Sunday, 29 July 2018

Six ways to enjoy Instagram again.

Ahh, Instagram. The bane of our lives. What was once every bloggers' fave platform, a great way to share content, to get inspired and to find like minded individuals, has been ruined by the algorithm and all that comes with it. Or so I thought. At the start of this year I decided to switch things up. I wanted to stop focusing on the numbers, themes and growth, and instead I wanted to post things that were personal to me. 

I've done just that, and I can honestly say I've fallen in love with the app all over again. I do tend to stick to a bit of a theme, and I'm still involved with Instagram pods (simply because I love the bloggers' content that I follow in them), but for the most part I'm posting pictures of memories I've made and people I love, and it's made me enjoy using it all over again. Here are six things I've changed up in order to make Instagram work for me... 

1. Think of your feed as a memory board

This year I've been taking more photos of the little things in life, and have really enjoyed sharing them on my feed. While I have had incredible experiences, such as trips abroad to Paris and Majorca, and have been to exciting festivals and events with friends, I've made a conscious effort to post about the lovely simpler days out I've had, whether it's going for a run around the park or getting an ice cream on the beach, and have shared a lot more photos with friends and family on the feed too. I think being a blogger, I used to almost over analyse what I posted on the 'Gram, but now I'm posting pictures that make me happy and document memories, rather than images I feel will bring in the likes. It's really lovely to use the app as a way to look back over what I've been up to over the last few months, instead of as something to hopefully make my blog grow. 

2. Post what you want to

Ultimately, it's like you have to un train your brain from everything the blogosphere has taught you to do. But it's extremely freeing. I totally get that for those who use Instagram as a source of income, or those who are working full-time in the blogging industry, the whole algorithm can be incredibly frustrating, and with paid advertisements and planned content to upload, it's not as easy as saying "forget about the numbers and post whatever you want". But for me, it's definitely worked and I do feel as though my content is fresher and more exciting than before.

3. Don't worry about missing days

I think this is probably one of the reasons that my content feels so fresh. I no longer post images for the sake of it, and my feed works so much better as a result. At the end of the day, your following isn't going to fall off the face of the earth if you miss a day of posting. 

4. Forget about numbers

Again, this is an area where you really have to just throw everything you ever knew out of the blogging world out of the window, but not actually giving a monkeys about how quickly your following is growing, or how many likes your pictures are getting, makes you enjoy posting so much more. Post for you, not for your followers. 

5. Unfollow accounts that make you feel negative

We all know that Instagram is essentially a showreel, showcasing the positive and happy experiences in people's lives. I mean, I'm guilty of this myself. I never post images of me, sat in my pyjamas, eating a packet of biscuits on a Saturday night; it's always snaps of fun events or exciting travels or interesting things. And I'm also completely guilty of comparing myself and my life to some of those that I follow on Instagram. It's important to remember that these accounts too are just highlights, and if it's really causing an issue then just unfollow. Ain't nobody got time for negativity! 

6. Get into Instagram Stories

One thing I've absolutely loved getting into since the start of the year is Instagram Stories. I've waved goodbye to Snapchat and now enjoy giving a little insight into my daily life through my stories. Being honest, for the most part my weekdays are spent in the office by day and in the gym by night; hardly the exciting life that other lifestyle bloggers lead. But I do really enjoy watching people's stories, interacting with them and getting to know more about the person behind the blog, so I'm hoping the content I share on there works for others too! 

What are your thoughts on Instagram at the moment?
Lots of love. xoxo

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Fitness | I completed an 8 week personal training programme and here's my thoughts...

Everyone who knows me knows I love fitness. I'm obsessed with the gym. I work out five times a week and love running, weight training, spin classes... My thirteen-year-old PE detesting self would be shocked at this statement, but when it comes to keeping fit I'll give anything a go! But one thing I'd never really considered was getting a personal trainer, and I'm not really sure why. 

I guess the main concern was money. Personal training sessions can be expensive, and as I've only been working full-time for about 18 months, with rent and bills to pay, I wasn't sure I could afford it. The second was that admittedly I was a bit nervous about it; the thought of having someone shouting at me as I trained just didn't seem appealing. And the third, in my local gym there is a serious lack of female PTs. This number has increased in the past few weeks though, which is great, but I guess I thought I'd be more comfortable training with a gal than a guy. 

