Luciano’s 3rd Birthday Shoot

I don’t know how I get so lucky, always shooting the cutest kids. Especially when they’re little lady-killers like Luciano before they’re even three. I’m extra smitten for him, though, because even though we don’t share the same blood, he calls me Aunt Sarah and I personally can’t have too many nephews. 😉

 

To see more of my favorites from this little model’s birthday shoot, click the picture below!

 

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On Politics and Decency

I’ve been thinking a lot about this upcoming election lately; praying a lot for both candidates and their race to the White House. I’ve also been praying for my reaction to it all, too, because my twitter feed has been so overwhelmed with hatred toward whatever party it’s not supporting that it’s painful to even be there most days. So painful, in fact, that after a very long time of indecision on the matter, I finally unfollowed 15-20 people I once respected because their tweets are just too toxic for a political conversation anymore. These people primarily consisted of authors and musicians who create things I love, people who shouted louder than everyone else about how Candidate A or B is a [insert every derogatory name you can imagine here] and anyone that supports them is also a [insert another derogatory name here]. It doesn’t matter if these things are even true; if they say it loud enough and long enough, their fans will walk away believing it; even participating in this sort of hate campaign for the opposition with retweet after retweet is problematic. This is especially true given the fact that the target audience of most of the authors I follow are young, impressionable people. What I find to be one of the most disturbing things about this sort of behavior is that they devote more time to a hate campaign than they do toward supporting their actual candidate of choice. I want to understand how this helps your candidate get elected, because from where I’m standing, I’ve never once changed my opinion on a candidate simply because someone degraded them long enough to convince me otherwise. What, I wonder, is there to actually gain from this sort of behavior? How do they think this sort of representation of themselves is ever a good idea?

 

I’m not suggesting that authors and musicians and artists of every kind shouldn’t be entitled to their opinion on real life matters; because they should, they are. BUT I do think there is a better way to express your support for one candidate over the other without completely alienating your audience (aka fans) if they happen to be supporting the candidate you’re currently taking a crap on. There is a level of class that should be expected from these public faces, from these role models, to express their opinions in a way that doesn’t belittle anyone who doesn’t agree with them. To be honest, everyone on social media should approach their opinions this way. Just because someone disagrees with your ideas, doesn’t mean either of you are automatically right. No one’s ever 100% right in their thinking. No candidate will ever be 100% what you want them to be as our leader. Even the one you might be supporting has their flaws, we all do. Do we pretend they don’t exist? No. But do we hang on those few flaws like they’re a make or break decision maker? No. If you can’t look at both options and see at least one positive thing about them, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your level of hatred. Even your worst enemy has some sort of redeemable quality. Your hatred is blinding you if you can’t acknowledge that.

 

I try very hard to not even engage myself on these sorts of matters. I know that, for the most part, nearly all of my closest friends tend to vote on the other side of the political spectrum than me, and that’s okay! As long as neither of us start slinging hateful names and ideas at each other because of the candidate we support, there should be no reason we can’t be friends with differing opinions. But some of the authors and musicians I’ve had to unfollow would argue differently and to me that’s an unfortunate problem.

 

A few years back, an author I’d respected and bought every book by on release day, got into an internet argument with me that ended in them refusing to listen to facts over their non-fact based opinion and them calling me a bigoted anti-feminist for trying to present those facts to them. It was pretty heart breaking for me, to be treated so cruelly by someone I admired, on such a public platform, all because they felt their opinion was more important than mine and since I didn’t agree with them, that made me worthy of derogatory names that do not describe the person I am at all. They don’t know me personally, who are they to call me those things all in the sake of hatefully campaigning against the person I was championing? Despite their ignorance and total lack of respect for someone else’s opinion, I continued to buy and enjoy their writing, because again, I don’t believe people on opposite sides of the fence can’t still be amicable. I would never not support someone’s creative pursuits because of their political preference, race, religion, etc… these things aren’t even characteristics about someone that ever cross my mind when falling in-love with talented people. I’ve tried to push their insults aside over the years and just appreciate their redeeming quality, being a great writer, instead. But every time since then, all of their hate-filled tweets feel directed at me and people like me who support the ‘other’ candidate and my own desire to reply and have a level headed conversation about politics has been stifled because I already know how a conversation like that would end with them. Someone can only be called horrible things so many times before they can’t forgive and forget; I’m personally not in the business of inviting people to hurt me. But what’s the biggest take away in this is that I’m an adult who can make my own choices in life – who can brush off someone’s ignorance and not let it break my soul, but they’ve still had this much of a negative effect on me; can you imagine how a teenager, who’s unsure about life, who’s looking to them as a mentor – someone they aspire to be one day, might feel if they’d tried to engage in this same conversation with them? I’m honestly shocked that publishers even let this sort of behavior take place on a platform that is a heavy marketing zone for a career they fund. I’m sad to say, I see this sort of activity on more profiles than just theirs. Professional people alienating their audience with hateful rhetoric on whatever today’s hot topic is. It’s so disappointing.

 

Maggie Stievfater weighed in on politics during the last election (HERE) and I remember feeling really glad she said all this and nothing else. I’m glad that she believes in being civil when it comes to politics, because it’d hurt so much to have to unfollow her and potentially miss out on all the great books she’s sure to write in the future, her being one of my favorite authors and all.

 

It’s unfortunate that from here on out, I will likely miss those authors or musicians latest releases and in turn stop helping them towards pursuing a career in art, which is something I avidly do because I’m a huge believer in paying for creativity. Sure, my one contribution probably isn’t going to make or break them; it probably matters very little to them to lose just one follower, but what if I’m not the only one? What if there are others who just can’t stand to see the hate anymore and have removed them from their feed. Many, like me, rely solely on social media as a means of keeping up to date with their favorite creative types.

 

I just wish everyone could show a little more decency where politics are concerned. That they’d be more aware of the different types of people who might be watching and make an effort to not alienate anyone who might think differently than them. I feel like a lot of this world’s problems come from this very thing: the absence of the good old Golden Rule and everyone’s need to shout their opinions every time one strikes, without any regard to how damaging the way in which they express that opinion might be to someone else.

