#NewYork2019

I just returned from a spectacular seven days spent in New York City. I visited my sister, as well as a very dear friend from art school, who I have known for over twenty-five years.

It was a fantastic trip. From the moment I arrived, it was go go go. Every day was filled with fun and adventure. I was fortunate enough to experience the city through the eyes of two natives and it provided a unique view into its many, diverse cultural offerings.

Some highlights included:

Aside from the joy that it gave me to spend quality time with two women that I cherish, I was amazed by the reminder of how friendship and connection can be maintained and cultivated despite geographic distance.

I see my sister a few times a year, and every time we are reunited, we pick up from where we last left off. My lovely friend Elise and I only have the opportunity to visit in person every five years or so but it is equally as effortless. This speaks to the resilience of deep heart connections.

This trip was a gift that I will always hold close: both for the unique and wonderful things experienced as well as for the reminder of how lucky I am to be loved and to love deeply.

A Celtic Heart

“Now is a time to lay down your tools, the symbols of your productivity, and light a fire to honor not only what has been done throughout the past year, but also all that has preceded you — in this life, and in all the lives lived before. Now is a time to make space, in your heart and in your mind, for the stillness and silence of death.” ~ Teo Bishop

Irish and Scottish ancestry roots runs deep and wide in my family; and I have always been drawn to the magic and mystery of Celtic traditions. One of my favourite books growing up was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I still love it to this day. I recently discovered a wonderful book, Walking in the Mist, by Donald McKinney. It reflects upon on the subtle nuances of Celtic spirituality.

The Celtic Fire festival of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is commonly known as the Celtic New Year. Samahin is a time of growing darkness and introspection. It is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world are thin during Samhain.

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn, while the harvest was gathered.

Since the emergence of Christianity in the British Isles, the festival of Samhain became overlaid with the Christian festival of Halloween or All Hallows Eve, on October 31, followed by All Saints Day on November 1.

Although I do not formally celebrate Samhain, I like to practice simple rituals to acknowledge its presence. I burn candles and keep my fire lit. I create a small alter on my mantelpiece, with seasonal items such as: colourful fallen leaves; interestingly shaped sticks and twigs; nuts, gourds and mini pumpkins. I meditate and journal. I rest. I remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel their continued presence in my heart.

Samhain is an opportunity to pause and reflect: to grow a practice of stillness, silence and listening. It marks the transition of the seasons and helps to prepare the mind and body for the winter ahead. There is something powerful in marking the transition of the seasons and reconnecting with one’s ancestral knowledge. I enjoy the quiet introspection of this time of year and the chance to open myself up to the unknown.

Financial Freedom

Financial literacy was not a topic that we discussed in my family. There was always a core value of “spend less than you earn” but I did not received a lot in terms of practical tips and tactics for how to lead a financially strong life.

As I grew into adulthood, I made a lot of mistakes. Many of them to do with credit cards and borrowing money that I could not afford. I learned the hard way about the realities of compound interest and how it can either be your greatest ally or enemy: especially when it is working against you, at 18%.

Three years ago, after my separation, I became the sole financial provider in my family; and I realized that I could not continue to live with my head in the sand. I had to learn how to be financially strong and strategic: especially if I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter.

I started to ask questions of friends and family who seemed to have it figured out. Some of them did. Many of them did not. In Canada, we are a country of citizens living with an extremely high level of personal debt. Financial literacy is not a common strength. It is a common weakness.

Over the years, I have read a number of books to try and raise my level of financial acumen; and, so far, I have landed on two that are my favourites. Combined together, I think that they provide a well rounded picture of what you need to know in order to take control of your financial future.

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach

David Bach has written ten consecutive New York Times bestsellers with more than seven million books in print. Although I dislike the flashy title, the basic principles of his approach are incredibly practical and helpful. His underlying message throughout the book is that you do not need to earn a lot of money to be wealthy. You just need to be smart about how you allocate it. The book is designed around a seven step plan for achieving financial security.

Step 1: Learn The Facts – And Myths – About Your Money
There are three primary myths that he takes apart in this chapter: make more money and you’ll be rich; someone will always be there to take care of you; and the government has inflation under control. All of these are false. You need to spend less than you earn and plan for the future, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

Step 2: Put Your Money Where Your Values Are
Bach describes an aspect of personal finance that many people skip over and do not think of as important. He encourages the reader to get very clear and identity personal money values. This is done by asking yourself the question, why is money important to me? For example, it could be that you value security, freedom, confidence, helping family, and independence. The answers are very personal and they will be different for each person. Why do this? When you are crystal clear on your core money values, they will drive your short and long-term financial goals.

