire. A deduction for “inappropriate” attire will be applied for any infraction.
    a. No bare midriffs, backless leotards, leotards with "spaghetti" straps, T-shirts or Boxershorts.
    b. NO underwear (including sport bras) should be exposed.
    c. The leg opening on competitive leotards must NOT be cut or rolled above the gymnast's hipbone.
    d. Sleeveless leotards and unitards with ankle length legs, as well as gymnastics footwear, are permitted for
    competition. Leotard and/or warm-up uniform should be worn for march-in and award ceremonies. Tennis shoes
    (athletic sneakers) are NOT considered gymnastics footwear. If the athlete wears tennis shoes while competing, a
    0.20 deduction for inappropriate attire will be applied.
    e. Gymnasts must change clothes in the designated changing area or restroom. They may not appear in
    underwear on the competition floor or warm-up area before, during or after the competition.
    f. At USA Gymnastics sanctioned events, a gymnast may NOT participate in warm-up or competition
    wearing a hard, non-removable cast.
    10. Be well groomed in her appearance:
    a. Clean attire.
    b. Hairsecured away from the face so asto not obscure her vision of the apparatus.
    c. Nojewelry, with the exception of one pair ofstud earrings (one in each ear). All other piercing should be
    REMOVED, notjust covered with tape or Band-Aids."
    Unitard are allowed. No where is it mentioned that you cannot wear shorts.

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    1. Thank you so much, Angela, for taking the time to read my blog and for your thorough and thoughtful comments. I apologize for the delay in my response; somehow I missed your comment until now. It IS perplexing that with so many gymnasts wanting the freedom to wear shorts, so many parents wanting that for their daughters, as well, and with rules that don't specifically rule them out that we've not yet see it come to fruition. From what I have come to understand, competition attire is up to individual coaches, so what we apparently are truly up against is not the rules, but the culture. It's so frustrating that even coaches who might say they're for girls dressing to their comfort level either don't have the confidence to actually stand up for it or don't truly believe it. Maybe it's like doctors who continue on with the ridiculous practice of assigning doctors-in-training 24-hour shifts. We all know it's stupid, wrong and dangerous, but they just can't seem to get over the, "Eh, I did it and I was just fine. Don't be such a snowflake and just man up to it" attitude. Culture is so much more challenging to change than rules. That being said, we're in the midst of a lot of cultural changes with the Me Too movement, so there's hope that we'll start seeing some shorts at competition sooner rather than later. Thanks again for your contribution to the conversation, and have a wonderful Wednesday! :) ~Stephanie

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  26. Lovely blog. Thanks for sharing with us.This is so useful.

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    1. Thank you so very much for taking the time to check out my blog and for your kind words! Take care and have a wonderful Wednesday! :) ~Stephanie

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my blog and for your very kind words! Take care and have a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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    1. Thank you, Larry, for taking the time to read it; I'm glad you enjoyed it! Take care and have a wonderful Thursday! :) ~Stephanie

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing. Take care and have a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read the post and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Take care and have a magnificent Monday! :) ~Stephanie

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