 

I’m going to close this with just a little broad, good-natured political advice. Pay attention to the candidates themselves. Not the news pundits, not the headlines and snippets of out of context speech clips, not your role models opinions of these people. Research both candidates yourself, not just the party you think you align yourself with, and then support that candidate. Pour more of your energy into highlighting the reasons why you love that person than you spend on hating their opponent. Be a positive example of what a political discussion can be… because it doesn’t have to be a war. It doesn’t have to end friendships. There doesn’t need to be a fence at all.

 

I’m going to keep praying for both candidates and everyone they put in place to help them run our country to the best of their ability, and praying for my own reactions to other people’s hatred and how I too express my own political opinion, and also hoping that I don’t have to unfollow anyone else I admire before the election season is over. It wasn’t a decision I came to easily, but gosh it was so nice to wake up today to less hate in my feed. It doesn’t mean there weren’t still people in my feed with differing point of views than mine, but they weren’t classless in their effort to express that differing point of view.

 

[Note about Me: Like many fellow millennials, I am personally registered as an Independent and have actually voted for candidates in both parties in the elections I’ve been able to participate in since turning 18. In truth, I’d love to see the day we do away with parties altogether because I feel like too much hinges on the party title and its history than what the actual person represents. It might be a pipe dream to imagine a day when such an election exists, when candidates stand against nothing but themselves and what they bring to the table and the backing of a “party” isn’t a requirement, but I’m going to dream it anyway because I think it would really help us make better choices at the poll.]

 

Missing the Beach

You never really know just how badly you need a vacation until you’re on one. Or at least that’s how I felt about our trip to the beach with my family two weeks ago. It didn’t matter that I’d forgotten my vitamin D and thyroid medicine (something that usually dictates whether I can function like a normal human being or not on a day to day basis) or that I rarely ever got more than 5 ½ hours of sleep (thanks to blinding daylight and little boys who rise with the sun). I never even had a cup of tea the entire time I was there because I didn’t need it. Apparently all I needed was an extra long weekend without an alarm clock, a lack of my life and jobs demands, a few hours in the sun every day, and quality time spent with my favorite people on the planet: my family.

 

You might think sharing a beach house with 12 of your relatives would be chaotic, and you’d be right, but it’s the best sort of chaos one can ask for.  Amidst all the shouting over each other, elbows colliding in the close quarters of the hallway, fighting for 1 of the 3 bathrooms, and trying to coordinate schedules so we’re all ready at the same time for adventuring, I realized how very similar my own family is to the Griswold’s and probably the reason the Lampoon Vacation movies are some of my favorites. We’re a crazy bunch and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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So where did we go? A tiny strip of beach and shops just before Rehoboth Beach called Dewey Beach. Previously I’d only ever been to Ocean City, but after spending a peaceful week in the quaint little beach that is Dewey, I don’t think I’d ever go back to O.C. again. It was just so homey. Not overly crowded, everything within walking distance, a boardwalk not quite as busy as O.C.’s but a boardwalk nonetheless. Everywhere we ate was delicious, from crab cakes to cotton candy ice cream and our house was just a few steps from the beach. It couldn’t be any more convenient. We were also only 3 minutes from the outlets, so we came home with some tax free finds at about half the cost of what we would have paid at home too.

 

On our second to last day, we dropped by Bethany Beach, which was maybe 15 minutes away from Dewey to visit my uncle on my dad’s side. He recently bought a beach house on the bay side and says if we ever want to stay in it, we only need to pay the $100 cleaning lady fee! I hope to definitely take him up on that sometime in the future because it’s a crazy nice house.

 

Our days in Dewey were spent soaking up the sun and crashing into waves, while our nights in Dewey were spent at the boardwalk, arcade, golfing, and eating out, followed by family game nights playing the hilarity that is Fishbowl and Bean Boozeled, the grossest game to ever exist. We laughed every night till our insides hurt; I still don’t know how Gideon and Abel managed to sleep through it all, to be honest. We’re not a very quiet bunch.

 

The family as a whole had so much fun, I’m fairly certain my parents have already reserved the house again for next year and I can’t wait! For only being 2 hours away, Heath and I are even considering a quick overnight stay later in the summer just so we can get in one more beach day before summer’s gone. If you’ve been here for any bit of time, you probably already know how much I typically loathe summer, but if my summers could always be at the beach, my perspective would be totally different. In Dewey, it was 88 and we walked everywhere, but I barely broke a sweat because the breeze coming off the ocean keeps you cool. When we got home, it was only 73, but the humidity was so stifling, you feel like you’re trapped in a sweaty bag the second you step outside. It really drove home the idea that my tolerance of heat/summer (or lack thereof) is largely dictated by the humidity factor.

 

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I can’t even explain how much I miss being there, even two weeks later. I took over 4K pictures on the trip and only about 700 of them were blurry. If you click through them fast enough, it’s almost like watching a movie of our time there. I’m equal parts remembering it happily and also sadly about it being over until next year. I seriously can’t wait to go back! But in the meantime, I’ve been tagging along with my aunt to her country club pool(s) to keep what little Irish tan I have alive and continue to soak up some real vitamin D. It’s not the same, but it will do for now. 😉

 

 

I have two folders worth of pictures to share, if you’re interested in seeing some of the highlights from our tip. The first are just pictures from my “Story” on SnapChat. (I’m on SnapChat, btw, if you want to follow me – swhisted, like everywhere else) And the others are from my real, good camera, which I must say performed so amazingly on the beach. Capturing water and sand in motion in near perfect clarity really excites my photographer heart. You can access these albums by clicking the two pictures in this post or clicking HERE and HERE!

 

Music: On Repeat

It’s been a while since I talked about music here, outside of my year-end reviews. Since my music listening’s recently underwent a semi-significant change, perhaps it’s time a good time to chime in. :)

 

I’ve been an iPod/iTunes junkie for over a decade now, carrying music with me everywhere I go religiously. I got my first one as the “pickle” gift for Christmas and still, to this day, consider it one of the best presents I’ve ever received. That first iPod seemed to last forever, even though forever was actually only 5-6 years, before it finally died. In that time, Apple had released all kinds of newer, fancier iPods, so on my 30th birthday, my husband (fiancé at the time) bought me one of those fancy new ones. (You might remember me posting about it if you’ve been here long enough?) Well, to be the gift that keeps on giving (or doesn’t), literally a few days short of my 34th birthday that fancy new iPod committed suicide. It was a devastating thing to see it pass even faster than its predecessor. And despite it feeling like an appendage I’d lost, I just couldn’t bring myself to drop another $250 on a new one knowing that I’ll be lucky if I got another 4 years out of that one too.

