2020 Christmas Letter

 Dear Family and Friends,

 
We returned from a rewarding but very difficult trip to Peru in January. In February,  Tom flew to DC to work with the Dept of Defense again, evaluating medical grant requests for work on chronic pain.
 
I stayed home and shot two commercials, for Kabbage (never aired) & Geico (“Aunts” multiple commercials found on YouTube.com, et al). Then prepped for a 2 week trip to NYC, UAI & Oman. An hour after I hit NYC,  news of the pandemic had me cancel flights and return to LA pronto. I/we canceled 5 more trips scheduled for this year.
 
So here we are,  like the rest of you, like the whole world, in a sort of limbo existence, that has been both difficult and rewarding.
 
We have lost many who were dear to us, chief among them my niece, Cindy M Bergendahl,  and my best friend of 48 years, Mary Pat Gleason. Beautiful memories lessen the loss.
 
Because of Tom’s medical status, we were property bound until July when he started having blood clots in his urine. We took a 14 week journey through bladder cancer, followed by a miraculous pathology report stating the cancer was removed completely, no further treatment required, periodic check-ups will suffice.
 
As in past years, Tom remains a consultant/patient partner for research at Cedars-Sinai and the National Institute of Health, as well as chronic pain advocacy and support involvement.
 
He is on Zoom 8 to 10 times a week, resting/sleeping in between, writing articles, evaluating grants, doing final editing of sci-fi novels, doing exercises with his VR Oculus 1. 
 
He has done so many speaking engagements, presentations, symposiums, webinars, podcasts, and videos. He has been covered in NatGeo, NPR, Lifetime, Spectrum, and been published often, but he is most proud to be a credited writer in the Cedars Sinai medical research articles placed in leading medical journals.
 
His area of chronic pain involvement has expanded to include: therapeutic use of Virtual Reality,  best communication practices between doctors and chronic pain patients, development of guidelines for treatment of musculoskeletal pain,  pain management and cognitive behavior, evaluating proposals relating to bladder cancer, diabetic foot pain, and one-on-one support for those in crisis, among others. 
 
God’s plan for Tom’s life became laser focused after his gift of chronic pain. We believe his suffering is meaningful and redemptive.
 
Below are three links Tom thinks you will most enjoy:
 
VRx book review: visuals & discussion on the therapeutic benefits of virtual reality
https://www.chevaliersbooks.com/brennan-spiegel
 
The Mighty with Cynthia: Tom’s in depth personal pain journey https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=391055222038096&ref=watch_permalink
 
An interview for NPR program Take Two, National Geographic: World of Pain:
2020.https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2020/01/06/20480/ (At the 19:57 mark to 30:30)
 
As for me, the pandemic has given me the gift of time. As a project driven person who has lived happily with a To Do List every day since high school, my days fly by. I am very pleased to be tackling many long neglected projects, some completed, most ongoing.
 
I took a 4 day Zoom retreat in July that proved pivotal in how I now strive to view life. My goal is to accept people where they are - to find our shared belief/goal, and set aside our differences. This has given me renewed tolerance and patience. It has been especially helpful in my understanding systemic racism, my own white privilege and fragility. My journey inward has been the most rewarding part of 2020.
 
I shot a SLING TV commercial from home in April.  Then did another project for them in November. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-5fiTBPktE
 
Also shot an episode of THE KOMINSKY METHOD with no air date available.
 
Remain devoted to Heifer International who did a story on me recently:  https://myheiferfoundationgiving.org/tell-your-story/#post-28314  
 
If you want to join my team I’d love to have you: https://fundraise.heifer.org/mariannemuellerleile 
 
I’m zooming for regularly scheduled sibs catch-up, friends chat, individual pals, WW, choir, block club, prayer groups, Mass, auditions, industry/agents/back to work, doing and seeing plays/ readings, museums, art, union health plan, celebrations for: a wedding, memorials, birthdays, a graduation, and so many educational zooms on social justice, racism, and on and on and on.
 
This chaotic time has allowed me to get more sleep than I’ve had since grade school and to finally read books whenever I want.  
 