Step 3: Figure Out Where You Stand Financially … And Where You Want To Go
Although this step can feel overwhelming at first, Bach boils down to “just get started.” Collect as much financial paperwork as you can and organize it by income, debts, and assets. This step is absolutely vital. Why? Being organized financially and knowing where you stand allows you to plan for your future. Once this is achieved, you can set specific and measurable goals, mapping out steps towards achieving each one.

Step 4: Use The Power Of The Latte Factor … How To Create Massive Wealth On Just A Few Dollars A Week!
This chapter lays out Bach’s theory of the “Latte Factor.” The basic idea is that if you trim out unnecessary spending (such as a morning latte), you can save a huge amount of money over time. For example, saving $5 each weekday could result in $100 for debt repayment or savings each month (or $1,200 a year).

Step 5: Practice Grandma’s Three Basket Approach To Financial Security
This is the longest chapter in the book, but it boils down to a very simple concept. Each month, pay yourself first. Set up automatic contributions to your security basket (insurance, emergency fund), your retirement basket (401(k) or RRSP contributions) and your dream basket (a trip, a renovation).

Step 6: Learn The Nine Biggest Mistakes Investors Make And How To Avoid Them
Most of these mistakes are either psychological (“giving up”) or debatable (30 year mortgage). In a nutshell, the best way to avoid most investment mistakes is to be informed, to set up automatic contributions, and always think about investing from a long term perspective.

Step 7: Follow The 12 Commandments Of Attracting Greater Wealth
The final step is some basic career management advice. Bach outlines the twelve steps to finding clarity in your work, securing fair compensation, and giving back.

The Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam

Millionaire Teacher is written for those who are looking to enter the stock market for the first time. It is designed for a reader with little to no knowledge about investing. Hallam is very skilled at taking complicated investment concepts and boiling them down into easily understood, digestible advice. He outlines the benefits out playing the long game to build wealth through compounding returns and establishing a portfolio of passively managed index funds, rather than actively managed mutual funds.

I like this book as a companion to Smart Women Finish Rich, as it provides the tools to take action, once you have your financial house in order. It demystifies the world of investment and provides simple steps for taking back control of your financial future through making informed investment decisions.

Rule 1: Spend Like You Want to Grow Rich
This chapter covers what it actually means to be wealthy.  Hallam provides his own definition of what it means to be ‘rich’ or ‘wealthy’ beyond houses and cars. This section also looks at how to buy a car as an appreciating asset (hint: DON’T BUY BRAND NEW) and how Hallam achieved early retirement through being strategic with his money.

Rule 2: Use the Greatest Investment Ally You Have
This chapter talks extensively about the benefits of compound interest and the power of combining compound interest with long term investing. It clearly makes the case for starting early (a good lesson for our kids).

Rule 3: Small Percentages Pack Big Punches
Hallam makes the case for why actively managed mutual funds are a terrible investment. He demonstrates how the fees you pay add up and how they will ultimately put you behind when seeking to grow your investments.

Rule Four: Conquer the Enemy in the Mirror
In this chapter, Hallam demonstrates how our own behaviors work against us as investors. This chapter highlights how to not get caught up in emotions and how to remain patient when investing in index funds.

Rule 5: Build Mountains of Money with a Responsible Portfolio
This chapter clearly explains the difference between stocks and bonds.  Learn about level of safety or risk that comes along with investing in either and the importance of diversifying your index portfolio between different markets.

Rule 6: Sample a “Round the World” Ticket to Indexing
Learn about specific examples of index portfolios from different countries and the variety of ways to build an index portfolio.  This section provides helpful information by providing examples of specific index funds and how to start investing.

Rule 7: Peak Inside a Pilferer’s Playbook
Banks and financial advisors will actively try to guide you away from investing in passively managed index funds. This chapter provides some tips on how you can respond to a financial advisor’s advice. He also outlines how you can now take your money and directly invest in index funds through online platforms, such as Wealth Simple or Modern Advisor.

Rule 8: Avoid Seduction
Hallam details mistakes he has made over the years and he describes how easy it is to be seduced into seemingly ‘easy-money’ investments.

Rule 9: The 10% Stock Picking Solution…If You Really Can’t Help Yourself
This chapter is for those people who want to venture outside of index fund investing.  Hallam provides basic information on how to make decisions when picking singular stocks and indicators of a smart buy.

