My Top 5 Favorite TV Series

I love playing “top 5″ and “favorites” games with people. What’s your favorite food? Favorite song? Favorite restaurant? Favorite girl’s name? Favorite dinosaur? Anything’ll do.

But my FAVORITE question to ask to TRULY get to know someone is: what’s your top 5 favorite TV shows?

People’s favorite TV series are like a window to their soul, I swear. I can tell so much about someone based on their answer to this question and/or if were going to be BFFs (I’m not sure I can associate with anyone who lists “Cougar Town”, for example). JK, all you Cougar Town fan(s) out there!

I recently finished my online Sons of Anarchy binge on my laptop, and so I decided to sit down and truly ponder what my favorite television series are – remember, I don’t have kids, so I have time for this kind of wonderful nonsense. Read through my list, and leave your Top 5 in the Comments section! :D

Top TV Series

5. The Wire

Many claim that The Wire is the best show ever broadcast on television that no one ever actually watched. I was introduced to this show by my friend who was very passionate about it before it became a ‘cult classic’, and I spent this past summer hunched over my laptop engrossed in the crazy story lines following cops, drug dealers, and the like, set in Baltimore, MD. HBO is releasing a fully restored DVD set of the series this summer, so that may be the perfect time to check it out.

Why I luh it: Intense, deep characters and stories; “too-true” and scarily-accurate plot lines.

Most Memorable Moment: When Bunk and Jimmy are on a crime scene and communicate only using variations of the F-word.

4. Breaking Bad

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are two of the most incredible fictional characters known to mankind. They thrilled me, excited me, scared me, and outraged me, but at the end of the series, I was craving more!

Why I luh it: There was something addicting (no pun intended) about watching the demise of a simple school teacher gone rogue, and by the end of the series, I had no idea who I was rooting for anymore or why. I love when shows make you question yourself like that.

Most Memorable Moment: I absolutely LOVED when Walt and Gabe cooked for the first time. The music, the laughing, the coffee making – perfection.

3. Sons of Anarchy

Good GOD, I loved this show. Love love love love love this show. Honestly, don’t let the motorcycle gang stuff put you off, I was nervous I’d think the guys were kinda d-bags, but they ended up being memorable and lovable characters that I was sad to see leave when I watched the season finale. Good thing there’s a prequel SOA movie comin’ up. :) :)

Why I luh it: How much time you got??? I loved so many things about this show, so I think I’ll just list my reasons.
– Jax Teller (goodness he is baddddd in the good way)
– Finding out that OTTO was actually the creator/director/writer for the show! AND he’s married to Gemma in real life! WHAT!
– Happy. And Juice. And Tig. And Chibbs. Oh, and Chuckie.
– The writing was phenomenal. The acting, honestly, is sub par, except for a few key episodes and moments, but it was written impeccably.

Most Memorable Moment: I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t watched it, but the Season 6 finale is one of the most shocking and crazy I’ve ever seen.

2. Game of Thrones

I cannot say enough amazing things about this show, and truly it may overtake the #1 spot once the series comes to an end. I’ve started reading the books and they are equally as incredible!

Why I luh it: The perfect combination of lust, magical creatures, fantasy, and violence. I dig it.

Most Memorable Moment: Uhhhh I think anyone would agree that The Red Wedding had me jumping on my couch screaming at the top of my lungs. Holy God.

1. The Sopranos

Yaaassssssssssss the Sopranos! I know this is my all-time favorite series because I had the theme song “Woke Up This Morning” as my ringtone for a good 3 years and I woke up more gangster and cool each morning I heard it.

Why I luh it: It’s hard to put into words what exactly I love about The Sopranos as a whole. The writing was beyond amazing, the actors became the characters, and the dream sequences/psychological aspect of the show was fascinating to me. I’ve watched the entire series 4 complete times now, and it seriously gets better each time. I even like the ending now!

Most Memorable Moment: Ohmygosh one word: Adriannnaaaaaaaa! (Don’t watch if you haven’t seen the series yet.)

What are your top 5 favorite shows???

