Favorite Buys: Goodies for Cole

I often get asked by my thousands of followers what my favorite buys are for Cole… Just kidding – no one ever asks me. It’s Friday, gloomy out, and I’ve had this list in my phone for months so I thought it’d be fun to share!
When I became a parent, my purchases quickly shifted more towards adorable baby clothes, the best books for his age, or toys I thought he’d love instead of buying myself gifts. My amazon recommendations are the lamest recommendations for a professional 30-something year old woman because they mainly consist of children’s board games or books. I feel like my cart is secretly judging me. :)
Cole just turned three recently which is so hard for me to wrap my head around! He’s at a fun age where he’s developing a sense of humor, plays jokes on us, makes up his own songs and can hold a conversation. Over the past few years we’ve used a lot of products for all various stages of babyhood, but here I’ll share our current favorites. In the beginning I tried to get the pretty wood toys, but later realized that kids are drawn to bright, primary colors for a reason. Consider yourself warned.

 

Ikea DUKTIG Kitchen. Of all the toys we have, this might be my favorite. All of the kids in my family – Cole, 3, my 4.5 year old niece and even my 12 and 15 year old nephews! – play with this kitchen. It has been one of the greatest kid investments because it promotes pretend play, and has provided hours of play so far. It doesn’t hurt that the price is perfect, and it fits in beautifully with my white and gray kitchen.

Melissa and Doug Condiments Set. I bought this after Cole had a huge meltdown one night about him not being able to use our salt and pepper shakers on his food to excessively season his food. Now when we eat dinner, he gets his own set and likes to pretend to season his own meal.

Fisher Price Barista Set. To my point above about me loving wood toys for kids – this was a perfect compromise. It’s pretty and Cole loves making me coffee at all hours of the day. I was so excited when I found this by accident in Target!

Melissa and Doug Take Along Horse Stable. This little toy has gotten SO MUCH use. It’s insane. It was an impulse buy at Home Goods and my horse-obsessed niece has played with it for hours. She loves to carry around the stable, the kids paint the ponies during craft time, the ponies go in the tub, and they play in the sandbox outside. These horses are magic, I tell you.


Retractable baby gate. I did hours and hours and hours of research when we needed baby gates. Ryan ended up finding this retractable one and it’s amazing. It’s not bulky and easily retracts so you don’t always have a huge baby gate in your space. When the baby goes to bed, it’s nice to pretend you are grown-ups living in a grown up space. :)  We’re using gates less and less these days since Cole is getting older, but I love the design of this one!

Luca Glider. One day when Cole and our future kid(s) outgrow this glider, I’ll be so sad. I rarely get emotionally attached to things, but this chair is so comfortable and has had so many happy snuggles in it. Ryan originally thought it was a splurge for a kids bedroom, but now he (maybe) sees the value since we’ve spent hours reading bedtime stories and rocking him to sleep. For me, it’s a spot that reminds me of when I first nursed Cole as a baby and it brings back those cozy and deeply bonded moments alone with him.

4-in-1 Trike. This tricycle, inspired by the original classic metal trike, is such a great design! My only personal gripe is that I didn’t buy it for Cole sooner. We bought it as a gift last year for his birthday, but could have easily started riding in this at one year old- instead of the million other four-wheeled vehicles we have in our garage. The handles let you control the steering, so the baby feels like they’re riding a bike on their own. So smart!

Building Blocks. We have a different set, but these are similar. Our set was originally my nephews (from almost 11 years ago) and still get so much use. Cole loves building with legos, gears, pipes… but these are always a classic.

Kinetic Sand. Similar concept to Playdoh (which we also love), this kinetic sand is so much fun to play with. It’s mesmerizing and a complete stress reducer for Mom’s, too!

Bubble maker. Save your breath and enjoy the Gazillion bubbles that this little machine blows. So fun for the current season!

My favorite bath toy. This boat has two purposes: a boat to play with (duh) and scoops water to rinse his hair. Bath toys tend to clutter the tub or get moldy. This is is the only one you need and is so easy to clean.


The best beach umbrella. When I bought this umbrella, it seems like a splurge because it wasn’t on sale but I’m so happy I bought it. It’s huge and can fit an entire family inside, but also folds down so small. It doesn’t blow away and can be used as a tent or an umbrella. One of my favorite seasonal purchases to keep my fair skinned boy out of the strong sun on the beach.


Piggy bank. I bought this bank, after Cole kept breaking into his other bank that Ryan has when he was a kid. The older fashioned banks either just snapped together, or had a cork that could easily be removed by a nosy toddler. I was paranoid Cole would get into his bank and swallow the coins… even though he never puts things in his mouth. This bank can only be opened using a screw driver, or a coin, to screw the bottom off. I also love how is looks like a real piggy, instead of a stylized one. Super cute!