However, 2018 for me is all about pushing myself and my body, and building my body confidence, so when Jon from Lifesmart Fitness asked if I wanted to sign up to a training plan* at my local PureGym in Cardiff Central I decided it was time to give it a go. 

I signed up for 8 weeks of training sessions with Jon and my goals were simple. I wanted to tone my back and core, grow my booty, and generally wanted to shift a little bit of weight. I also wanted to become more confident in the weights area. Being amongst those groaning, pumped up guys lifting weights, their eyes popping out of their heads as they try to squeeze in one more rep, wasn't really something I felt comfortable with, especially as I was lifting a mere 3kg in an attempt to keep any bingo wings at bay. 

We decided on two weekly sessions, which I would fit in alongside my half marathon training and spin classes, Jon gave me nutritional guidance and a plan on My Fitness Pal, and I was instructed to aim for at least 10,000 steps outside of the gym a day. We had 8 weeks before my holiday to Majorca to get in shape, not a lot of time in the grand scheme of transformations, but it's safe to say the changes have been amazing. 

WORK OUTS

Jon created a training plan which consisted of two workouts, Workout A and Workout B. I would usually train on a Tuesday and Thursday and would take Wednesdays off in between. He explained that it was important to rest in between my weights workouts, in order for the muscles to repair themselves. However, during the weeks where I had shoots on the weekends I would do a spin class on a Wednesday to loosen up my legs. Once I did a HIIT class on a Wednesday between my workouts. BIG mistake - it really impacted upon Thursdays session, so I made sure to give myself a day off where I could.

The sessions were pretty consistent. I would do a short warm up, approximately 4-5 minutes on the cross trainer, and then would start on legs. Again, I'd warm them up on the squat rack by doing some body weight squats before adding weight and from there the session would begin. Workouts A and B were different, but they'd both start with the legs and then we'd move on to back and shoulder exercises, before squeezing in some abs. I would do 3 rounds of each exercise, with about 12 reps of each. Jon would judge whether I could squeeze in more reps if he felt I had the energy, and with each week that went by, my technique improved and I would either lift heavier weights, or would lift more reps. It was a gradual improvement each time.

After 4 weeks, Jon mixed up the training plan. He started to introduce "super sets" where I would do a round of one weights exercise (about 12 reps), immediately followed by another weights exercise (about 12 reps), before taking a rest. This would help to work on different muscles in the same part of the body, and I'll be honest when I say it was pretty tough going. However, Jon was always encouraging and would always insist I think strong and complete the set I was given.

We used a My PT Hub App to track my progress. Jon would make a note on his iPad each session with which weight I used and how many reps I did. I also had the workouts there so I could follow the plans myself if I wanted to (I did a lot of the exercises I could with the equipment I had on holiday) and it was great to see the difference.

It's safe to say, I absolutely loved  the sessions. I'm a cardio kind of gal, and I'll be honest when I say that I didn't leave the gym having sweat as much as I would have done if I'd been running or if I went to a spin class, but that's just the beauty of weight training. And I wish I had started getting into it sooner. Lifting weights is absolutely key to toning up and getting in shape, and now I'm pretty much addicted! I think there's always an impression with girls that lifting weights is going to leave us looking like Arnold Schwarznegger, but that's definitely not the case, and I don't think girls should be afraid to lift in the gym. Half of the time, our technique is better than the guys'!

The sessions were cool, calm and collected (there's definitely no shouting from Jon!), and the changes I have seen in my body have been insane. My waist has shrunk, I finally have muscle definition on my back. My legs are more toned, as are my arms and shoulders. And then biggest difference has to be how much my ass has grown, and how much firmer it is. See the pictures in the results section below which were taken at the start of week 1 and just after week 8...

FOOD

The first thing that Jon got me into was My Fitness Pal. We agreed a set of calories I should stick to a day (I won't list it here as everyone is different) and we went from there. I eat pretty well anyway; cereal is my weakness but when it comes to sweets, chocolate and crisps, I can happily avoid these if needed and do my best to do so. He told me to try and eat protein for breakfast and to fill my plates with veggies, protein and a small dash of carbs after training. Although I found it difficult during the working week, I stuck to this as best I could, making smarter choices and trying to cut down on snacks and sweet stuff.
One thing Jon really highlighted was that working out and being on a training programme should be enjoyable. It's all about balance, and I'll be honest and say I had a slice of chocolate cake when there was a birthday in the office, I ate curly fries and chicken nuggets when I went to a festival, and I chose a large pizza over a salad when out for food with the girls. Of course, I did have the odd treat here and there. But for the most part I made healthier choices, my stomach was flatter and enjoyed feeling less bloated and sluggish.