Tom and I have loved having all this time together. So much laughter, card playing, discussing our projects, working together on some, watching TV & movies, cooking, a little dancing, talking about our future, discussing the present and sometimes, delicious spooning in afternoon naps.
 
Since Tom and I both post so much on social media I know that most of you already know what we are doing. So, if you’d like to receive our Christmas letter next year,  please let me know by responding to this email.
 
I think we could all do with a lot less email and more time to enjoy life.
 
We are sending you our love and prayers for a beautiful Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and a Covid 19 vaccine as soon as possible,
 
 
Marianne & Tom
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2020 zoom talk to the Missouri National Society of Arts & Letters

 INTRO: Thank you Kathryn for that introduction and for inviting me to speak with your membership.

 
This month marks my 48th  year as a professional actor. What part to talk about? My husband Tom suggested I answer the questions, I most often receive. Great idea! Here is question #1 out of 8.
 
#1. How did I get my start?
 
I’m from St Louis where I did skits and talent shows at St. Roch Catholic grade school, plays and speech competitions at Visitation Academy, and received an undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts & a teaching certificate, from St. Louis University.
 
I thought very briefly about being an actor but dismissed it as impractical. I determined I would teach at a Catholic girls school,  as I remember my classmates being afraid to get up in front of our peers, which I thought was ridiculous.
 
After St louis U, I also knew I had a whole lot more to learn, if I was going to be the best drama teacher ever.
 
So I went to the U of MN for a MFA in Acting. I wanted to learn about stage combat, voice production, period dance, make-up, opera, costumes, improvisation, ETC.
 
I did many shows in Minneapolis-St Paul both at the U and in community theater. Best among them was a 100 performances with the Shakespeare in the Streets touring company. Best summer job I ever had. AND great parts. I also took private lessons with the lead soprano of the Minnesota Opera Company and was cast in their production of THE THREE PENNY OPERA.
 
But one part, in one particular play, proved pivotal. I played the upstairs neighbor Eunice in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. The director Dr Charles Nolte had been a leading man on Broadway in his younger years, and invited his personal friend, Tennessee Williams, to see our production.
 
All the area newspapers interviewed him where he said the “three young actresses, (and stated our names) were the future of the American theatre.”
 
Regional theater directors came to the show and all of us were offered contracts.
 
Mine came from Terrence Kilburn from Meadow Brook Theatre, outside Detroit. I told him I was in the first year, of a 2 ½ year program and asked if he would come back in another year with the offer. I promised to accelerate my studies, which I did.
 
I learned everything I could about actors unions, salary, health insurance, pensions, rules, ETC.
And I set new goals: I wanted variety, constancy & longevity
 
I accepted a 7 out of 8 show contract at the end of my 2nd year.
 
#2. What made you leave the stage for television and film?
 
I worked at Meadow Brook for 6 seasons as well as other regional theaters during which time I moved to New York. 
 
In between plays  I did a lot of odd jobs: market research, bookkeeping, literary research, house cleaning, extra work, and even sold my handmade baby quilts at Bergdorf Goodman.
 
It occurred to me, that although I always made a living, it was not enough to own a car, let alone a house.
 
So I turned down regional stage work to stay in New York to see if I could compete. 
 
Did my odd jobs, a few off-off Broadway plays, became the first model hired at Big Beauties, the first agency for large models... I did print, runway, and fit work. I was so poor I went on food stamps. That year I made about $5000.
 
I couldn’t compete with those Julliard grads, I was NOT a triple threat. I knew I had to move to LA for more lucrative work. And I felt artistically satisfied with my 10 years of stage, which qualified me for a Actors Equity pension at age 65.
 
I saved enough money to live in LA for 6 months, took a month to hitchhike around Ireland and moved to LA the summer of 1981 at age 33.
 
#3. How have I measured success
 
White doing stage work I measured success by making a living and being able to travel, my great passion.
 
In LA my goal was to earn 100K a year to live comfortably, start investing, buy a house by age 40, and travel.
 
Once in LA I also added 3 prayers petitions: get a series, lose weight, find my husband
 
Meaning of success now, is reflecting on my Grad School goals: I have achieved variety, constancy & longevity.
 
I LOVE having enough income to turn down work when it interferes with our travel plans.
 
#4. What has contributed to my being a successful “working” actor?
 