 

SO… In my ongoing need for new music, I decided to just utilize my Amazon Prime account for more than just free two-day shipping and stream some music while I decided what to do with my music library from here on out. And, in doing so I found myself wondering why I wasn’t doing it all along. Why I’d fallen captive of the Apple platform for so many years when all this music was at my disposal already. I’d talked about spending more time exploring new music this year to keep my creative juices flowing, but I’d hardly even entertained the idea before being forced into another option than my iPod. In just the short time of using Amazon Prime, I’ve discovered SO MANY great artists or songs I would have likely missed out on had I just kept going on with my normal listening habits. Oh, how many musical wonders I could have found sooner had I not felt compelled to be loyal to Apple.

 

I’ve been so satisfied with my finds on Amazon Prime that I even bought the Amazon Echo for easier, higher quality listening when I’m at home doing things away from my PC. And while I haven’t started doing it yet, I can even add all the music and playlists I already had on iTunes to my Amazon account so I still get to enjoy the massive library of music I already own.

 

I feel like I should add that just because I’m enjoying streaming so much doesn’t mean I’m no longer buying music. That’s hardly the case. If anything I’m buying more, because I have the freedom to listen to and fall in-love with whole albums instead of singles before forking over the money. I will never NOT buy music, even when it’s at my disposal for free. Music artists, like so many other creative careers, cannot exist without compensation. They deserve to be paid for their hard work. Try to remember that if you are a streamer yourself.

 

Anyway, on tumblr tonight, I’m featuring a few of the gems I’ve found and played to death and probably I’ll keep up a sort of seasonal on repeat thing over there instead of every week (since finding time for Tumblr these days is super hard). To keep this post from becoming a short novel, I’ll just feature the bands I’ve fallen the hardest for here and if you’re interested in checking out anything else, head over to Tumblr and follow my Music Friday hashtag. Happy Listening!

 

The Joy Formidable

 

Oh, picking a song to share by this band was so, so freaking hard. The first song to spike my interest was “Whirring” and maybe I should have shared it for that reason alone, but Amazon Prime had two of their albums available for streaming and you know how much I love chick led rock music so I jumped straight from “Whirring” to everything else. It only took a half a day of listening to know that I had to own everything they’d ever made, so three albums purchased later and now I’m obsessed. They’re the kind of band you can listen to an album straight through, without ever feeling compelled to skip a track. They’ve got that grungy 90’s alternative sound and I’m so, so glad to have discovered them.

 

 

Royal Blood

 

The thing about Amazon Prime that I don’t love is that it doesn’t keep play counts for you; iTunes did this and it helped me gauge what I listened to the most better. I bring this up here because I’m certain that I have listened to the album this track comes from a ridiculous amount already. Like for a solid week straight from wake to sleep. Thankfully my boss ended up liking the band too. I love the rawness of them – how they don’t feel over-produced. And just overall they give me a bit of a 90’s alternative feel, which is always, always a good nostalgic thing for me.

 

 

Foals

 

It’s funny because this wasn’t the first Foals song I added to my playlist and it sounds nothing like the other one, but it quickly became my favorite. It’s heady and sounds sort of sinister and I just can’t get enough of it. And while I wish that more of their music had this darker tone, I can’t pretend I don’t love all of their work regardless, because I’ve bought two albums and can easily listen to them straight through without skipping a song. Maybe their future will offer up a few more dark gems like this. 😉

 

 

Highly Suspect

 

I’m not sure obsessed is even a good enough descriptor for how much I am loving this band right now. They have that raw, not overly produced sound I’m loving about Royal Blood, the singers voice reminds me of Dustin Kensrue (of Thrice) only even hotter, and it’s just seriously good all-out jamming music. It’s like garage band meets blues and I hate to sound like a broken record with all these 90’s feels, but it’s seriously like the music scene of my youth is making a comeback and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I really, really hope to see this band live someday. No doubt it’s gotta be one hell of a show with music this full of energy.

 

 

J. Roddy Walston & the Business

 

I woke up with The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” in my head last Friday and couldn’t stop listening to it on repeat for some reason. I tried to explain to my boss that part of the reason I loved the song so much was for how perfectly the piano stands out and that whenever I’m reunited with my own piano, I hope to learn to play it. We got to talking about other bands who do a good job at making the piano stand out and he said, “You listen to J. Roddy Walston & the Business?” My boss is one of those cool 50 year olds who figured out how to not let age actually age him. He’s been in a rock band since he can remember and while he doesn’t always love my music choices, appreciates our jam sessions at work. He had done a few gigs with J. Roddy when they first started out in the early 2000’s and they’d even lived here in Baltimore for a while. My interest was piqued immediately and Amazon had 2 of their albums available to stream so we listened to them all day and now I can’t stop listening to them because they’re like a new band with an old sound. They’re the soundtrack to the summer cookouts of my youth. They’re music my parents would have exposed me to if they’d been around when I was younger. They’re the kind of rock my parents would still listen to. I immediately went home and bought both albums and then promptly corrupted my dad with them too. 😉

 

 

What have you guys been jamming to lately?

 

Niekrash Family Shoot || Spring 2016

I met Jessa at a Maggie Stiefvater event two years ago and was so flattered when she asked me to capture her family for the last time before they became a family of four! Jessa was seriously one of the prettiest pregnant ladies I’ve ever shot and her daughter Ellie is chock-full of personality; I just know she’s loving being a big sister to baby Jack now!

 

Click the picture below to see my favorites from the shoot on Flickr!