I think the one thing I probably could have worked harder on during the 8 week programme was watching what I ate. Had I strictly followed a diet plan then I probably would have seen an even bigger improvement, but I did my best to ensure I was eating more healthily and I definitely noticed a difference in doing so. Now that I've been away to Majorca I'm planning to get back into training and definitely want to focus more on nutrition from here on.

CHANGING YOUR LIFESTYLE

I'm pretty health concious anyway, and this year I vowed to get back into the mindset I was in about 3 years ago, where I was completely focused on my health and fitness. It's been great to have these PT sessions to keep me on track with that, and combining weight training with my half marathon running prep has left me looking and feeling better than I have done in years.

I think the best thing about being on a PT programme is that your lifestyle adapts and changes to ensure you're looking after yourself. From the start of my 8 week stint, Jon emphasised how important it was to rest. This meant taking days off the gym (something I admittedly struggled with at times - I just love working out haha!), getting plenty of sleep (something I definitely didn't struggle with), and making sure I didn't overdo it and burn the candle at both ends.

I found that I was choosing to spend my time so differently. I went out for drinks about three times during the course of the programme, and then I was ensuring I got home at a reasonable time and often I was opting to stay in and get an early night ready to train the next day, instead of accepting offers to go out clubbing.

I also walked far more. I made a concious effort to get to 10.000 steps each day, and I would track my progress and make myself get up and get moving. I think the extra walking and being mindful of how long I spend sat down at a desk ech day helped my overall progress. My weekends were spent in the sun, eating well and making sure to get lots of walking in to make up for the days in the week spent sat in the office. I definitely felt more energised and more focused, and lifting heavier weights more often left me feeling pretty pumped, and my mind was far less frazzled.

RESULTS

So. here we have it. After eight weeks of hard work and dedication I can say I'm feeling slimmer, more confident and just generally better than I have in so, so long. I feel like I've definitely achieved one of my 2018 goals in that I've got back into the groove when it comes to working out, eating well and looking after my body. Admittedly I had been working hard in the gym since Christmas time, but that extra boost in those 8 weeks of training with Jon really has had an impact.
The pictures say it all really, but I have definitely seen a huge improvement on my shoulders and the top of my arms. My back is finally looking toned, and I've managed to work on those areas just above my bra strap on my back that would often overhang. This was a particular area of concern I had, so it was great to see these become firmer.

My core is feeling more defined (not so much now after a holiday but it's time to get back into it!) and I do feel as though I've developed more of an hour glass shape. I really want to work on this more when my sessions with Jon start back up again next month.
Finally, the biggest change of all has to be how much my bum has grown. I always thought it was pretty big anyway but the squats, glute bridges and lunges definitely made a huge difference. I actually can't believe how big the change is in just 8 weeks. The only downside is that I no longer fit into a lot of last summer's skirts and shorts - but a little summer spending never hurt anybody! 

OVERALL THOUGHTS

It's safe to say that I absolutely loved having a PT. It was eye opening, and seeing the difference in my back, stomach and how my bum has grown definitely spurred me on to keep going and to work hard on my nutrition and movement outside of the gym. I've had to take a short break, due to going on holiday and having lots of shoots with work, but I am planning on taking up my training sessions with Jon again at the end of this month and I already cannot wait to get back into it.

This time the main focus will definitely be my core and back. I want to focus more on my nutrition too as I definitely could have pushed myself more in that area, but, as Jon said, it's all about balance and I wanted to enjoy my sessions and didn't want it to impact upon my lifestyle too much. This time though, now that life has settled down a little, I want to give it my all and I'm already excited to see where the next 8 weekes take me.

For me, seeing the progress and change in my body since working out with Jon has really boosted my self-confidence. This was the first time on holiday that I felt confident enough to take a bikini photo.

