Create / Enjoy

Monday, January 26, 2015

Black-on-black lace shift dress from a BurdaStyle pattern

I made myself an LBD--but it's anything but basic thanks to this fun pattern and some great fabrics from my mom's library.

I've been seeing a lot of drop waist dresses lately, and it's a new look for me but I think it can be more wearable, less dressy, more fun than a natural waist fit-and-flare dress. Kollabora just launched a collection of 100+ new patterns from Burda Style's catalog collection, and I tried out Burda Style 6853, this princess seam drop-waist style with several skirt and trim variations. (This is really the pattern I should have used for this dress/inspiration dresses--instead I used Simplicity 2584, which I use a lot but may be asking too much of... I modify it a lot.)

But, I found the perfect drop-waist pattern and used black cotton pique and cotton lace overlay for this fun style!

I love the lace yoke and even the super simple black bias tape I used for the trim!

Here's the bones of Burda Style 6853. I couldn't tell until I read the instructions that view C, which I made, uses lace overlays on top of the main fashion fabric for the contrast, rather than a coordinating contrast fabric! What a cool treatment and way to use lace.

This was one of the rare occasions where I actually followed the pattern instructions. The dress is fully lined except the sleeves (see more on linings here) which makes it lay and wear nicely.

Up close you can see the lace overlay, and the bias trim.

I did all the nice construction details, too, like hand-hemming the sleeves.

Check out all the Burda Style PDF patterns on Kollabora!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A long overdue book recommendation, I know you'll like this one: Overdressed

If you haven't read this book already, you probably want to!

Sometimes I'm a little behind the times, especially about reading. I love reading, but sometimes there are phases where I don't find the time. Luckily, this holiday break reset my habit, and this week I finished a book I started back in January 2013. Ha!

And in fact, since many others before me have a written excellent book reviews, I'll spare you the academic review of this excellent book and share my new values on this important topic, influenced in part by the book but really have been brewing inside me for a while.

Really briefly--Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion is about how "fast fashion" and mass-produced clothing availability has increased so much since the 1970's and '80's, and the societal, environmental, and cultural impacts it's having on us and the rest of the world. (Now, if you're reading this blog, you've probably been interested in being self-sufficient and fixing damaged clothes, making your own of a new trend you love, or saving money or time as well as getting exactly the clothes you want. So you probably have a leg up on most people in our culture--we care about fashion, sure, but we also want to be practical about doing things ourselves and mindful of the money we spend on clothes.)

Rather than review the book, I'll point you to these articles and interviews--check them out, and the book on Amazon. And on to the discussion!

My mom lent me this book after she read it, having heard the author on Fresh Air. My mom and I have always been good shoppers. She taught me how to navigate a store, and when I started managing my own money in high school, I developed an eye and taste for cheap fast fashion and deep discounts so I could afford to build my wardrobe with colorful, trendy, brand-conscious finds. Shortly thereafter my mom and I both became very skilled at thrift store shopping. (The big Goodwill by her house still has some excellent pieces, not all of which have been marked up since the trend in secondhand shopping that has occurred in the past 5+ years.)

My mom does know quality, but to my young shopper's attitude, cheap, trendy pieces were more important than nice tailoring for the most part. One time in high school, I remember I counted and had 68 pairs of shoes. (I think about 20 of them were a rainbow of flip-flop choices, but still.) My first "real" job after grad school, I remember I wore a different outfit to the office every single day, combining my pencil skirts, brightly colored cheap sweaters, print tops, Target flared suit pants, and about 10 pairs of heels for the 5 or 6 months that I worked there. (And this was in government, not some creative or trend-based field! I was the only one who did this.)

There was a time when then-boyfriend/now-husband moved 4 or 5 times in as many years, and every time I would pack up my massive closet of cheap and thrift and finds in boxes, duffels, and garbage bags and unpack them in our new place, sometimes with very small closets! But, my closet was small in the house I grew up in, too, so I was very used to creative solutions for overflowing clothing storage, like bookcases outside the closet and seasonal boxes under multiple beds.

Get rid of stuff, own less

So really, having MORE, new, trendy clothing had been my goal since I was able to shop. Not until the past 2 years or so has my attitude dramatically shifted. I've started getting rid of things en masse, no longer worrying as much that I spent money on them and only wore them once (but it's still hard).