I believe the role my faith has played in my career is the single most important reason why I have been a successful working actor.
 
I know I have been given gifts and strengths that compel to praise my Creator and show my gratitude, by using them.
 
When I am using my gifts, I am happy, I feel fulfilled.  My faith is the foundation of my life.
 
Besides being given the ability to act, to express myself, I was also given the gifts of logic and practicality.
 
Neither my Right Brain (emotional/artistic) or Left brain (logical/practical) is dominant which is fairly unusual for an actor. I think it has been a key to my success.
 
Two of the biggest stumbling blocks for an actor is the pain of rejection (which happens constantly) and long periods of no work which breeds self-doubt.
 
I don’t have a problem with either of these.  Yes, there have been times when I really wanted a part that I didn’t get, but I remember that other actors have to work too, and I will get the parts I am meant to get.
 
When I have gone through a slow period without work I have been excited to have time to pursue other interests. I am a lover of life and was blessed to learn from the good nuns at Visitation, not to procrastinate. I was also given leadership training at Viz, both of which have lead me to pursue  many areas of interests.
 
I think the last major component as to why I have been a successful working actor is I had exceptional parenting.
 
My parents remained in love, they were grounded in the same faith, they were very good at parenting, they had a sense of humor, they cherished their children and dealt with each of us as individuals.
 
Although my mother was a severe manic-depressive, now commonly referred to as bi-polar, she made her faith the bedrock of her life.  As did my Dad.
 
Their life together set the course for their five children to have successful lives.
 
5. What has been your favorite role?
 
I usually say, whatever I am working on!  But the truth is...
 
The TV sitcom LIFE WITH BONNIE. The part of Gloria, a housekeeper/nanny was written for me, so learning the lines was organic.  I thought the storylines were hilarious. I knew my schedule for the year so I could accept other work on my off weeks, and I no longer had to audition.  We could travel. I was paid well and knew it was my chance to secure our retirement and grow my pension.
 
It was positively glorious.  Both seasons are now playing on YouTube if you are interested.
 
My other great FAVORITE part was on the daytime cult soap opera called PASSIONS.
 
I was hired for a 9 day shoot, which was a take off on PSYCHO so played Norma Bates, a character of dubious sexual identity. 
 
The soap creator James Reilly fell in love with my character and had me recurring for 8 years.
 
“Norma” carried her Daddy’s skull in a baby carrier on her chest. I voiced both parts which usually entailed arguing with myself.
 
I had off the chart scenes and stunts, from swimming in NYC subway canals, to roaming the catacombs of Paris, to touring lesbian bars with my lover Edna, who played the piano dressed as Lady Liberty, while I sang Striesand & Elvis favorites, dressed like a man. 
 
It was the most demanding work of my career. You learn an average of 50 pages a day, of inane dialogue that stretched over days of shooting, so there are minor changes in script. You also shoot out of sequence so you have to determine your emotional level for each scene while you are memorizing. There were no line rehearsals, only blocking, and most scenes are shot only once...It took a great deal of discipline. It was challenging.
 
6. When not acting, how do you spend your free time?
 
I have always been involved in charity work. Shortly after we married I became president of our inner city block club. A year later, my husband became disabled so I applied for non profit status for the club, and began writing successful grants which funded the free 5 year after school program at our home. Tom set ground rules, schedule, field trips, life skill lessons and taught all subjects for 50 at risk kids. 
 
I’ve been the project manager, for the total restoration of our 1905 Four Square American Craftsman home. Then, I applied for and received Los Angeles Cultural Monument Status for it. 
 
I’ve chaired many fundraisers, read to blind people, visited the elderly, chaired the Pastoral Council at my church, was Lay Ministry coordinator and formation leader for all ministries, have run a 26 year prayer warrior online group, did genealogy for 30+ years, founded and chaired Global Reunions for both sides of my family for 20 years, founded and chaired the Visitation alumnae chapter in So Cal for 25 years, I’ve been a trustee on endowment funds, mentored numerous young actors, given master classes, blood donor 50+ years. Since 2003 I have been a volunteer, donor and fund raiser for Heifer International.  Hence, my background.
 