 

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Churchless

I was in the 4th grade when we started going to my church. My family had hopped around from church to church, never finding a right fit or denomination for us, until the boys across the street invited us to Sunday School one week and my sister and I enjoyed ourselves so much that my parents tagged along the following week and the rest is sort of history. Though it had changed in a lot of ways by the time we’d joined, it was the church my mother grew up in and it became the church my dad found God again in. It’s a small old building that rests on a hill at the corner of two of the “major” roads in my little town, rooted pretty deep in the customs of the Southern Baptist that founded it. There are hardly any original members left alive, but one of them, Mrs. Silva-Jean sits in my pew with my family; her and my Maw Maw are best girlfriends.

 

In the time I’ve attended Towne Baptist, we’ve seen several pastors lead our church. When the first one passed away, a younger, hyper man took his place. When God called that guy to serve in another state, one of our own members got ordained and became the Pastor. That Pastor got involved in the mismanagement of church money and was ultimately asked to leave and at his exit, much of the church fell apart. Members left in anger or disappointment, others got tired of waiting for the “right” pastor to come and fill the void. And when we finally got a new Pastor, most of my church experience changed in a big way, for the better.

 

When I was younger, I mostly liked church for Sunday School and VBS and church camping trips. These things made it fun to learn about God. But when I graduated high school and could decide for myself whether I wanted to go to church or not, I mostly stopped going altogether. It was around this time when the drama surrounding the mismanagement of money started to create a hostile environment in a place that should be all about peace. Alliances were made and gossip was spread and the cattiness of it all was just too much for me. Even though I know you’re supposed to turn your cheek and forgive, most of us just couldn’t and the hypocrisy in that made me look at organized religion in a negative way. I was of the belief that you could worship God anywhere; you didn’t need a building and all that drama to find Him. While I still feel this is mostly true, I made the decision to come back to church when they finally found a suitable Pastor to fix the brokenness at Towne, because I felt myself needing to go to church; it was way too easy to drift from God without it.

 

Maybe it’s something about being older and having a better understanding about life in general, but that new Pastor awakened a desire in me that I didn’t even know existed. He didn’t preach AT you, he didn’t proclaim to be holier than us. His sermons weren’t always the uplifting, feel good types that have become so common in mainstream Christianity. He wasn’t afraid of touchy subjects, he told Bible stories from an obviously well-educated perspective and connected them to real life scenarios, and he could even laugh at and acknowledge his own mistakes when preaching. Lots of older people probably had a problem with him from the start because he’s only a handful of years older than me, which made him way younger than the average pastor we’d had for the last few decades when he first came on board. They also had a hard time adapting to his new age methods of spreading God’s word. In his time there, our church held functions most Baptists think are sinful to even entertain, like Halloween’s Trunk or Treat, and the reach in our community was huge. Literally hundreds of people who might have never even given our church a second thought showed up. The use of social media as an advertising platform also didn’t jive so great with the older members of congregation because, like some might say, “FB is the devil.” While I might agree that it can be a hellish place, I think the ways in which we reach new followers has to change with technology. You’re far more apt to reach someone with a FB post or Ad than you are by them driving by the church and noticing a sign inviting them in. In my eyes, he was already doing so much more than any of the Pastors before him and it didn’t even stop there. The guy is seriously an overachiever in life. Someone missing from the praise band for the 8:30 service? No problem, Phil can play every instrument up there and sing too. There’s something both unbelievable about his seemingly endless abilities and also really freaking impressive. I can’t tell you how many times I wondered how he’d managed to excel at so much in this life in only a handful more years than I’ve been alive. If I was a prideful person, I suppose I could see how that might be intimidating to someone who’d achieved less in more years. Luckily, I’m not. 😉

 

The bulk of people from Towne or who had departed Towne prior to his arrival never made it easy for him to do God’s work without some sort of ugliness surrounding his every move. Some even went as far as creating a FB prayer group, of which the Pastor and his wife were a part of, just so they could talk crap about how inefficient they thought he was as a Pastor. It made me sick to watch these “Christians” acting so un-Christian-like, to the point that I found myself wanting nothing to do with the church anymore. This feeling of disappointment in the congregation at my church was enough to even make my parents leave and attending church without them for the last year hasn’t been easy, but I did because Phil’s messages moved me more than anyone before him. His sermons are the kinds that make you take notes; that lingers with you long after you’ve left the sanctuary.

 

A few months ago, Phil told us he was leaving. That God was calling him to plant a new church near his neighborhood. And initially, for me, the disappointment felt like anger. The idea of having to leave the church I’ve always went to because I couldn’t stick around through another transition of a new Pastor, because I couldn’t sit by and watch those naysayers gloat over his departure. But then my angry disappointment felt like relief because with my parents already gone, there was really nothing tying me to the church anymore outside of him. And while I might not love the idea of change, even when it’s good for me, I am okay with leaving finally.

 

So, it’s been 5 weeks since Phil’s last day and now 4 weeks since I’ve been to church and I worry about how long it might be before I actually get to see a service led by him again. Probably I’ll start going to the mega-church my parents go to for a while just so I don’t start drifting, but I’m not thrilled about it. It’s too big, like the kind of church you see on TV. My parents like it because no one has to know them personally if they don’t want – they don’t have to get involved in or know about the drama this way. But big churches like that feel impersonal to me. While I don’t want to be a part of the drama, I do want to feel comfortable in the pew every week, like I’m a part of a 2nd family I look forward to seeing once a week.

 

There’s a big part of me that feels bad about leaving the church I grew up in all because the leaders gone. Isn’t that just as bad as the people who left when he first arrived? How devoted does that make me? Except that devotion should always be toward God first, not a building. And I’m afraid that the brokenness of my church might never be healed. It’s fueled by too much negative energy and I just don’t think I can be a part of trying to fix that anymore. So until then, I’m sort of churchless. I’ll be honest, it’s a crummy feeling, but I just keep hoping and praying my Pastors new church plant takes off soon and successfully so I can get back to learning about God better than I ever had before him. And in the meantime, I’m pouring myself into my devotionals and prayer journal to keep me on track.

 

About the Church Plant: Connecting Church, Coming Soon….

 

Connecting Church 2016 from Connecting Church on Vimeo.