Taking the time to read these books, along with other blogs, articles and resources, has proven to be a really empowering experience for me. It may sound strange that learning about finance can be fun but it is true: especially when the penny starts to drop. There is nothing better than feeling in control: to make plans for the future and dream about what is possible, rather than worry about the unknown. Do you have any books or resources that you recommend? If so, would love to hear about them.

Clean Cosmetics

I have posted a few times about my passion for clean cosmetics. Being informed about what you put onto your skin is essential for your overall health. It is also important for the environment. The ingredients contained in products are not only absorbed into your skin (the body’s largest organ); they are eventually washed down the drain and into the ocean. Our choices affect both us and the ecosystem. Animal welfare is also an important consideration, as many companies test their products on animals or use animal bi-products as ingredients.

I have recently come across a few new companies and products that I am excited to share with you. I have not been paid to endorse any of these items.

Loma Hair Care:

Loma products are Paraben, Sodium Chloride, Gluten and Soy free; and they use Sulfate-free cleansing. They are vegan friendly and they never test on animals. All of Loma’s packaging is recyclable. They require a minimum of 25% post-recyclable plastic in their bottles; and their manufacturing facility generates very little waste.

Loma sources, formulates, manufactures, and fills all of their own products in the United States. They investigate their ingredients and raw materials to ensure there are no traces of harmful materials.

My family uses their daily care duo. It is both gentle and effective. I purchase the large size bottles from my hair dresser and they last us close to four months; although it is an up-front investment (around $30 per litre bottle), it is good value as this quality product is very concentrated and you only need to use small amounts.

Forget Beauty:

My sisters introduced me to the Forget Beauty line. Designed by a holistic skin care expert, this Vancouver-based firm focuses on hydration as a key tactic of healthy aging. Forget Beauty is a natural cosmeceuticals product; they merge natural skin care, eastern herbs, and top-quality, cosmeceutical-grade actives. They are also cruelty free.

Ever since I was pregnant with my daughter, I have struggled with melasma, a hyper-pigmentation of the skin; and, as a forty-four year old woman, I am mindful of caring for my face as it ages. I recently started using Forget Beauty’s three layers of hydration and illumination kit to help with both of these issues.

The vitamin c powder included in this kit is designed to help revitalize the skin and improve overall skin tone; it is combined with the Awakened Hydrating Serum for application. The Nurtured Replenishing Oil and Immersed Nourishing Moisturizer assist with hydration and replenish tired skin. I am already noticing an improvement in the overall tone and brightness of my face, as well as a reduction in fine lines. Although purchasing the kit is an up front investment ($235), I expect the product to last me five to six months. New customers also receive 10% off on their first purchase from the site.

What clean products are you using and excited about? I would love to hear about them.

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Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

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Teens Under Pressure

I recently listened to a great interview by Rich Roll and Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a Yale educated psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author who specializes in education and child development. She writes the monthly adolescence column for the New York Times.

Dr. Damour contributes regularly to CBS News, speaks internationally, and acts as a Senior Advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She serves as the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls; she is often referred to as “the teen whisperer.”

In the interview, Dr. Damour reflects her extensive experience working with teenage girls. She provides an overview of her findings, as outlined in her two books: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

As I found her approach intriguing, I followed up by reading Dr. Damour’s book, Untangled. It is a clearly written and accessible resource. The backbone of her thesis is there are seven distinct stages of teenage development. She provides tips and tactics for navigating each of them:

  1. Parting with Childhood: At age twelve, most tweens feel a sudden, internal pressure to separate from anything childlike. Healthy adolescent development requires parents who can handle rejection.
  2. Joining a New Tribe: Belonging to a friend tribe is of key importance to a teen. The fear of being tribeless – distanced from one’s family yet without a peer group – leads to the idealization of popularity and the social connections that come with it.
  3. Harnessing Emotions: The brain remodels dramatically during teenage years. The intense emotions that your daughter broadcasts are what she actually experiences. Take her feelings seriously regardless of how overblown they may seem.
  4. Contending with Adult Authority: Instead of reflecting on why we have the rules, teens focus on trying not to get caught while breaking them. Help her understand the rationale for the rules and the potential for unintended consequences.
  5. Planning for the Future: Help your daughter to develop a growth mindset by celebrating effort over outcome. Focus on helping her to be her best, not the best.
  6. Entering the Romantic World: The parent has three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass; to support her in asking for what she wants; and to make sure she knows how to express what she does not want.
  7. Caring for Herself: Frame your commentary on nutrition, weight, exercise, sleep, sex and access to substances (alcohol and drugs) in terms of your daughter’s developing ability to care for herself. Empower her to make safe and loving choices.