Several years ago I began peeling off those jobs. Training others to take my place. Now I only participate in non leadership roles: online prayer group, choir, lector, Eucharistic minister, blood donor and fundraising for Heifer. I’ll also bake anytime I’m asked.
 
7. How has the pandemic affected you and your career?
 
I was blessed to shoot two commercials shortly after my husband and I returned from an extended trip to Peru & the Amazon.  My Geico “Aunts” ads have just been bought for another 13 week period, which is wonderful news.
 
I was in NYC March 12 to see friends, a young actor I mentor and then fly to the Dubai for a 10 day trip thru the Emirates & Oman.
 
An hour after I arrive the tour was postponed for a year, and I was back in LA 2 days later.
 
Since my husband had many medical issues and his life is dominated by chronic pain, we were in 100% lockdown. Everything was being delivered and picked up.
 
Remarkably, I shot one of the first commercials in pandemic, for SlingTV,  using my iPhone, with my husband setting up the lights, props, sound, filming, ETC. We took all the directions from the director over our laptop.
 
On a recent zoom panel, I was asked by an actor if I was struggling during the pandemic, because there was essentially no work, no auditions, no acting.
 
I said No, because I am using my other strengths and talents at this time.
 
Being an Actor is not my identity.  It’s just what I do for a living.
 
From July through October my husband had a new medical issue, his third bout of cancer, this time in the bladder.
 
Through our strong spiritual and faith based network, he got through surgery, and had a miraculous pathology report. Cancer is removed, no follow-up treatment necessary, will do periodic scans to monitor.
 
So here we are again, leaning on the Lord, trusting him to hold us firmly in his hands and carry us, until he wants us home.
 
I’ve stopped dyeing my hair, Tom shot new headshots of me, I continue auditioning for voice over and tv. During the pandemic I am only interested in accepting one day shoots, in LA. I’m booked to work on THE KAMINSKY METHOD November 25.
 
I still want to act but know I am blessed because I don’t have to work.
 
I’m doing panels on social media, doing zoom play readings, taking webinars on social justice and anti-racism, and reading more, getting more sleep.
 
8. LAST QUESTION What do you see for your future?
 
Travel.  I canceled 6 trips because of the pandemic.
 
First just to get together with our LA friends, then travel to see my family & friends throughout the US, then get to New York to see friends & Broadway shows, and yeah, I’ll stop by and see my NY agents.
 
Then do the Dubai/Oman trip, then a rescheduled Norwegian cruise in June and if all goes as planned, Eygpt over Christmas 2021.
 
And, more career work.
 
Thank you for your time and attention.
 
But most especially, thank you for your dedication to the arts, and supporting artists.
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2019 Christmas Greetings to All!

I have had a year of productive puttering. My goal to purge was kicked into high gear when we decided to put 2019 technology into our 1905 home. We now have central air/heat and a fully insulated home. Please visit our attic and basement. Be inspired!

 
It took a team of 10, 40 hrs/wk for 4 weeks. Then we hired a 2 man team 40 hrs/wk for 12 weeks. The goal was to do EVERYTHING to make our home comfortable and beautiful for our most senior years. New mattress, linens, exterior solar shades, ovens, earthquake proofing, stoop handrails, window shades, upgraded electricity, wallpaper removal, termite tenting, refinish floors, plumbing, garbage disposal, carpentry, endless interior & exterior painting, ETC.
 
While we had only a few trips: me - Monticello, IA, me - St. Louis, we - NYC/PA, we - Lake Arrowhead, then Tom - NYC, the world came to us as we hosted friends & family from: Texas, NZ, Barcelona, Montreal, Bordeaux, Metz, Saint-Lattier, Oakland, Dayton, St. Louis, Newport Beach, Madrid and Monticello, IA, . We’re going to play catch-up as we leave for 3 weeks in Peru on December 18.
 
I pulled a calf muscle March 1 prepping for our renovation. Relapsed it twice, still doing PT for ham string issue, small meniscus tear and small baker’s cyst. Makes me feel ancient but MD says there is hope of complete recovery.
 
Tom has been doing PT for a year to prep for Peru/Machu Picchu/Amazon. Although it has increased his pain, it has also greatly strengthened his body/stamina/energy. He says it is worth it!
 