Weight loss Journey #1: On Progress and Patience

I had meant to write about this the first time around, but having to stop a few weeks before the wedding never gave me an opportunity to blog about the journey so I’m rectifying that now. I’ve just completed the 6th week of T25, which is the same amount of weeks I’d completed the first time around. It’s also the 1st week of Alpha Round 2, as the program is technically only 5 weeks long, and I’m doing Alpha twice because I know I’m not ready to move on to Beta yet. Heck, I might need to do Alpha three times before I feel like my body can actually handle Beta, to be honest. On Saturday’s I always do an extra workout, because I don’t trust myself to take two days off, and that workout typically ends up being Tae-Bo Cardio, but in the 3rd or 4th week I thought I’d give Beta Cardio a shot and holy crap was it so much harder than I could have imagined. Now, I made it through it, and felt totally badass for it in the end, but it’s definitely not something I could do everyday yet and so I’ll stick with Alpha for another 4 weeks before I decide whether I’m ready for the upgrade yet.

 

So how has it been, now vs. before? Interesting? That’s a bad answer. Challenging? Yeah, that’s better. And challenging is good, because growing bored in this certainly wouldn’t keep me motivated. I must admit, though, that some weeks have been harder than others.

 

In week 1, making it a habit again was difficult. I found myself barely making it home in time to swallow some dinner, workout way too late, shower, and head to bed before midnight. For someone who gets up between 4 and 5 AM everyday for work, this is too little sleep. It left zero time for anything else, stressed me out, and left me constantly tired in a dangerous way. The best thing about week 1 was being able to actually do the recommended 2 workouts on Friday. I couldn’t do 2 in one day until week 4 the first time!

 

In week 2, that tiredness in week 1 caught up with me and my workouts suffered for it. Where I should have been able to give them a little more oomph, I was giving them a little less because I just didn’t have the energy. But, the habit felt formed already, like something I couldn’t skip – something my body needed – something I must do! Even though my muscles ached, I’d started to crave the pain because it reminded me I was doing something right.

 

By week 3, my priorities surrounding my schedule started to shift. Feeling like I must workout everyday forced me to make the most of the minutes in all the other things I do everyday. It also forced me to ax some non-priority activities like TV and social media from my everyday to-do list. If it couldn’t be done on my phone in a handful of minutes, it’d have to wait. I managed to make getting at least 7 hours of sleep a real thing and my muscles and mind were grateful for it.

 

In week 4, frustration set in. When you physically push yourself hard 6 days a week, you expect to see significant or noticeable progress. And when you don’t, it’s so easy to just want to throw in the towel. For as much as I loved the aching of my muscles, I hated it too. I hate how much my knees crunch every time I go to stand up or squat down. I hate how old it makes me feel to move stiffly after being seated for too long.  I hate how I have to take ibuprofen on leg intensive days just so my knees can even handle the workout. I hate standing on the scale and seeing the number either not move at all or even move up, when everything about your body feels tight and awesome until you step in front of a mirror and confirm that nope, you’re still giggly and fat. In week 4, my insecurities wanted me to just give up and stop wasting my time, but mentally I knew that wasn’t the answer. And I kept praying desperately for just the slightest evidence of progress, a 1/4″ even would have helped, but it hadn’t come. Thankfully, I didn’t quit and it was probably the sermon at church that week that kept me going. Things happen in God’s time, not ours – Pray for patience, not progress.

 

In week 5, frustration turned into obsession. Truthfully, I’m surprised it took that long. I suppose the feeling of working out as a must was the beginnings of it, but fitness obsession was in full-blown effect by week 5 and it’s not going away anytime soon.

 

 

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At the start of this second attempt of T25, I’d sold the unopened Fitbit Flex I got for Christmas and got myself a Garmin VivoSmart band to track my steps and sleep activity. My husband and mom have older model Garmin bands and it’s made both of them revive their naturally sedentary lifestyles. I wanted to do the same, but I wanted more features so I went for the newer “smart” model and quickly became obsessed with it. It’s thin and unobtrusive on my wrist and it acts like or appears to just be a digital watch whenever you touch it, but swiping and pressurized touches will give you a whole series of other options like: how many steps you’ve taken for the day, how many you still need to hit your goal, how many calories you’ve burned, or how many miles you’ve walked today. It also does even cooler things like when you’ve been sitting still for an hour, it vibrates at you and tells you to move and won’t clear itself until you do it to it’s satisfaction. If you ignore it, it will continue to vibrate at you every 15 minutes until you’ve hit 2 hours. It takes a lot longer to clear it if you let it get to that far without listening. It also tracks activities, so whenever I do T25 (or any sort of “workout”), I tell it to track the activity and then when I’m finished it stores them all on the app so I can later compare the actives on a week to week basis to see how I’m improving. It can track an assortment of different types of activities and it breaks each of them down by your fastest pace, a graph of your movement, how many calories you burned, etc… The sleep tracker is one of my favorite features though because it not only tracks the hours you sleep, but your light vs. deep sleep hours too so you can tell which things might be making you get more or less of the different kinds of sleep (for instance, my sister discovered her lifelong habit of sleeping with the TV on was leaving her with very little deep sleep every night). It even knows when I’ve gotten up to pee in the middle of the night. And you can set a little alarm on it, so you wake up to a vibration instead of the jarring sound of a regular alarm. Lastly, it can sync so seamlessly with your phone that you could control music from it, if you were in the middle of a workout and wanted it louder or softer or just to change a song, and you can have notifications sent to it, of which you can actually even read right on the band! I currently have my phone calls, text messages, and emails linked to it and it’s extra convenient for knowing when I NEED to check one of those things right away or if I can wait a minute until I’m near my phone again.

 

 
Sleep Tracker

 

Activity Comparison

 

Screenshot_2016-03-20-13-53-46Looking back, that all sounds a bit advertise-y, but it’s just because I really do love it. So much so that my sister has also since gotten one and now my whole family competes against each other daily in steps. You can “friend” people on the app and set challenges or just see their general daily progress every time they sync. My sister and Heath are so competitive they will literally run in place for 10-20 minutes several times a day just to get more steps and there’s a ton of trash-talking in the daily comments; it’s quit funny really. Having a job that requires I actually SIT at my desk means that I don’t beat them often, but I have on a few occasions and it was such a victorious feeling! My best day so far was over 16K steps and since I’ve had the band, I’ve put in over 400,000 steps total! I’ve found myself so obsessed with the steps that I have a hard time sitting down for too long now. Heck, I delayed a whole week in writing this post because I didn’t want to sit at my desk long enough to write it when I could be stepping. You can imagine what that means for my reading. If I can’t read it while I’m walking around the house, I haven’t touched it (which means, I’ve basically only read comics these days). Even while I’m doing menial tasks like the dishes, I’m stepping or dancing in place as much as I can to get those steps in.  I’ve joked that by this time next year, everyone will ask our family how we got so fit this year and our answer will be out stepping each other, but it could be true. I never thought I’d ever see us so motivated before and who knew we were so competitive?!