My new favorite book. Cole’s outgrowing board books and is more interested in stories which I am so excited about. I picked up some new best sellers and I love this book. I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud when reading the stories of sarcastic/funny crayons.  We’re also really loving the Pete the Cat series!

High Five magazine. I’m not sure who gets more excited when High Five (or their extra Puzzle Buzz) magazine comes in the mail: me or Cole. We immediately snuggle on the couch… both of us eager to find the hidden pictures. So happy I get to share this nostalgic magazine with my boy.

Favorite Coffee Table Books

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One of my favorite parts of a project is accessorizing. It marks the bittersweet end of a project, but it brings so much life and personality into a home. Coffee table books are an excellent way to display your interests and always act as a conversation starter. Here are a few of my favorites…

 

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Dollhouse Before Pictures

This past fall, I was gifted one of my most exciting projects to date: redesigning my childhood dollhouse! :)
This dollhouse was originally given to my sister around 1979, and my grandparents decorated it for her as a Christmas gift. I recently came across an old photo album with pictures of my sister opening the gift, and I saw the pride on my grandparents’ faces. They were crafty – using fabric scraps as wall-to-wall carpeting, coffee stirrers as window hardware, and contact paper as tiling for the bathroom floor. This dollhouse was eventually handed down to me as my sister outgrew it and I can remember playing with it for hours as a child. There used to be a lot more furniture but unfortunately got lost over the years.

When my mom brought this over to my house to give to me, my almost-three year old son, Cole, was so excited to play with it. Hearing him talking to himself and rocking the baby in the rocking chair made me weepy, and made my heart swell with nostalia. He’s a typical boy, and is a bit rough with the furniture so I’m going to take my time “renovating” the house. I’m torn because I want the house to be beautiful (obviously) but I also want it to withstand the play of my rowdy son, niece and nephew. There is so much beautiful furniture available to buy, but is pretty costly. My husband jokes that we’ll need a second mortgage to support my new obsession!

My first step is to strip all the carpeting and tile. Then I want to give the interior a fresh coat of paint. I’m thinking I’m going to paint the rooms the same colors as our current house to mimic our house. I have wood siding and shingles that I’m also going to paint the same color as our house. I have wood flooring for the main spaces, too! I have most of the supplies – now I just need to work on it!
My goal is to have it completed for Christmas next year although I hope to have it done before then! This way I can buy a tiny Christmas tree for the living room, and tiny wreathes to hang on the windows. How cute would that be?!

Eek! I’m so excited! 

The interior layout:
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Nursery:img_7906

Bathroom:
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Master Bedroom:img_7908

Living Room and the creepy doll mom:
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Kitchen:
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Roof: (The chimney needs to be repaired)
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Bathroom:
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Siding and my cat, Jack: :)
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Favorite Buys: For The Home

I am a sucker for gift guides and round ups of “best product” type lists in magazines and blogs. Ryan always says I am the ultimate consumer, and our cardboard recycling pile waiting to be picked up at the end of our driveway would agree. I primarily shop online because either I’m working, or I convince myself that taking a hungry toddler to a store after daycare is the worst idea ever. I am addicted to amazon prime. It makes daily mail deliveries feel like Christmas – even if the only item being delivered that day are a months supply of Ziploc bags. :)

Rather than share a gift guide for a holiday, I thought I’d share what my favorite purchases were over the past 3ish years are. I chose that time frame because that’s when we bought our first house, finally got the hang of entertaining, and our lives changed when we became new parents. We didn’t have a traditional registry when we got married, so some of these are items that I would have registered for when we got married almost six (!!!) years ago. I can’t believe we’ve been married for that long! Below is a list of my favorites, in no particular order…

 

 

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5-piece Colander Set.
  When I first brought this home from the store, Ryan thought I was ridiculous because “how many strainers does one person need?!”. I soon showed him how convenient they were, especially when making dishes like chili – straining beans, pasta/rice, straining the fat from the meat… all at the same time. They’re durable and stack together beautifully in the cabinet. I immediately tossed our three old strainers that were breaking and bulky in our already full cabinets.

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Glass Nesting Bowls. I bought these when we bought our first condo in 2007 and we’ve had them since. I use them for everything: from preparing meals to putting chips in them for parties. I like that they are glass, rather than metal, because they can easily be used when entertaining. Another space saver in our full cabinets!