I did 7 more episodes voicing “Lucille” on the Disney Jr animation series THE ROCKETEER, shot an unsold pilot TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, worked with Marc Cherry on his WHY WOMEN KILL and finished the year doing the drama 911.
 
I think Tom has become the nation’s “go to guy” for chronic pain. Besides leading his support groups (American Chronic Pain Association, AKA ACPA), his phone support group, through Well Connected, doing many one-on-one phone calls and driving up to 2 hours to meet one-on-one with a chronic pain sufferer (ACPA) he is being asked to participate in national programs.
 
His work with Cedars Sinai has expanded to include participating in a 5 year study, funded by the National Institute of Health, examining the use of virtual reality as a tool to mitigate lower back chronic pain. Their work has been published in the American Chronic Pain Association newsletter and the NY Times National. 
 
He has been interviewed on NPR: https://apple.news/ANXG6f90XRa2AEQPwNe5IvA (Hopefully this link and the ones below are still active.)
 
He is in 2 of a 3 part series for Spectrum News. part 1 and 2 links: https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/exploring-your-health/2019/09/23/why-pain-hurts--understanding-pain-and-the-brain-nys#
 
https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/exploring-your-health/2019/09/23/why-pain-hurts--understanding-pain-and-the-brain-nys
 
In the January 2020 issue of National Geographic, Tom is featured in the lead/cover article by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. They are expected to do promo radio interviews in the next 2 weeks.
 
This is Mission, a PR firm, just covered all his expenses to fly to NYC for a week to be interviewed and have his naked body painted to reflect how he feels his pain. It is part of a THIS IS PAIN campaign on display at the World Trade Center in NYC. On or about Dec 14 Tom will put the official end product on his Facebook page and the other websites he maintains for Chronic Pain organizations. (Voicesinpaincare.org & chronicpainla.com)
 
Tom is already scheduling projects for 2020:  The National Academy of Medicine wants us to participate in their Action Collaborative on Countering the Opioid Epidemic. Their “listening sessions” are intended to collect input on the state of pain management, as experienced by different end-users and stakeholder groups. The listening sessions will also seek to clarify intended and unintended consequences of recent changes to the opioid prescribing guidelines and metrics, as they pertain to the delivery, access, and coordination of pain management services. 
 
The Department of Defense has invited Tom to return to DC in January to be a Consumer Reviewer for their Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. He will sit on a panel and review proposals by scientists seeking funds for their High-impact, High-risk, High-gain projects.
 
Tom has also agreed to rep Cedars Sinai’s research results on how to be effective in Patient to MD and MD to Patient communications. He is one of two non medical participants in this multi- million dollar grant research program.
 
The absolute best part of all of Tom’s participation in Chronic Pain Advocacy is that it gives his pain, his life, purpose. He can be of service.  And we thank God every day for this gift. 
 
In His mercy,
 
Marianne and Tom
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2018 Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

 
We traveled too much this year, literally. Six planned trips, three unplanned: South Africa, Monticello, Iowa (niece Allie’s wedding), Chicago, Vancouver, Alaska, St. Louis, Atlanta, Mammoth Lakes, CA, Washington, DC, Singapore (Allie’s second wedding to her husband, Kel Vin), Bali, Sydney AUS, New Zealand. We were on the road 94 days.  Too much. It got so hectic I stopped making lists and went to winging it.
 
The unexpected travel came when the various organizations Tom is working with wanted him at a conference or to participate on a panel.  He has been VERY involved with chronic pain advocacy, medical research advancement, suicide prevention, advocacy online classes and leading support groups.
 
He’s become a bit of a “go to guy” when it comes to understanding chronic pain having been interviewed for national news coverage, had his articles and interviews published, worked with the Dept of Defense and Cedars Sinai among others. He has another offer on the table as of January but is on the fence about taking it.
 
One thing we didn’t expect was Tom’s increased pain. We think his adrenalin masked it when he was volunteering so intensely at our parish for so many years. Once he truly stopped in late 2017 his pain surged, which added many trips to his doc for epidurals.
 