 

Anyway, I rambled about all that because it’s feeding my fitness obsession right now and in week 5 signs of spring started to make an appearance outside so Heath and I started walking after my T25 workouts. At first it was just a mile or so, but since then we’ve wandered halfway through our town, walking up to 3 miles a day now in addition to T25! That’s like an additional 3-5K steps just for walking around for a half hour. We both signed up for the Color Run in May this year and while I know we’ll likely just be walking it since the kids are going with us, I’m excited that if we keep up this walking every night thing, we might actually do the Color Run (walk) without being winded at all.

 

This past week, week 6, was a re-start of the program and you might think that since you’ve done it before and already made it past 5 weeks, that going back to the start wouldn’t be very challenging, but it is for a couple reasons. For starters, I can do a heck of a lot more now with the group than I could in week 1. I almost exclusively followed Tanya (the modifier) in those early days, and while I still need to for the high impact knee moves (primarily any that involve jumping), I’m otherwise doing everything else with the crew now. I’ve also been struggling with the tiredness again, but this time not of my own doing. Turns out that despite taking prescriptions for both of these things, my thyroid and vitamin D levels are back in dangerous places. I’m currently working with my doctor to rectify these things, but my week 6 routine definitely suffered for it. Hopefully it will be all sorted out before I hit week 8.

 

Yesterday I did the stretch session for the first time since having T25 and I’m not sure why I waited so long to check it out. My muscles are in a constant achy state, even with Sunday being a rest day, but doing that stretch DVD after my Saturday workout yesterday not only settled my heart rate and mind to a calm place, my muscles also felt SO relieved for a change. They’re achy again today, which is to be expected since I murdered my legs yesterday, but I think that stretch session is crucial from here on out. In addition to this, I’m going to continue to up my step goal by 1K every two weeks and try one of Blogilates daily mini workouts for the month of April. With all of that, my T25 schedule, and neighborhood walks with Heath, I’m bound to be reporting even bigger progress the next time I blog about this journey.

 

For now, I’ll leave with this… Anything worth having in life takes time and it’s important to track any and all of the things you want in life so you can later reflect on them in a better light than you might have had along the way. I’m on a mission to lose a significant amount of weight, on a journey to feel strong and be healthy enough to house a baby. Nothing about that will happen overnight. So, celebrate the progress, no matter how small or how long it took to happen, because it is happening. You are changing, little by little, for the better – just don’t give up!

 

Current Stats:

 

Weight: -6.2 lbs (-20 total since first starting in September)

Bust: -1/2″ (-4″ since September)

Waist: -1″ (-4.5″ since September)

Hips:  -1/2″ (4.5″ since September)

Arms: -3/4″ (1.25″ since September)

Thigh: -1/2″(1.5″ since September)

 

Becoming Mrs. Harris

Last July, Heath and I celebrated our 11th year together. That’s a long time to “date” someone; made to feel even longer considering I’d been wearing an engagement ring on my finger for the last 7 of those 11 years. I’ve hinted at the reasons why before, but it mostly boiled down to never having enough money to make it happen on our own. There were other things… the uncertainty over whether I could accept never being a mother for the rest of my life (since Heath didn’t want kids) or the fact that family seemed like a very unimportant thing to Heath (in comparison to me at least, because I spend a great deal of time with my family). But when Heath’s dad passed away last year, the change in him was almost immediate. He started talking about having kids, about how he regretted us not being married already because now his dad couldn’t be his best man and see it, and that he realized why all those moments I spend with my own family were so valuable. As an introvert myself, who’s constantly trying to push myself out of my comfort zone, it was so nice to finally have a partner to leave that comfort zone with. And to dream again about a future I always saw myself having. So wedding planning began last February and here were our a year later, married.

 

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and I’ll elaborate more on that in a minute, but first let’s talking about planning. People always tell you how stressful wedding planning is, how you need all this time to get ready for it. I mean that’s even the message shows and movies about weddings tell you too. And I suppose to some degree, it can be, but I think it’s mostly a choice you make about how stressful you really want to make it for yourself. How much of a bridezilla do you really want to be? I chose none at all, but even with that relaxed attitude, I did manage to get a little crazier as the wedding approached. The thing about wedding planning is, you can have all the ideas sorted out months in advance. I had a pinterest board and a very clear idea about how I wanted the barn to look on the big day almost immediately after we’d decided to finally get married last year, but outside of imagining the look of the day, there’s not much you can even do that far in advance. Basically everything that needs to happen to make a wedding a success happens in the last couple of months/weeks before it and I guess that’s where the stress comes in because no amount of proper planning can stop everything from having to be done at virtually the same time.

 

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We’d planned a small gathering, which primarily consisted of my family (because it’s so huge) and the few friends we have that could make it. We didn’t have a wedding party so we walked down the aisle together. We didn’t do all the traditional dances or bouquet throwing, because who made those wedding rules anyway? We didn’t even have cake, because I hate cake and just can’t understand why anyone would pay the prices those things cost for something that mostly just looks pretty but often doesn’t taste very good at all. Basically, we just wanted to throw a slightly extravagant Thanksgiving-like gathering and in the end that’s what we got and everyone loved it. The warmth of the barn, the rich fall colors, the smaller crowd that encouraged lots of socializing, the comfort food we served, the pie bar which allowed guests to enjoy a variety of different desserts whenever they felt like eating it. There wasn’t any pressure to be “on” the entire time and for two introverts like Heath and I, it was perfect.