Now, I feel a little encumbered by the things that I own and don't love... all the (remaining) tops and sweaters that don't quite fit, or are a little pill-ey, or don't go with anything except black jeans. All remaining the jewelry with the worn off finishes and exposed cheap metal. All the remaining shoes that hurt my feet and only look good in pictures.

Overdressed gave me some sobering facts about how the cheap clothes in my closet made it to the mall or big box store I bought them at. It also gave me, a long-time thrift shopper, a broader perspective on the secondhand clothing industry (shocker: there's actually too much supply donated, a surplus over the demand both domestically and overseas). And it reminded me of some serious environmental impacts of dying and manufacturing of the base goods that go into new clothes, particularly cheap fibers.

Couple that with my recent desire to own less stuff, and the inspirations I've seen lately for the "capsule wardrobe" concept (not a new one, but has recently been popularized by blogs like Un-Fancy--How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe and her seasonal examples, as well as Elise Blaha's capsule wardrobes). And a few years back, the 30x30 challenge lots of folks did. These "challenges" show you that you can live with only 30 or 40 pieces in your closet for a month or a season. They never held much appeal for me, but now, I kind of want to live with a capsule forever.

I wear some combination of grey, black, mottled black, camel, and denim pretty much every day. I don't need all the cheap clothes taking up room in my wardrobe. Why don't I spend more money on fewer, nicer pieces? It's a hard shift to make when the draw of very trendy pieces for very low prices surrounds me in the sale emails and store windows I pass at my usual fast fashion favorites. (Especially since starting January 2015, my company got rid of Casual Fridays but now allows nice jeans any day of the week, as long as no client meetings--cut my wardrobe needs down significantly.)

Like, I don't need all this jewelry. I don't wear most of it. And this is the pared down collection!
Photos by Nakalan McKay

But, I sew. As you can tell from the name of this blog, I want to focus more on enjoying the things I've made rather than make-make-make (or shop-shop-shop) all the time. Slow down, enjoy what I have, be grateful, make less waste. And, as my new book DIY Wardrobe Makeovers will show you, I know it's pretty easy to repair and remake clothes rather than buying new.

I guess I'm saying, I feel like I've been building up to a place of shopping less, buying nicer stuff, being more conscious of my wardrobe. But it's still hard to take the plunge and get rid of all the junky stuff and only shop from brands with good social and environmental practices, paying a fair price for what I wear.

Have you read the book, or tried a capsule wardrobe?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Real food Shepherd's Pie recipe - two ways!

It's winter! Here's a delicious, warm, seasonal classic you can make from veggies in season this month. It's one of the first dishes I made after I started eating meat again, and I love classic recipes like this (Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie) made with some variations for unprocessed, Paleo-friendly real food ingredients.

But I have my sweet friend Linnea to thank for the encouragement to share this recipe. She had a baby girl last fall, and friends signed up to bring her and her family meals. She was completely un-picky about what people brought, but of course I wanted to make them one of our favorites, an easy, one-dish meal free of processed foods, grains, legumes, or other irritants.

I hesitated to share this because there are gazillions of Shepherd's Pie recipes, even other Paleo-friendly versions... but as I looked through them recently when writing this recipe, I realized they are all different and I have yet another way of making mine!

I typically make this dish in our dutch oven (real deal/good knockoff), but for taking to a friend I bought a disposable square metal pan with plastic lid. This recipe fits perfectly in one of those dishes or a 5-6 quart dutch oven, and I love making it on Sundays to start us off with great lunch leftovers for the week.

I should also note that, besides the spices and frozen peas, EVERY ingredient for this amazing dish came from our winter CSA share or our latest grassfed cow share (the ground beef). I wanted to save this recipe to blog when it's really seasonal and you can make it from ingredients sourced locally! I love finding amazing ways to combine our local, organic, seasonal produce. And of course, grassfed beef is incredibly nurturing and nutrient-dense, and makes me feel good! This is one of our fave balanced one-dish meals.