As the parent of a ten-year old daughter, I find Dr. Damour’s perspective to be very practical and actionable. Even though my child is not quite a teenager, she is entering the realm of pre-teen behaviour; and I have already found Dr. Damour’s advice to be helpful in navigating challenging moments.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you start by listening to the interview with Rich Roll. It provides a high level overview of Dr. Damour’s overall philosophy and approach. If you check it out, let me know what you think!

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Free Solo: Dare to Dream

“You see things as they are and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I recently listened to a fantastic interview that Rich Roll did with documentary filmmakers, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin about their Oscar-winning film, Free Solo. It captures the journey of climber, Alex Honnold, to become the first person to free solo climb the 3000 ft granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or safety equipment. El Cap is considered by many to be the epicentre of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building. Jimmy and Chai give a behind the scenes perspective into the unique challenges faced in making this film. It is a great interview and I highly recommend you listen to it.

I am personally petrified of heights. I generally have no interest in watching extreme sports or following rock climbing but this really story captured my imagination. Alex Honnold knew from an early age that climbing is his destiny; and he has spent his entire adult life relentlessly honing his craft. All of this work culminates in his dream to free solo climb El Cap: something which has never been previously achieved by another human being.

The film is particularly compelling as it not only captures the climb itself but it gives you an inside look into the close knit nature of the community, which includes legendary climber Tommy Caldwell, filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chin and Alex’s girlfriend, Sannie McCandless. Although they are each deeply concerned for his safety, they support him wholeheartedly to achieve his seemingly impossible dream: not knowing what the ultimate result will be. Death is a very real possibility for free soloists and Alex fully accepts this as a potential result.

I love this movie as it reminds me of the importance of following your heart and living the life that is most authentic to you. No one else needs to understand your dreams, as they are unique to you alone; but you need to be willing to pursue them with a singular focus and determination. Alex fully embodies this philosophy of life. He lives his life from a place of clarity and driven passion that is very rare. Watching this film stirred something deep in my heart. I was left feeling very inspired about what a human can accomplish if he puts his mind to it. I encourage you to check it out.

Strengths Based Living

This week, I have been exploring the strengths based work of Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is a career coach; and he believes that we are taught to focus on the wrong things from a very young age, which leads to unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Instead of learning to identify our own unique strengths, we are taught to seek external input from teachers and bosses on weaknesses to improve.

A strength is something that only you alone can pin point and a weakness requires external validation. A strength is a specific activity that fills you with joy and energy. It is sustaining and you lose track of time when it is underway. You look forward to the opportunity to do it every time.

This is different than something you excel at. You can be really good at an activity, but if it does not provide you with the things listed above, it is not a strength. This is why only you can truly identify your own strengths, as no one else can tell you how it makes you feel to do it. A weakness, conversely, is something that you will never excel at; with focused effort, it will be improved to mediocre status, at best. 

If you do not learn to identify your own strengths, it will land you in a job that is not well suited, as you will follow a path laid out by others. This can result in feeling drained, dejected and depleted when you show up to work every day. 

Oprah invited Marcus to lead a career intervention with group of professional women on her show. The free, step-by-step workshop is available online. I have done the work and and I found it to be incredibly helpful and insightful. He breaks out all of the steps of how to discover your own unique strengths and demonstrates how to tangibly action them. It is a wonderful resource and I hope you enjoy it too.

https://www.oprah.com/money/marcus-buckinghams-career-intervention

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Head vs. Heart

Rear View Woman And Split Blackboard With Heart And Brain Symbol

I am a sensitive empath with a strong internal fight or flight instinct. I feel and sense the world around me deeply; this can be challenging when you live in a busy, aggressive and loud world.

In order to better navigate this reality, I am working to build upon my inner strength. To create a place of stillness and grounding that I can turn to when things are chaotic: to cultivate more equanimity and peace within. This starts by learning how to shift from living in my head to living from my heart.

Throughout my adult life, I have gained success and praise through building up my analytical skills. The task-orientated, linear part of my brain is highly developed and it is hard for me to switch it off. It writes lists and organizes things. It reflects on what has happened and plans into the future. It is pragmatic and efficient: seeking security and safety through establishing structure.