 

But back to those stressful weeks leading up to the wedding and everything going wrong… The details of the wedding came together without much a worry at all for me. My dress had arrived wrong initially and when the right one did finally show up I had to have a significant portion of it taken in, but otherwise I’d commissioned my friend at work to be my wedding planner/arrangement artist/jeweler. She’s talented in all these areas and had just been married in the same place a year before. She knew what sort of look I was trying to achieve and I never once doubted that whatever she created for me, I’d love. Not having to make all those decisions myself took such a huge weight off my shoulders. And it was a good thing, too, because the month before the wedding is probably a photographers busiest season and definitely my personal busiest as a photographer since my hobby became a full-on side job in 2015. I was working overtime at my real job, working out religiously, and taking pictures of people almost everyday or several families a day on the weekends. To say I was drained would be an understatement and my body finally made me stop all that nonsense two weeks before the wedding by gifting me with pneumonia for the first time in my 33 years of life. It was so bad I even missed nearly an entire week of work. The whole time I was sick, Heath took the best care of me, doing everything he could to make sure he didn’t get sick too. And he made it through that week, healthy as can be while I struggled to get enough air into my lungs to even do more than waddle to the bathroom occasionally.

 

They put me on steroids the week of the wedding and finally I’d started to feel some improvement, and a false sense of energy, but I sorely needed that because it was time to get super busy. I had pictures to edit, work to catch up on, bags to pack, pies to bake, a music playlist to put together, etc., etc… In hindsight, I would do a lot of these things differently if I had to do it again; I wouldn’t have baked all the pies, I wouldn’t have decided to be the DJ for my own wedding, I wouldn’t have taken on so many clients when I knew I wouldn’t be able to get their pictures back to them in a timely fashion… but it was too late then to do anything about it all so I just got busy. And then Heath got sick, too. Thankfully, it wasn’t pneumonia, but it was a fever that wouldn’t quit and stomach that was constantly heaving. I don’t think I’d ever seen him sweat through so many clothes in our whole 11 years together as he did in those few days before the wedding. Even on our wedding day, he was running a fever, feeling weak and drained before the day had even began. I felt bad for him having to power through it all, but he did. And despite feeling ill for most of it, he’d genuinely enjoyed the day as much as me.

 

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It’d rained the morning of the wedding and the temperature had dropped significantly from the muggy 70’s we’d had just days before. We’d prepared for the cold with a basket full of blankets for people to share since the ceremony was outside and they were a huge hit! And luckily the rain quit just in time for the ceremony and held off long enough for our photographer to capture some pictures of us in between it and the reception.  My dad officiated the wedding, which of all the gifts my parents gave us for this (the wedding itself and a portion of the honeymoon), was probably my favorite. We wanted it short and my dad made the whole thing happen in under 5 minutes! He forgot the rings, which he beat himself up over, but it was actually a huge break in the tension I was feeling. For an introvert to be the center of attention, standing at the alter wasn’t easy for me. Forgetting the rings made everyone laugh, and reminded me that all those eyes on me were just my family – people I’m comfortable around on any other given day.

 

 

The rest of the afternoon moved at lightning speed. For as little people as we had in attendance, I feel like I hardly got to talk to any of them. I don’t know how people with weddings in the 100’s manage the crowd at all. My uncle’s company catered the event, serving prime rib eye, roasted chicken, a root mash, my mother’s macaroni & cheese recipe, and cheddar broccoli soup. Everyone raved about how delicious it all was and I vaguely remember it being tasty, but I probably only got 1-2 bites of each thing. I hardly eat at other people’s wedding and having the chance to at my own was even slimmer. The pie options were Berger Cookie, Blueberry Mascarpone, Apple, Apple-Berry, Pumpkin, Pecan, and there was also a plain cheesecake, too! We’d made the wedding favors (a mason jar mug with seasonal tea & cider) everyone’s place holder, and several people put them to use right away to stay warm. After exploring a table full of “fun” just for them, the kids tried to rally the crowd to the dance floor and when that was unsuccessful, lured us there instead by battle dancing. I wish someone had recorded it, because it was epic!

 

It was all over so fast, I’m not sure how people have time to even fit those traditional wedding activities into the event. Surely that takes so much of the fun out of it. As people departed and left us with warm hugs and well wishes on our life together, nearly everyone had something to say about the ambience of the barn or the comfort of the food, the closeness of the guests and the pinterest-like success of the decor. Even though the day was about us, the fact that my guests were so pleased made me feel even happier about the day as a whole.

 

Heath and I were home by 9, with smiles on our faces that just wouldn’t quit. Even as I type this remembering how happy I felt, I get a little teary eyed. I’d thought that getting married wouldn’t feel that exciting or different than already being with him for 11 years had felt, but it was truly the happiest day of my life to date. I’d dreamt about getting married since I was a little girl, sure that it would have happened before I was 25 and when 25 came and went it stopped feeling like a dream and more like something I’d failed at. But to finally know that this is forever now gives me a different sort of peace and security in our relationship than I had before and I’m so-so glad we finally did it.

 

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Sarah & Heath

November 7, 2015

 

Our full wedding album can be viewed HERE!

 

A few favorite tracks from our wedding reception playlist can be heard HERE!

 

In my next post I’ll tell you all about our Honeymoon in Disney! [aka: a continuation of the best days of my life. 😉 ] Stay Tuned. :)

 

Self-Misperception

This is no new thing for me to suffer from; if you’ve been reading me long enough, you know I’ve already spoken on it before. But sometimes it seems to sneak up on me like a snake, and takes a bite out of my heart (aka: what little confidence I might have built up since the last time I was bitten) so big it knocks me off my feet and depression rakes my soul.

 

In the last two years I’ve made legit efforts to work on both my inner and outer appearance; to wear clothes that were more representative of my style and figure, to be brave enough to express myself with funky hair and makeup the way I always wanted to, to take care of myself with better eating and fitness for both my overall health and weight issues, and to actually “feel” pretty on occasion. And as several of my posts have indicated, I did feel pretty on occasion for the first time in a long time because of these efforts. There have been several days I’ve finished my makeup and hair and even considered taking a selfie to mark the moment because I was so impressed with the look. But those pictures never seem to look the way my eyes or mind see myself, which brings me to this latest snake bite.