I made it with mashed potatoes this time, but if you have nightshade sensitivities, you could also do it with sweet potatoes or your favorite root veggie. For a lower-carb version and because I don't love white potatoes that much, I also often make it with pureed cauliflower on top in place of the potatoes. (There's lots out there about the are-white potatoes-Paleo controversy... good summaries here and here.)

This recipe can be made completely dairy-free, with butter only, or with butter and cream, depending on your dairy tolerance.

Real Food/Paleo Version - Classic Shepherd's Pie

Mashed Topping Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs potatoes OR 1.5 lbs sweet potatoes OR 1 head cauliflower OR 1.5 lbs your favorite mash-able root vegetable
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or full-fat coconut milk for dairy-free
  • 1 tbsp. grassfed butter or ghee (or omit for completely dairy-free, you'll just have dryer topping)
  • salt & pepper

Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp pastured hog lard, grassfed beef tallow, or grassfed butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • sprinkle sea salt
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • 1.5 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • more salt & pepper
  • 1 lb grassfed ground beef or lamb (or combination) (grassfed vs. grain-fed article if you're interested)


    1. Chop and boil potatoes, cauliflower, or your choice of root veggie (in a saucepan). (When they are done, between the next steps, strain, add the next 3 ingredients, and mash.)
    2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    3. Chop the garlic, onion, carrots, and celery. An a heavy pan or dutch oven, saute in the lard, tallow, or butter with a dash of salt. Once sauteed, add the peas, tomato paste, and spices.
    4. Create a spot in the center of the pan. Cook the ground beef or lamb with another dash of salt and break it up into small pieces. It will look like this.

    Next step depends on which baking and serving method you choose!

    Version 1:

    5. Distribute beef/veggie mixture into individual oven-safe dishes, distribute mashed potatoes or veggies on top, and bake for 20-30 minutes.

    Version 2:

    5. Distribute mashed potatoes or veggies on top in the dutch oven or pan, and bake for 20-30 minutes.

    In this method, cut slices out like you would a pie.

    We usually make Version 2 and have great leftovers for lunches and an easy dinner for one or both of us, but the little dishes are very pretty for a dinner party or special meal!

    Of course, you can also saute the veggies/beef in any pan, then transfer to a casserole dish or disposable casserole dish, then put the potatoes on top, like I did for Linnea. I brought it to her just like that--with everything cooked, but still needing the 20-30 minutes in a hot oven to mesh all the flavors and crisp up the top. That way all she had to do was heat it!

    Friday, January 16, 2015

    An overview and a happy story--big changes! Or, raw vegan to Paleo

    I have a happy story to share today. Something I've been wanting to post for a long time, but I get nervous. I'm not sure when it all started--either January 2010 or Christmas 2012, but now, January 2015 when I feel the best I ever have, it's time to let the cat out of the bag and share my successes.

    Warning: if this stuff (health, body image, lifestyle) doesn't interest you, feel free to skip this post. I'm often hesitant to share content like this, but I'm passionate about it now and I hope my story can help others--so I'm writing for those of you who this will really speak to.

    I've posted about my shift from raw vegan to Paleo, but a lot has changed since then, and I often get questions from people asking if I feel better now, or why I like one better. And I have a hard time answering. I'm very conscious of how much I talk about food and health, since not everyone likes to hear about it. I don't want to be the cheerleader no one wants to listen to, rah-rah-rahing about how great my new trend diet is. BUT, there's so much to say. So many things I want you to know if you are interested. My way of eating has dramatically improved my health, alleviated or removed many of my physical and mental heath issues, and given me a new passion for lifelong health. I know there are people out there who struggle with ongoing issues and may someday find the diet that works best for them. If hearing my story helps them explore the massive world of internet knowledge and find their solution, that'd be awesome.

    So I'll start in the middle.

    Pre-Phase 1: 10-Year Vegetarian, then Mostly Raw Vegan

    Hope these graphics are helpful! I thought they'd be easier than a paragraph explaining all my symptoms and changes.

    During both my vegetarian and raw vegan phases, I thought I was "fine" despite my ongoing health problems.