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Landscape Lighting. As silly as it sounds, a childhood dream of mine was to have a house one day with landscape lighting. I was a nerd destined to be a designer, I suppose. I always thought it was expensive and difficult to install, but I saw this blog post, showed it Ryan, and we both were excited to try it ourselves. To be fair, Ryan did most of the work himself but he said it was easy to install. I’d say the most difficult part of the project was knowing how many lights we’d actually need/want. We were weirdos standing outside at night shining flashlights at our bushes to see how a light would look… If our neighbors saw us, I’m sure they thought we were nuts! We did this project this past summer and I love driving into the driveway at night because it makes our house feel so elegant and inviting – for only about $300!

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Shower Curtain Rings. These rings have a hook on each side so the liner and shower curtain are separate so when you have to take the liner or curtain off to wash it, you only need to take one off at a time. Genius! 
71832945499050pGrill pan. Especially when we’re trying to eat healthy, I love using a grill pan. They don’t sell the version we have, but this one is similar and nicer. :)

 

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King Size Bed. We bought this bed when I found out I was pregnant and it was a total game changer. At that point, we needed a new bed and mattress anyway. I knew I was about to become a huge, cranky pregnant woman, and Ryan and I are both tall. I love having a king size bed to sprawl out… especially since both cats choose to sleep on me. We bought it in a chenille-like fabric which has withstood two scratch happy cats. This is one of my all-time favorite buys.

 

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Baking Dish. I have this baking dish in two sizes and love it! It’s another item that can go from oven-to-table because of it’s simple design and neutral color. I also love that it doesn’t stain like other baking dishes I’ve owned.

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Meyer Lemon Candle. This is my new go-to candle. I love the crisp citrus scent – it’s so delicious I want to drink it! I have one on my nightstand in my bedroom and it’s so fragrant and fresh even when it’s not lit.

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Large modern weave baskets. I have two of these simple baskets tucked into corners of our living room for additional toy storage, and for blankets to snuggle up with.

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Bench. The stock photo for this bench doesn’t do it justice. We have this in our living room which was originally used for blanket storage, but has now turned into a “lego bench” where Cole stores all of his legos. I’m happy to have pretty storage for toys since they seem to have taken over my house. The fabric is a durable and beautiful velvet, and looks way more elegant in person than it does online!

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Outdoor candles. I am obsessed with these candles. They really do flicker like real candles! They’re a bit of a splurge for an outdoor item, but the quality is so great that I convinced myself they were worth it for hanging out outside. I also got a few for our screen porch, since the cats and Cole are often in there during the warmer months. Now I have the cozy feel of lit candles without the worry of burned tails or baby hands.

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Sponges. A random thing to write about, right? An even more random thing to love… but it’s true! I love these sponges. The size and texture is different from any store bought which makes clean up way easier. Plus, it’s made of natural fibers and is anti-microbial. We never have that nasty sponge smell! Insert dancing-lady-emoji here!

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Stainless teapot. When our last tea pot fell apart (literally), I knew it was time to upgrade to something heavier and more substantial, even though that means more money. I like to keep a tea pot out on the stove all the time, so I wanted something functional (obviously) but that was also pretty and classic since you’ll always be seeing it. This one fit the bill! They used to sell it at Williams Sonoma, but I bought mine on Amazon because I’m addicted to Prime.
Side note: Because I keep mine out on the back burner all the time, it gets dirty from cooking. I did some research and bought this cleaner and it keeps it looking new and shiny.

 

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Wine Out. If you drink red wine, or have friends who drink red wine – BUY THIS! It’s like magic, seriously! I have the bigger bottle in my cabinet for larger spills and I’ve never had a stain. Ryan teases me that I have the “wino-sized” bottled. :)

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Takeout menu organizer. We are lucky and have a lot of different takeout options where we live. We used to have menus stuffed into a binder until I came across this organizer. My brother-in-law always makes fun of me, but I know he secretly loves how easy it is to find the menu for our favorite pizza place when he’s at our house.

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Modern litter box. Creepy cat in the photo aside, this litter box is beautiful. A sentence I never thought I’d type. We have the box open in our newly finished basement, so it’s pretty visable. I wanted something small and discreet and this one is perfect! When we were showing family the basement once it was done, someone complimented the box but didn’t even realize it was a litter box! I love that the opening is on the top, too, so they track less litter through the house.

 

How is that for the most random list of “favorite” items?! :) Thanks for reading.

What I’ve learned about entertaining

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Am I the only one who feels like they are still catching up after the holidays? We finally put our Christmas tree away this week and it felt so good! Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and seeing all the beautiful ornaments we’ve collected over the years but it was time to have my house back.