Burpees: The Everything Move

Burpees! They’re fun to say AND the most effective “everything move” in my workout repertoire. I was first exposed to burpees in bootcamp classes at the CrossFit gym, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Benefits: Burpees burn calories, rev up your metabolism, boost endurance, and strengthen every major muscle group.

When you do a Burpee, you’re practically working out your entire body – butt, legs, back, chest, arms, abs, and shoulders. You’ll feel your muscles getting stronger every time you do them, and they’ll help perform everyday activities – like carrying the groceries or picking up your toddler! Plus, they’re simple to do pretty much anywhere, and require no equipment.

Burpee

How exactly do you do a Burpee? I always stick to the “push-up” style because it works every muslce even harder than a basic one.

From a standing position, drop down to a squat position with your hands on the floor.

Kick your feet back in one quick motion and drop your chest to the ground in a push-up position. (Variation: it’s easier on the knees and back to simply step back instead of flinging feet out)

Return to the squat position as quickly as possible.

Jump up into the air as high as you can and clap.

Burpee GIF

How should I add a Burpee into my workout? You can join the 100 Burpee Challenge to gauge your timed progress each week, or use my Tabata workout post to absolutely murder your legs and arms in the most effective (and painful) four minutes of your life! Do as many Burpees as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds; repeat for 8 hellish rounds (4 minutes). Here are some other Burpee-inspired workouts to check out:
Burpees and Pull Ups
Sprint-Burpees-Kettlebell Press
Burpee Variations

3 All-Inclusive Resorts I’ve Visited that are Perfect for Spring Break

Looking for a spring break vacation full of hiking and mountain climbing and physical activity and cooking and hard work and no drinking? Well, I can’t help you there. But if you want to lay on a beach and eat & drink to your heart (and stomach’s) content, I’ve got 3 amazing all-inclusive resorts that I can personally recommend!

If you’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort, you’re definitely missing out. There’s something for everyone: sensational restaurants, unlimited cocktails, pampering & spas, beach, pool, and excursions. You pay for all food and beverage up front, so dinners and drinks are unlimited throughout your stay. It’s really nice not to have to worry about bringing a credit card out, and eating and drinking as much as possible is certainly quite a vacation, eh?

While I obviously can’t do all-inclusive vacations every time I travel, they’re an amazing option for couples, friends, or families who just want to relax and be a crazy lazy glutton for a week! I’ve gone to several all-inclusive resorts since my early twenties, and here are my 3 faves!

SISTER TIP: Resort excursions are fun and amazing experiences, but something I am VERY passionate about it spreading the word NOT to do “swim with the dolphin” programs! Click here to read more about why these excursions are so harmful, and do a booze cruise instead. :-)

3 All Inclusive Resorts

3 – Meliá Caribe in Punta Cana

Melia Caribe

Meliá Caribe was the first all-inclusive I went to, so it holds a special place in my heart and set the bar pretty high for future vacations! I remember being blown away by the service and sheer size of this resort, and I love the Dominican Republic; the people were amazing.

My Fave - “The Level” was an additional upgrade service that is completely worth the cost. We brought cash, after reading a Yelp review, and offered the front desk $300 for The Level adults only section. It worked! It has its own restaurant/lounge, concierge, and pool and beach area.

Eh - I remember the time share sales pushes were relentless. You can run into pushy time share staff at various all-inclusives, my best advice is to be assertive and just say no!

So... much... food.

So… much… food.

2 – Sandals Whitehouse in Jamaica

Sandals vacations are unparalleled – service, food, top shelf drinks, accommodations, and pretty much everything else. Tipping is not allowed, but the staff goes above and beyond to make sure your stay is incredible.

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My Fave – Jamaica is an absolutely phenomenal country to visit. The biggest perk to Whitehouse was the isolation of the resort; it’s not a crazy party destination by any means. My favorite part about this vacation, though, was an excursion called Island Routes Pelican Bar Highlight. This booze cruise was a party ship that took you to a bar literally in the middle of the ocean. There, locals fried up freshly caught fish and provided Red Stripes and great conversation. $109 per person and 100% worth it.