 

I finally got my wedding pictures back this past weekend and to say I was excited for them would be an understatement. The whole day was over so fast, I feel like it was more like a something I dreamed rather than something I actually participated in. My memory of the details of that day hardly exists; I just know I was happy. I remember feeling like a million bucks, gorgeous the way every bride wants to be on that special day. But as I look through these pictures I feel like I shouldn’t have lied to myself about feeling so pretty. Every little flaw seems to beam at me brighter than anything else in the pictures; my double chins that have almost eaten my neck whole at this point, my waistline, which a tape measure swears I have, but certainly isn’t evident in the pictures, how my unnecessarily big boobs that had just went down 2 bra sizes still manage to look even bigger than my already big head, the way my fat bulges out of the sleeve, even though I had to have them taken in and they were nowhere near tight on me… I could pick apart these pictures forever. In fact, the more I look at them, the less I love myself in them.

 

Everyone I’ve showed them to says I’m crazy and I know I should probably listen and stop tainting such a special day with self-hatred. But while a big part of me knows it’s not healthy to pick on myself as much as I am, I also don’t believe it’s a wise idea to lie to yourself about your appearance because then pictures like these fall into your lap and the shock of what you truly look like is almost too much to bear.

 

All of this being said, I still intend to share the pictures and recount the day in my next post. I recently read a very thought provoking article about photographers, this particular one being overweight like me, always capturing someone else’s memories and never putting themselves in front of the camera because they don’t want to remember being that big or flawed. That one day they’d regret not having those memories of their own because they kept waiting for that magical moment when they wouldn’t hate the way they looked and it never came. I already feel this way at almost every family gathering. I’m there to capture it for everyone else, but I almost never put my camera in someone else’s hands to capture me being there too. Not just for my own memories when I’m old and losing it, but for anyone I leave behind when the end of my days comes.

 

I haven’t had this sort of hatred for myself in a long time and I doubt it will just vanish overnight, but I’m going to keep trying to improve myself both physically and mentally and hoping that one day pictures of important moments in my life won’t make me cry the way these did. That if there are tears, they’ll only be the happy, nostalgic kind.

 

Blueberry Morning Cake

I’m writing this from my newly acquired laptop, gifted to me by my husband to encourage my getting back into writing by being able to remove myself from our shared office (which is full of distraction), and it’s snowing for the first time this winter. It’s been unseasonably warm here in Maryland, keeping germs alive in an awful way and making Christmas feel not much like Christmas for me, so I doubt it will stick or amount to much, but at least it’s finally happening. Hopefully it won’t be the only snowfall we get this winter.

 

Colder weather has always had a way of making my creative sides flourish. I’m not sure how or why they’re connected that way, but it’s always been the case. Where many people suffer from seasonal depression in the colder, darker months of the year, I find myself more productive and happier than I am all year. There used to be a time when that creativity presented itself in the form of baking, but in the past couple of years my treat baking has gone a similar direction as my photography – something I do on commission rather than for fun. But I miss the satisfaction of just baking something for fun, of taking an existing recipe and making it my own. And as I put my also newly acquired Kitchen Aid mixer (the most amazing wedding gift from my dear friend Akoss) to use this past week for a commissioned birthday cupcake order, I thought: I’m going to just bake for fun this weekend. It’s perfect that it decided to do my favorite thing of all, snow, when the free time to bake arrived.

 

So, what did I decide to create? Well, this year I jumped ship from my usual Joyce Meyer devotional and decided to give a stranger’s devotional a shot instead. It’s not that I don’t still love Joyce Meyer or that her devotional wasn’t useful to me, I’m just looking for something more in my spiritual walk and while this new devotional isn’t exactly getting me there either, I think it’s healthy to take chances on something different, otherwise, how would you ever find what you’re looking for? Anyway, the new devotional is called Savor and it’s by a woman named Shauna Niequist and I hadn’t bought it for this reason, but every so many pages it comes with the added bonus of some of her favorite recipes. The first one showed up in between last weeks devotionals and sounded super promising and also like something I could easily convert to gluten free.

 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe and directions (they’ll be shown in parenthesis and italics like this) and will likely make a few more the next time I make it, but overall I’m pleased with the end result and think it’s definitely something worth baking if you’re also looking to create in the kitchen just for fun.

 

Shauna’s original recipe calls for….

 

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened), plus more to spread in the pan
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp for the berries (I used 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp brown sugar for the berries)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Chobani Greek Yogurt)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (I added 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract as well, because almond can get overwhelming in flavor and balances better with the addition of vanilla)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups blueberries (my 2 cups were overflowing)

 

*Shauna’s directions call for adding salt, but there was no measurement included in her ingredients. I added 1/4 tsp of sea salt to mine and it worked just fine. I also added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (because I love the combo of cinnamon and blueberry) to my cake mix and also shook a bit onto the berries themselves while mixing them in sugar

 

Her instructions work like this…

 

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 10″ springform pan and line it with buttered parchment paper. (I skipped the buttered parchment paper. Seemed like overkill to me, but perhaps if you have a tricky oven or a springform pan that tends to stick to things, the parchment paper might be a good idea. Also, while I liked being able to release the springform pan and have the cake standing there so prettily, I don’t see any reason this couldn’t have been baked in a glass dish if that’s all you have.)
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, yogurt, and almond extract (and vanilla in my case 😉 ). Mix well. Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix by hand until combined and be careful to not over mix. (I didn’t mix mine by hand or find myself concerned with over mixing. In fact, mine still had a few lumps of butter and I think it worked out just fine. Also, I had added my cinnamon at this point.) Pour batter into the pan. Toss berries in remaining sugar (remember, this is where I split the sugar, part white sugar/part brown sugar) and then scatter them over the top of the batter.
  • Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My oven normally cooks high so I initially shot for the 45 minute timeframe, but in the end, it took 65 minutes for the center to finally set for me. This could be a result of the gluten free flour swap; it’s my first time substituting so I’m not entirely sure.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cake plate.

 

I had my slice warm, with a swipe of butter on it, and a cup of tea, and it was delicious! In fact, I don’t think anyone who didn’t know it was gluten free would suspect so in eating it. It’s definitely a good comfort food for a cold, snowy day. :)

 

 

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