I took a week off in between Christmas and New Year’s – what I call “family week” – and during that time I was thinking about how much easier this Christmas Eve felt to host. This is the third year we’ve hosted and I felt like I finally was in a groove after learning from all my previous party “mistakes”. Here’s what I’ve learned to have a fun, easy, stress free and memorable party…

 

Set up beforehand, if possible. I like to have the table set up a day or two before Christmas Eve so Ryan and I don’t have to stress about taking folding chairs and folding tables in from the garage the morning of the party. This year we ran out of time and set up last minute, but it worked out because our curious almost-three year old was very curious and would have moved everything around anyway. :)

Cook some, buy the rest.  Pre-baby, I used to go crazy trying cook everything, proving to myself and my guests just how domestic I was. Ha!
Post-baby I realize how crazy I was! If you’re hosting dinner, make the meal and buy the appetizers and/or desserts. No one wants to go to a dinner party where the host is stressed, so do yourself a favor and let other people help! Plus you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night feeling like a caterer. Accept help so you can actually enjoy your guests!
If you’re hosting a big group, like I do, do a potluck. I make a ham and some roasted veggies while our families bring sides and appetizers.

Have sternos on hand to keep meals hot. Someone will always be late. No matter how organized you are with planning your meal times, someone will be late and all your food may get cold. I only have one oven, so I keep these on hand to keep the meal hot as guests arrive.

Always have a bottle of champagne in the fridge. You never know if someone will share news to celebrate! I love drinking champagne even on days where there’s nothing to celebrate but life itself, so I usually have a bottle chilling in the fridge.

Take stock of dish soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. A few years ago when we were hosting a party, we had only one roll of paper towels and one clean dish towel. Party foul. The next year I made sure all the dish towels were clean so clean-up was easier. Also, make sure all bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper so your guests don’t get embarrassed asking for it mid-party.

Set the mood. I’m a bit of a pyro, so every party I have there are tons of candles. On Christmas Eve, we try and get our neighbors involved to do luminaries, so our house had 48 candles outside alone. We may have had three times that inside on the tables!  For table settings, I like to keep it simple: lots of candles, plates all in the same or similar colors, and small flower arrangements.  I feel like the candles and the flowers elevate the mood and make guests feel special. At least that’s my intention!

Have the dishwasher empty. You’ll likely go through a lot of dishes cooking and eating, so have the dishwasher ready to do it’s job! This way you don’t have to wake up to a kitchen counter filled with dirty dishes.

OK to have dishes in the sink. Nothing is more annoying than when you go to someone’s house that appears spotless and they say “oh, don’t mind the mess” just to be polite. Do you agree?! I like to keep a few dishes in the sink: 1) because I’m lazy and hate doing dishes and 2) it makes guests feel like your home isn’t too precious and they can kick back and relax.

OK to entertain barefoot. On the same note as above, I read a tip years ago to entertain barefoot so you’re guests feel more relaxed and at home. I am typically barefoot at home anyway, so the same thing goes when I have people over.

Have ice made. If guests want a cocktail or a glass of water, they’ll need ice to keep it cold. (duh.)  One of my first parties I hosted, I forgot to make ice and I felt awful that my friends were drinking warm cocktails. Lesson learned!

Don’t go crazy buying desserts. If you’re cooking dinner, you’ll likely be too full to binge on sweets. Make/buy one or two and call it a day.

Do not mop your floors beforehand. I repeat: do not mop your floors beforehand. Ryan’s just as OCD as me, if not worse, and we would always mop before a party. As clean as you think your friends and family are, a big party tracks in a lot of dirt and stickiness from spilled drinks even if the party is mainly outside. I’ll vacuum before a party and do a very quick cleaning, but always mop the day after.

Have the garbage and recycling empty. Similar to the note about the dishwasher, have the trash ready and empty to throw things away so you don’t have to bring it out during a party.

 

Accountability

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Happy New Year! In the past, I haven’t paid too much attention to a new year starting, but this year something feels different. I feel hopeful, positive and excited. The past three years have been challenging, to say to least – my father being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (something I’ve kept private), becoming a mother, buying a house, renovating our house, and my father passing away less than two years after my sister passed away – all while my business was growing at rapid speed. I’ve had extreme highs and extreme lows during this time and it took me 2 years to understand, acknowledge and appreciate the lessons I’ve learned during this time. I’ve had an internal fight about sharing too much of my personal life on this blog… which is probably why you notice a huge gap between the most recent posts. Why am I hesitating to share that I’ve lost a family member? Will my clients think I’m weak? Will they think I’m incapable to handle their large projects? If I blog too much, will clients think I’m not spending enough time working on their projects?   Taking time off between the holidays helped me clear my head and reminded me it’s quite the opposite – my grief shifted my entire life and made me stronger. It made me think differently and has strengthened my business because I’m more focused than I ever was.  On top of that, I am entering the new year with a newly renovated home office, new organized file system, and an accountant to help me with my taxes and book keeping. These were all huge goals for 2016 and I feel so good to have accomplished this.