    But then... my husband changed everything. Sure, I thought I was fine, but he was struggling with health problems, too, and he started learning about leaders in the Paleo and Bulletproof Diet trends. (He ate mostly vegan, also very low fat, with more cooked foods than I did but very rarely meat or dairy.) He wasn't sure how to talk to me about this, but he basically said he wanted to start eating a lot of grassfed beef and butter. Turns out a high fat (30-50% of calories from healthy, unprocessed fats) diet makes people lose weight and feel better, he was learning. I was very uncomfortable with his new interests.

    I'll skip over my reaction to this shocking development from my until-then compliant mostly vegan husband. (He now has a blog, Grassfed Geek.)

    As I did research of my own and began to learn more about high fat, grassfed beef- and butter-filled diets, I realized I couldn't argue. I had never felt solid in my reasons behind being vegan, and I realized there was a lot of science on both sides, but I felt much more confident in the science on the ancestral, human diet side (omnivorous diet).

    So, I began transitioning to eat a higher fat, less raw vegan diet.

    Phase 1: More fat, cooked veggies

    Amazing what a difference FAT makes! Energy is good.

    So, as I continued to research (listened to lots of podcasts and read lots of blogs and books), I got excited about making the leap to eating meat again! (Husband was excited. He started eating meat regularly, too.)

    Phase 2: Meat, & no longer fruit/raw sugar at every meal

    The weight loss was surprising at the time (I didn't realize how much muscle and bone mass I'd lost). Skipping Phase 1, since it was pretty short, but compare these photos from the summer before (Pre-Phase 1) and three months into eating meat (March 2013, Phase 2).

    I look at that first photo now and feel shocked. Look at the bags under my eyes. Look at the tiny arms that don't look like they could hold much up without collapsing. I won't go into body image much in this post since it's a huge topic, but at the point in this photo I thought that I was pretty small but still could lose some body fat. (!) When I look at the Phase 2 photo, I remember that I was a little self-conscious that I was getting heavier--but those jeans are minuscule. My butt is tiny. My face looks much fuller, though. I still wore the same clothes, although my bras fit more snugly! Those 10 pounds went to my muscles and boobs.

    Side note: While there's no photo of it, pre-pre-phase 1 (high school, college, grad school) I was never such a low weight. I wasn't built skinny--no one in my family has the Taylor Swift genes, more the ScarJo genes--and I was never as small as I was in my raw vegan years. Hence why the Pre-Phase 1 photo is so scary to me now.

    Phase 3: Complicated! With a happy ending.

    Things were going really well. I felt energized and healthy eating meat from local sources, and no longer drinking smoothies and juices all the time and not feeling any more satisfied. (My husband lost about 40 pounds eating meat and fat and cutting out grains and sugars.) I was so excited to have found Paleo, and loved learning more about humans, diet, history, health, modern medicine pitfalls, the food industry, local food, sustainable food, movement, training, and all those topics I still love.

    So then...

    These photos show the end of Phase 2 to the beginning of Phase 3. As you can see, they were taken about a month apart. This was the beginning of my weight gain, and while I could still wear some of the same clothes, my face and arms were fuller (and the dress fit more snugly).

    And then, the post-medication weight gain was very difficult. I look at photos taken a month apart and I remember the struggle I had having to buy all new jeans and shorts in that short period, gaining 20 pounds and not knowing when it would end.

    But, it did end eventually. The weight gain continued for another month or so, but slower. There's a warning, folks--don't get on ADHD medication unless you absolutely have to. So crazy to gain that much weight so fast after getting off it.

    So I learned:

    But that's not really part of this story. What the whole "Paleo" thing has taught me is 1) which foods irritate me and which work for me (almost everyone who eats "Paleo" defines their own parameters based on trial and error, eliminating foods) and 2) Why are we modeling diet after our ancestors, again? There are so many things in our modern lives that don't make us happier. Hunching over our desks all day. Medicating ourselves (in my case, anyway) before addressing the root of my hormone, neurotransmitter, and gut issues. Getting flat feet from wearing positive-heeled shoes. Irritating our skin with industrial beauty products. (Speaking for myself about all these things, no judgment to others.) Eating "Paleo" to me means taking care of my body with what is natural and easy for me.