LOOKING FOR A PT YOURSELF

If you're thinking of signing yourself up to a training regime with a personal trainer then I would definitely recommend it, but under two conditions. The first is that you have to commit. There's no point in putting the work in in the gym, if you're going to go out drinking every weekend or will spend the rest of the week lazing around. You have to put the work in, and have to give it your all, or you won't see results. It's as simple as that.

And secondly, you need to find a PT that works for you. Jon knew exactly what I wanted to achieve from my programme and he planned it so I would do just that. He squeezed my sessions in on weekends and on late evenings when I was busy, and also worked around my hectic filming schedule to ensure I completed two weekly sessions. Plus, the sessions were always relaxed and fun. I always looked forward to them and am eager to get back in action!

If you're based in Cardiff or South Wales and want to get in touch with Jon you can find him on Instagram and Facebook. He also does Online Coaching, so you can complete your sessions in your own gym and consult with Jon via Skype. Definitely worth it if you're a busy bee!

Have you ever thought of getting a PT?
Lots of love. xoxo

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Five places you must visit in Cardiff.

Cardiff is the city I call home, and while I will always be a Carmarthen country girl at heart, I can honestly say living in Cardiff makes me so happy. After four years of student living I finally settled in the city, and after working and interning in London for a few months, I realised that Cardiff was the perfect balance of the hustle and bustle of city life, and the calmness of the countryside. 

One of my fave blogger pals Emma messaged me a few days ago saying that she was visiting the city and wanted some ideas for where to go and what to do while she was here, and in doing so she sparked a fun blog post idea. So here we have it, my five must-visit areas of Cardiff... 

1. Cardiff City Centre

The first place you must visit in Cardiff is the city centre itself. Whether you're after shopping, somewhere to eat, a place to drink and dance, or you want to learn a little about the city by visiting its beautiful castle, there's loads to do and see. Train and bus links are pretty good, and you can easily get an Uber and taxis around the city too, although whilst you're there everything is reachable on foot. 
Queen Street and St David's centre are the areas you need to check out if you're up for a shopping spree. With your standard high street stores, like Topshop, River Island and Zara, as well as more high-end boutiques, you could easily spend the day (and a fortune) looking around. Alternatively, if you're looking for something a little different, check out the range of arcades that Cardiff has to offer. There are lots of independent shops and cafes to give you a completely unique shopping experience. I really love Uncommon Ground on a quiet weekday morning. 

If it's food you're after, then the Hayes is a great place to head. This area of the city centre is a short walk from the train station and is situated by Cardiff's beautifully built library. There's always lots of fun going on around here, and there are so many restaurants, ranging from Wagamamas and Ask Italian to Wahaca and Bill's. It's definitely the place to be on an early Saturday evening, and don't forget to look up as the architecture is so incredibly beautiful. If you're after some drinks and a night on the town, get yourself to Mill Lane and St Mary's Street. There are so many clubs, cocktail bars and beer gardens to enjoy. 

Additionally, if you're looking for some more beautiful buildings you should definitely check out Cardiff's civic centre and City Hall. Opened in 1906, after Cardiff was given city status in 1905, it's a truly beautiful location and here you can find the university and National Museum Cardiff too. If you are heading to the castle, don't forget to check out the city's animal wall, which is one of the most photographed historic areas of Cardiff. 

One thing I love about the city centre is that everyone is so friendly. There's always music in the streets, usually you'll find performers taking to the stage, and if you do end up in Cardiff on a Wales International Rugby weekend, it really is the place to be (or to avoid if you're not partial to singing hymns and arias or having a drink). There's a fantastic atmosphere in Cardiff and it's definitely big enough to suit everyone's needs, but small enough to provide a really friendly vibe. 

It's also a great place to start as from here you can reach all of the other areas I've listed below. Apart from Roath Park, they're all a pretty short walk away, and we also have Next Bike in the city now, which is a great way to get about quickly and easily, plus it's pretty cheap too. In fact, Cardiff is a relatively cheap place to eat and drink, especially in comparison to other cities in the UK.

2. Cardiff Bay

Without a doubt, Cardiff Bay in the sunshine is one of my favourite places on earth. It is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, and it is definitely walkable from the centre itself or you can grab a train from Cardiff Central Station if you're not up for the stroll.