There are many benefits to possessing these skills, especially in a world that values productivity and efficiency; but the logical part of myself lacks warmth, spontaneity and joy. It is rigid and uncompromising. This part of myself reminds me of a grouchy old lady. She complains and she is dissatisfied; she is always looking for improvement. She points out what is not going right and what she does not like; she worries about things incessantly. She does not live in the moment or start from a place of gratitude. She suffocates creative, playful impulses: considering them to be “silly” and “unpredictable.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can learn to reconnect with my body: to reclaim the intuitive, emotional part of myself that lives and breathes in the present moment. To do this, I have been investigating embodiment practices. A few of them include:

Internalizing the Positive: In his book, Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson speaks to the negative bias of the brain. The brain preferentially scans for, registers and recalls unpleasant experiences. In order to change this, he suggests actively looking for good news, particularly the little stuff of daily life: the smiling face of your child; the smell of fresh coffee; a pleasant conversation with a friend; a small victory at work.

More importantly, Rick suggests savouring the experience. Be in that moment and really take it in. Do not let you attention move to something else: hold it for up to 20 seconds. The longer something is held in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons fire and write together: creating a stronger trace memory. He also suggests focussing on the feelings of your emotions and body sensations since they are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill the body and be as intense as possible. This helps to teach the brain to focus on and remember the positive in any given situation.

Cold Immersion: Throughout history and across cultures, cold bathing has been used to promote multiple beneficial effects for health such as improving the immune system, cardiovascular circulation and lowering inflammation; it is also shown to boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. It is counterintuitive but it is actually a really effective way to start the day. As I stand in that cold blast of water each morning, I am forced to be in my physical self. I am aware of how this amazing body has kept me alive over the last twenty-four hours: breathing each breath; pumping my heart; repairing muscles; creating new skin; moving me through the world. There is no where else to be in that moment. The cold does not allow your attention to wander. I am filled with awareness and gratitude. Before I know it, it is over. I turn on the hot water and start the day with fresh slate. The recommended timing of cold immersion varies from minutes to hours. I can only manage thirty seconds but it is enough.

Movement and Sound: When I was little, I loved to express myself through singing, dancing and making music. As I grew older, I became increasingly self-consciousness and they played a smaller and smaller role in my life. Now that I am in mid-life, I am learning to re-embrace these forms of self-expression to foster a stronger connection with my heart. The wonderful thing is there is no one right way to do it. You just find what works for you and go for it. I have personally been enjoying two mindfulness practices: kirtan and 5Rhythms. With roots in the Vedic anukirtana tradition, a kirtan is a call-and-response style song or chant, set to music. There is little distinction between the performers and the audience.  The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back.  A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes.  As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself.  All voices merge together to become one voice. And when the music stops, your mind is quiet. 5Rhythms is a movement meditation practice devised by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. It puts the body in motion in order to still the mind. Fundamental to the practice is the idea that everything is energy, and moves in waves, patterns and rhythms. The five rhythms (in order) are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. When danced in sequence, are known as a “Wave.” A typical Wave takes about an hour to dance.

Finding ways to shift from living in my mind to living in my body is an ongoing practice. There is no set destination or mode of arrival; it is simply a process of constant effort and cultivation.  The techniques listed above are just a few of the ways that I am exploring this concept; but they are not all of them. I also enjoy the benefits of meditation, yoga and walking in nature, amongst others. It is less about the form and more about the intention. How can I move into living more in the present moment? How can I come home to my physical self? How can I learn to feel as much as I think?

I am curious to learn how you are learning to live more from your heart. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

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Podcast Passion

podcast

As I have talked about in earlier posts, I really enjoy listening to podcasts, especially when I am out walking or spending time working in the garden. There are so many good shows out there on virtually every topic. I particularly enjoy ones that delve into topics on writing, creative inspiration, health and well-being.

A few of my favourites at the moment are:

A few episodes that resonated with me recently are from the RobCast. He interviews his wife Kristen Bell on strategies for living with anxiety (episodes 226 & 227). She presents some great self-care suggestions, as well as perspectives on how to befriend the emotion, rather than push it away. I also really enjoyed the two Rob did called “An Anatomy of Restlessness” (episodes 230 & 231). He unpacks the feeling of restlessness and how it is an important message and catalyst for change. Lastly, I loved an interview that Rich Roll did with the screenwriter, Brian Koppelman, on how he broke through his own mental blocks to become a writer. It is really inspiring and contains some fantastic, actionable ideas for how to bring more creativity into your life, if you want it.

What are your favourite podcasts? I would love to hear what they are and why you love them.

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