    Being on that medication was not right for me--I knew it at the time but denied it. Eating only fruit and salad was not right for me. Now, I eat incredible, high quality food and I feel good almost all the time. Those are two huge wins for me. I've also learned that I feel great when I lift heavy weights regularly, and stand at my desk at work big parts of the day. If all those positive things mean I weigh more than I did when I was unhealthy, well... so what??

    Today: Health is the goal.

    I'll skip ahead a few sub-phases to some images taken in the past few months. Again, I can't really go into body image today, but if you read my post the other week you know I'm very excited to celebrate physical strength as a goal, and (as evidenced above!) you can imagine that I don't believe being skinny at any cost is a good thing. I like these photos of me because I look happy, strong, and HEALTHY.

    That's what this journey has taught me so far. Oh, and how we eat today? I am SO totally tired of the word "Paleo," but we do still eat what can easily be defined as The Paleo Diet, although I think of it as "real food" more than anything else. Husband can tolerate dairy, I can't. He can also do white rice, which I only eat occasionally. As much as we're all human and there are foods that our bodies have evolved to eat, we also all have our individual tolerances and once we cut out the processed foods, we can identify which foods make us feel best. That's part of why it feels so great to eat what seems like a limited diet.

    But I didn't want to talk about our diet as much in this post as I wanted to share the incredible positive changes that I can't believe I've experienced through changing my food! (If you want to learn more about Paleo, I shared some more in this post along with a couple short lists of resources.)

    Here's to health!

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015

    New knock-off: J.Crew leather patch pocket pullover tutorial

    This is a fun, dressier DIY clothing makeover/knock-off!

    Inspired by the J.Crew Factory merino pocket tunic and the J.Crew merino leather pocket sweater (both from more than a year ago, I think), I put together this tutorial for a simple patch pocket detail on a plain sweater. Here are the originals...

    J.Crew merino leather pocket sweater (sold out)
    J.Crew Factory merino pocket tunic

    And here's what you can make!

    Leather Patch Pocket Sweater Tutorial

    You will need:

    • Crewneck sweater or long sweatshirt
    • About 1/4 yard leather or faux leather (mine was super cheap fake leather, but since it won't bear much strain, that's fine)

    Here's my "before" sweater and finished project.

    (Note: this sweater had a funny balloon shape so I took in the sides majorly before using it for this tutorial--gave it an even more dramatic before/after, eh? See my method for taking in a lightweight sweater here!)

    1. Try on the sweater;. TK

    2. Cut approximate pocket pieces. You pick the proportions; this will depend on your size and the length of your sweater. Cut two identical. Mine ended up being about 7.5" wide by 10" long.

    3. Fold over one corner for hand angle. Lay your hand on top of the piece, imagining 1/2" will be turned under on all sides. I did a right triangle, but it could be more steeply angled like the original.

    4. Topstitch the top pocket edge. Start with a row of stitching just over 1/4" (typically the presser foot width) from the edge. (Remove pins before you reach them.)

    Then sew a row less than 1/8" from the edge. If you can tell up close on the original, there are two rows of stitching which adds to the quality look.

    5. Trim the excess pocket. Leave a small seam allowance outside your first row of top stitching. It's not like it will ravel!

    6. Pin or clip under 1/2" all the way around. Leather and fake leather are difficult to pin, so you can also use sewing clips like these--very handy for thick projects, too.

    7. Pin pocket in place. Approximately on top of the hand position you marked, pin the pocket down on one side. You'll probably be able to align it with the grain of the sweater to keep it vertical and straight.

    8. Top stitch on the sweater. With about 1/8" of the folded seam allowance to the right of the needle, top stitch all the way around the pocket.

    9. Match the other side. Fold the sweater in half lengthwise with the sewn pocket facing down and line up the second pocket's edges to put them in exactly opposite places. Pin carefully (repeat step 7) and top stitch (step 8).

    P.S. My suede flats are from Lands' End and I love them. Great price, real leather, even come in wide! And sparkle.

    Try it at home!!

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    3 inspiring things

    I'm inspired! By something new to this blog.

    I'll deviate from my most typical sewing, food, or decorating content today to talk about another thing I'm really passionate about. Another kind of DIY project, I guess--something I've been working on in earnest since April 2014, which I'll continue to pursue in 2015.