The Bay itself is an area of water that was created by the Cardiff Bay Barrage (see above). It started as a regeneration project, updating the old docks and areas of Tiger Bay, from which coal mined in South Wales was exported to the rest of the world. Now, this award-winning engineering project provides a hub of activity, with the cosmopolitan area of Mermaid Quay, where you can find loads of delicious restaurants and cocktail bars, as well as the surrounding areas and the barrage itself, where you can find beautiful walks and gorgeous scenery as you look over the Bristol Channel and beyond.

There's always something fun going on down the Bay in the summer. Last week, my friends and I headed to Cardiff's International Food Festival which was held there, and currently the Cardiff Bay Beach and fairground (see above) is in full swing just a short walk away from Mermaid Quay at the tip of the barrage. There's also the Wales Millennium Centre, which shows a fantastic array of West End musicals amongst other shows and plays, and  the Glee Club, which is the perfect place to go if you're up for a night of comedy.

The Bay is definitely a must-visit if you're in Cardiff. It's a great place to go for dinner and a quiet drink and it sunsets are truly incredible.


3. Bute Park

Situated right in the city centre, just behind the castle, Bute Park is a beautiful, idyllic escape from the craziness of Cardiff's busy streets. It's known as the "green heart of the city" and, with 3,000 tree species spread across 56 hectares, it's easy to see why. There are three cafes (the Secret Garden Cafe is my fave for an ice cream in the sun), and parts were designed by 19th century landscape architect, Andrew Pettigrew, who was employed by Lord Bute in order to create grounds to compliment Cardiff Castle.


If you're in the mood for a bit of exercise, I absolutely love running through Bute Park and Sophia Gardens. There are always so many dog walkers and happy children cycling along the paths. Running along the river can be really calming and it's crazy that you can feel so far away from everything going on in the city, when you're just a stone's throw away. It's also a great place to go for a stroll after a busy day exploring the city itself. There are lots of grassy areas where you can sit down and relax too. 
If you're thinking of heading down to the Bay, you can actually catch a water taxi from a station on the river just inside Bute Park by the Pettigrew Tearooms. It drops you off just by Mermaid Quay and is a great way to see parts of the city, as you scoot pass the Principality (or as everyone still calls it, the Millennium) Stadium, as shown in the picture above.

4. Pontcanna and Canton

I currently live in Canton, and I have lots of friends in Pontcanna, so this is definitely my neck of the woods and I absolutely love it. Pontcanna is a really quirky part of the city, with amazing eateries, gorgeous huge houses, plenty of pubs and beer gardens, and cute little shops. One of my favourite places to eat is Calabrisella, an Italian situated on Cowbridge Road (where you can get a chip pizza!), and Brod The Danish Bakery is the perfect place to grab a coffee and a sweet treat on a weekend morning. If you're after something a little more special, check out Arbennig, and if meat is your thing, then The Smoke House is the place to go. 

There are also lots of pretty parks thrown in amongst the streets, and you should definitely check out King's Road Courtyard for its farmers market on a Saturday morning. There is also Chapter Arts Centre, a multi-artform space, where you can get creative, which has a lovely cafe and outside area too. There really is just so much to do in Canton and Pontcanna; don't just take my word for it, check out this article by Wales Online which tells you exactly where to go in the area. There's definitely something for everyone. 

5. Roath Park

Roath Park will always hold a special little place in my heart, as I used to live near here in university and it provided a great escape from the situations I was living in. It's a little out of the way from the city centre, but there are pretty cool restaurants and cafes along the way, particularly on City Road.

The park itself compromises a 30 acre man-made lake, where you can go boating, fishing and pedalo-ing, and is filled with swans, ducks and geese (a bit of a nightmare if you're terrified of birds like me, but they do tend to keep out of your way). There are lovely gardens, parks for children, a recreational ground and the Scott Memorial Lighthouse, situated in the middle of the lake, is one of Cardiff's iconic images.

Have you ever visited Cardiff?
Lots of love. xoxo

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Halfway through 2018: My year so far.