Last year I wrote out a list of yearly goals and put it up on a pinup board so I’d have to see it every day. This year I’m sharing it here so I can be held accountable. :)

PERSONAL
Be mindful. Taking time off this past week made me realize how calm I am when I’m not on my phone and am living in the moment. I’m learning to meditate which has been really helpful, but also challenging for someone like me, who is constantly planning or thinking about what will happen next. I’ve been bringing my mind back to what’s happening in the moment: the way my cat feels snuggling me or the way their loud purr sounds, the way Cole’s small, soft hand reaches for mine to walk down the stairs, or listening to Ryan make Cole laugh. Little things add up to big things that change our lives, and I want to be mindful to experience them.

Have more family adventures.  We recently went to the Liberty Science Center and were there for 5 hours. Time flew by because we were having so much fun not having anywhere else to be. This past year, we spent a lot of our weekends doing home renovation projects. Looking back, we realize how much time it took from us focusing on family and exploring. Cole is almost three, so he’s becoming a typical little boy looking for adventure. I want to spend more time providing experiences, rather than holing up at home on a house project that really doesn’t matter in the long run.

Be more organized with meal planning. This is a typical new years resolution, but it goes hand in hand with us wanting to eat healthier. Our diets are pretty horrible right now, and Cole is THE pickiest toddler. I want to have a consistent schedule to go food shopping so I can prepare healthier meals to nourish my family.

Date nights. This one is pretty self explanitory. :) We need to focus more on our marriage because life has shifted so much since we’ve had Cole. We need to spend more time together and talk about things other than potty training or stresses of our jobs.

Care for my body. In addition to eating cleaner, I need to listen to my body and care for it. Seeing my dad’s health decline so quickly scared me and reminded me that I have control over my own health. I’m not saying that his Alzheimer’s was a result of his decisions, but I need to do what I can to take care of myself and pay attention to what I eat, what products I use, and what medicines I take.

Practice yoga. I’d love to be considered a yogi but right now I’m just an unsteady woman pretending I’m good, in hopes that I’m fooling everyone in the classes I take. :) I love my local studio and the community it provides and I intend to continue going more frequently for my body and mind.

Learn a new skill. Last year I took a pottery class and loved learning something new. This year I want to learn to knit, in addition to becoming a yogi. (See above. :)

PROFESSIONAL
Blog more. I’ve struggled a lot with what to post/share because I enjoy writing about personal things happening in my life. I know this business is my “brand”, but aren’t I my brand, too? I have a lot of ideas saved in my “drafts” folder but haven’t posted because I’ve been so busy with life and work. I also hesitate to write during a work day because I often feel guilty for writing instead of  doing my “normal” work. For example, today I had 564 emails when I woke up and now I still have 36. And I feel guilty because should I be answering those emails instead of blogging… Even though blogging is part of my work and my business, too. I want to rid my like of guilt, too. Add that to the list! :) I read this book recently and loved it and found it so relatable. So many creatives deal with similar struggles because our days aren’t normal, and each day is different, but yet somehow I still sometimes feel guilty for not always being behind a computer.

Less clients, but bigger projects. I love my clients, and am beyond grateful for them. I’ve found that having less clients and bigger projects allows me to get to know my clients better and helps me focus my attention to their specific needs. Having less clients, and more time to spend with each client individually also helps them get to know me and increases their trust in my design skills faster which moves the project along faster. I’ve learned that having a lot of clients with small projects requires more energy and I find myself spread to thin.

Go on artist dates. I read this book last year, and although I didn’t love it, I took away her “artist dates” concept. She suggests going on “dates” once a week by yourself to reflect and gain inspiration. I’d like to step away from the computer more – go to a museum, check out design showrooms leisurely, or go to a networking event – to go out and feel inspired. Working for myself, by myself gets lonely and I need to nourish my creativity. Sometimes you just need to step away from paperwork.

Go to market. I’ve never gone High Point Market (the biggest furniture market), and I hear mixed reviews from designer friends, but I’d like to experience it. This also ties in with the goal above – stepping away from the computer and reaching out to new vendors to get inspiration.
I’m really looking forward to 2017 and feel like it’s going to be a great year. :)

Photo via.

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