    It was never a "New Year's resolution," but instead an ongoing goal for my whole life. I've had a LOT of big changes in how I eat, move, and supplement over the past two years, and eventually I decided to begin a regular, recorded strength training routine.

    (Feel free to skip over this post if this isn't something that interests you. But I hope you'll read along, since I love sharing my excitement. Today I want to talk about strength. Not weight loss, or getting as lean as possible, but overall fitness and strength.)

    Working on a consistent strength training program was totally new for me. For many years I "exercised" regularly (spending 30-60 minutes on an elliptical or treadmill or taking spin, kickboxing, "aerobic," yoga, Pilates, or other classes--and never seeing any results or changes in my body composition), but I never "trained" toward progress. But I'd been listening to body image/strength/training role models like Molly Galbraith and others on my nutrition podcasts, and I realized I could do what they do. I could go to the weight room 3x/week. I could find a beginning strength training routine and track my progress (I started with this one by Nia Shanks for 8 weeks, each session either increasing reps, increasing weight, or improving form).

    Turned out, I LOVED IT. And it's gotten better and more challenging from there, and I'm amazed at the strength and muscle I've built, like I've never had in my life.

    All of that above is the Cliff's Notes version, just enough to introduce this topic I'm excited about. Check out these videos and image and I bet you'll be inspired to build strength, too! New Year's resolution or not, many of us are thinking about health and habits this time of year--I love how more often nowadays, that conversation goes beyond "losing weight" and "dieting." How about we focus on health and strength for life??

    1. Non-practicing athletes using learned skills

    This inspiration came from an unlikely place: the Instagram feed of a wedding planner blogger I've followed forever. Rhiannon of Hey Gorg Events does ridiculously beautiful weddings and styling, and has quite the eye as well as great entrepreneur skills. She also used to be a gymnast.

    This video is an Instagram video, so I can't embed it and you'll have to go over to Instagram to watch it. It's worth the extra clicks, I promise. Read Rhiannon's description of what she's doing, too. Then try it yourself on your living room floor, and feel even more impressed.

    I was never a very strong child myself (I did ballet for many years, but I don't think it benefited me much physically) and I still struggle with handstands and supporting myself with my hands. But it's inspiring to see someone who's not a practicing athlete (I would expect that a current gymnast or CrossFit pro could do this kind of thing) be so strong and in control with practice fit into her current lifestyle. Here's to "regular people" accomplishing physical goals!

    2. Strength at any age

    I know none of this history behind this video, but I can tell from watching that it is a very strong woman in her 80's performing some gymnastics bar work I can't even begin to imagine doing myself! Watch it, it's short. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be that physically capable [ever, much less in old age]???

    I originally saw this video on the Girls Gone Strong Facebook page. (They're a great source of resources for strength without injury, as well as positive encouragement.)

    3. More strength at any age, and training

    This photo came from another blogger I've been following on Instagram for years. This is a photo of her mom, and I don't know much about the back story on this one, either, but clearly this is a woman much older than me or the athletes you see in magazines or videos, apparently doing a pull-up (a personal goal of mine) and looking hardcore. Seriously, it is HARD to do a pull-up! I'm working toward it with resistance bands, and have made serious progress, but I am impressed whenever I see anyone (literally anyone) do one. I hope that when I'm her age and have had kids and lived through more life challenges, I can rock some strict pull-ups at the gym.

    I also just love seeing positive images like this one in less-than-likely places, like this lifestyle blogger's Instagram feed. The blogger who shared this pic of her mom isn't a fitness blogger or anything, just a fashion/mom blogger, so her audience is probably not used to seeing strength messages everywhere they look on social media. I appreciate the inspiration!

    Don't take my word for it

    Strength, mobility, health, self-confidence, dedication, and body image all go hand in hand to me, and of course that's a LOT to talk about. But today I wanted to just share these three snippets--I hope you're as inspired as I am, and hope we all continue to learn and better ourselves. I've learned a lot about training from these resources, and searching "Molly Galbraith" in the Podcasts store on iTunes! Listening to her interviewed on various shows.

    Check out (all web/blogs except the last one):

    Hope you're inspired, too. This post was so different for me to write! Even had husband look it over. I'd love to hear your stories about strength and health inspiration!

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