I say this every month, I know, but I cannot actually believe how quickly this year has gone. It feels like only yesterday I found myself crunching through the snow in my massive, marshmallow-esque puffa coat, and now it's July, we're in the middle of a heatwave and I'm sneakily trying to angle the office fan towards me instead of my colleague in a bid to get more air. I thought I'd write a little update post, a reflective look shall we say, at what has happened in the past six months, because my life is, in some ways, completely different to what it has been for many years. 
2017 for me was the "year of change". I finally started a full-time job in an industry that I have aspired to work in for many years. I moved back to Cardiff, got myself a little flat that I adore, and made so many friends and memories along the way. I scooted up and down the country with work, I got myself a promotion in the process, and I feel like I'm finally trundling along on my career path and I loved every minute. I graduated with a Distinction in my MA, I was nominated for a Journalism Award, and I felt like I was embracing all things adult. 

Additionally though, I feel like I lost myself a little bit towards the end of last year. I started reverting to old habits, where I'd be going out constantly and, while I was extremely focused career-wise,  I wasn't focusing on myself outside of work. My general health deteriorated, I wasn't blogging or being creative, and even my strict work out regime slacked a little. I feel like it resulted from what I can only describe as a lack of commitment in my relationship, and it left me feeling pretty lonely in the process. However, I vowed that 2018 would be different. I wanted to focus on myself, my health (both physical and mental), and I generally wanted to feel like me again. I definitely feel like I have achieved that, although things have changed pretty drastically. 

Without beating around the bush, I am now a single lady for the first time in six years. It was a decision that was not made lightly and I won't discuss it on here as I want to be respectful, but it's been really strange getting used to being on my own after being with someone, who I loved very much, since I was just 18. It's crazy because in those six years I've grown from a teenager into an adult. I've graduated university, twice, I've moved out from home, I've worked in London and Cardiff, and have found myself settled in a city that's different from the town I grew up in. I'll forever be grateful for those six years, the memories we shared and the things we did and learned together, but sadly things change, and sometimes it turns out that you're living very separate lives and have very different end goals.

There comes a point where you have to decide whether to stay in a situation that is comfortable, but ultimately isn't working anymore, or whether you take the leap outside of that comfort zone and embrace all things new and different and ultimately terrifying. Because it was terrifying for me, stepping away from something that was so familiar, especially as I absolutely hate change and all that comes with it. The first few weeks were extremely difficult, but I surrounded myself with good friends, got lots of exciting events planned for the summer, and threw myself into work and my fitness regime. Looking back now, I know that I've made the right decision for me and while it was hard, I'm looking forward to embracing the spontaneity that this new chapter of my life brings.
I set myself clear goals for 2018 back in January, to focus on my career, travel more, work on getting myself back in shape by signing up for a half marathon, start seriously looking into buying my own place, and I wanted to focus on myself. And I've done just that...

Aside from a few difficult weeks during the springtime, 2018 so far has been pretty amazing. One goal was to travel more, and so far this year I've visited Paris, holidayed in Majorca, worked in Cornwall, Nottinghamshire and The Cotswolds, a trip to Canada is on the cards, and I'm also heading away to Center Parcs for Christmas with the family. I think the one thing I've learned since my breakup, is that I need to be more spontaneous. I find it really difficult to do anything without a plan in place, but I'm really enjoying branching out and getting more places ticked off my travel bucket list.

I also have really upped it when it comes to my fitness regime. It's something I lost focus of back in 2017, although working all over the country made things difficult. Back in January I bit the bullet and signed up for the Cardiff Half Marathon, which is taking place in October this year. It has been one of my goals for many years and, despite signing up only being able to run a 5km, I've pushed myself and ran my first 10km race back in March, completing the course in under 1 hour. I now aim to run a 10km distance once a week, and it's amazing how much more focused and determined I am since getting back into fitness properly.

I've taken fitness and training a step further too, by signing up to a regime with a Personal Trainer. I never thought to get one if I'm honest, but I've absolutely loved the sessions and am finally feeling body confident again after struggling for the last two/three years. I've learned so much in the time I've been taking the sessions and it's amazing to finally feel good about myself again.

Another big and extremely exciting change is that my goal of saving for my first home has been accomplished. I'm keeping it on the down low for now as things work their magic behind the scenes, but hopefully I should have some exciting news in the next few weeks!

So, what about the rest of the year? My main focus is to just keep working on myself, to experience more, to continue working hard in my job and in the gym, and to settle in what could be my very first home! It's all really exciting and I'm looking forward to what the next six months will bring.

Lots of love. xoxo
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