He’s had other medical issues this year which have yet to be fully resolved. We returned from N.Z. last Thursday. Tom was able to see his GP that day who took x-rays. Apparently he had 3 fractured ribs before we left for Singapore and got one more when he fell out of bed in Bali. We now think his earlier respiratory issues might be related to broken ribs. We’ll both be working on improving our health in 2019.
 
The other unexpected trip was my shooting the feature WELCOME TO PINE GROVE (WTPG), in Atlanta. I also shot several more McDonald’s commercials, one for Blue Bunny Ice Cream and have been hired as a voice-over series regular on the animated show THE ROCKETEER. Both WTPG and THE ROCKETEER are slated to air in 2019. Six of the commercials are on hold so we may see them again.
 
We stayed very busy socially, exercising and volunteering.  In fact I had a revelation during my last 8 month effort in chairing the Opportunity Drawing for our Heifer LA 2018 event. I am done officially spearheading anything.  I have loved every minute of my years of leadership and projects, project, projects!  I will always be a volunteer and always fund-raise for Heifer, I just won’t be “Leading the Charge.”  I have retired my shrink wrap.
 
I have never had a problem saying NO; I just rarely did.  I want to do other things now, mainly projects around the house. I have eliminated self-imposed deadlines. Basically, I am semi-retiring from my life, not my career.
 
Last night I cleaned out our spice shelf. If it didn’t have a lovely aroma, I tossed it.  Down 16 spices.  Feels fabulous.  I might take on the linen closet before the end of the year.
 
We are sending our love and prayers to each of you. 
 
Merry Christmas,
 
Marianne and Tom
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THANK YOU DONORS!!

Heifer LA 2018

(for ticket information click  https://www.heifer.org/events/la/index.html .  Kids 15 and under FREE!!)

Many thanks to each of our Opportunity Drawing Donors! (Over 29k in donations!)
 
We couldn’t do it without you!
 
Adam Friedman
Andre Adams 
Anna’s Hair
Anonymous
Barbara Linkevitch
Birla Angelica
Bree Abel Rotter
Buddy Powell’s Commercial Acting for Adults
Cecilia Castellano
Center Theatre Group 
Charlie & Rene Chiara
Chris Chalenrath 
Coin & Ghost Theatre Company
Dale Raoul
Diana Haberstick
El Coyote Café
Emilio Anorve 
Esthetica Skin Care
Eva Basler
Evergreen Landscape and Architects, Inc.
George Pennacchio
Golds Gym Downtown LA
Golds Gym of Southern California
Grasie Mercedes
Grassroots Co-Op
Heifer International
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
Jasmine Blue Flowers
JJP Dental Practice
Joel Brooks
John & Joy Beaty
John Brauer
Jorge Castaneda 
Josef Centeno Restaurant Group
Judy Friedman
KABC-TV
Karen Mann & Phil Ciminelli
Karla Ahmanson
Kenneth Poch
Klasky Csupo Inc.
LaBrea Tar Pits
LA Galaxy 
Leah Kamaiko
LEH Design
Lori Daniel
Lorilynn Failor
Los Angeles Lakers
Louise's Trattoria
Margaret Haneberg
Margo & Ralph Kidushim
MA’s Italian Kitchen
Marianne Muellerleile & Tom Norris
Mary Benson
Mary Engelbreit, MECO, LLC
Mary Pat Gleason
Michael F. Rohde
Miranda J. Barrett
Nails by Wendy
Natural History Museum
Ndiginus Art Accessories
Padaro Beach Grill
Palermo Ristorante Italiano
Papa Cristo’s Greek Grill
Patricia Bubash 
Paul’s Video Productions
Phil Devine
Pink’s
Porch 
Rehab Vintage
Roger Combs Woodworker
Skate or Buy
Susan Fitch 
Svelte Barbershop & Essentials
Taix French Restaurant
Teri Allen
THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL
The Enchanted Garden
The Magic Castle: The Academy of Magical Arts
The Pasadena Playhouse
Theresa N. White Custom Art & Photography
Trader Joe’s #54
Quilts ‘n Things Fiber Arts
Vibrato Grill & Jazz
Wendy Hogan 
Winnie Freedman
Yoga Works
 
My sincerest apologies for any misspellings or omissions. Marianne Muellerleile
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