Eh – Travelers beware! This resort is about an hour away from the airport and the bus ride to get there is an absolutely horrifying experience. No joke. The Jamaican staff that drive you are certainly confident enough, but as a passenger, I actually became sick halfway through. There are no barriers on these cliffs, there’s goats in the middle of the road, and the twisting turning ride was awful. Just know that the end destination is worth it, but I recommend taking an Advil before you start!

Jamaica

1 – Valentine Imperial Maya in Riviera Maya

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Oh man was this adults-only 5-star resort fabulous for New Year’s Eve! The staff went all out and threw the most incredible celebration, and really, you can’t go wrong with any all-inclusive in Mexico!

My Fave – The nightlife of this resort was excellent. There was nightly entertainment, a piano bar, sports bar, beach parties, and a club. Like I said, the New Year’s party was phenomenal; the attention to detail blew me away!

Eh – Be prepared to pay for this puppy. This was the most expensive all-inclusive I’ve done, at about $600 a night. But you can get a direct flight from Chicago, and be on the beach by 10 am! Worth it.

Valentin

What all-inclusive vacations would YOU recommend?? Leave in the comments section!

Good-for-you Banana Bread

I LOVE making easy bread recipes. They’re perfect for breakfast, snack time, or even to give to friends for gifts! This is my favorite banana bread recipe, and any time I have a few leftover ripe bananas, I whip a loaf of this whole wheat banana bread together and voila! Breakfast for the week! (Who am I kidding, it’s gone in a day.)

Good for You Banana Bread

Whatcha Need:
6 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce (I use a 4 oz cup)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Various mix-ins: walnuts, chocolate chips, pecans etc

Whatcha Do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk applesauce, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and milk together. Add in eggs and banana and whisk until combined.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the rest of the dry ingredients together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes; test with a toothpick to ensure that it comes out clean. Allow the bread to completely cool before cutting! This is important so it holds!

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SISTER TIP: I like to top mine with Greek yogurt and eat with a fork! This bread is fairly dense, so even one piece can fill you up. :)

The Best Spinach Salad I’ve Ever Eaten

Recently, I posted on how to add more green into your diet, and this spinach salad is the perfect (and best tasting) way to do that! Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of raw spinach. It’s bland and fibery, and I can rarely finish a whole plate of it. But my Valentine and I went to a lovely dinner this weekend, and tried out their specialty – a simple, Italian-style spinach salad. It was SO GOOD YOU GUYS! I asked for the ingredients, and I’ve recreated it, just for you! :)

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Combine: Baby Spinach, Thinly Sliced Pears, Pecorino Cheese, Dried Cranberries, and Sliced Almonds with Fresh Squeezed Lemon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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Will you try this fabulous spinach salad??

I Love You, I Loaf You

You’re probably wondering what the heck is up with my post title today, allow me to explain. When I was just a young little Jesi – or, during the 2-year stage in which I only responded to my middle name, Ashley (big-ups to my Grandpa who was the only person to abide by this demand) – my parents used to tuck us kids in every night. And when they would say goodnight, instead of just saying “I love you” like normal families do, they would come up with tons of other words that started with “L” and sub those in. My nightly routine became “good night, Jessica Ashley, we leaf you,” or “we live you,” or “we loft you,” or my personal favorite, “we loaf you!”

So, whenever I make one of my favorite (and easiest) homemade dishes, meatloaf, I think of this adorable memory, and put a little extra “loaf” into that loaf! Here’s my take on a healthy meatloaf for you to try out this week. :)

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SISTER TIP: The thing I love about meatloaf is that you can pretty much add any nutritious veggie to it and it will still taste amazing. Have some leftover carrots? Green peppers? Zucchini? Sweet potatoes? Beets? Blend ‘em in the food processor and in they go! I even added some chia seeds and wheat germ for extra goodness, and diced up these mushrooms I had in my pantry. ^^

Whatcha Need:
1 lb ground turkey
1 container mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small onion, diced
2 cups canned or fresh spinach, drained and chopped
1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Salt & pepper to taste

Whatcha Do:
Basically, just mix that stuff up! Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until well incorporated. Form into a loaf and put on baking sheet, or into a loaf pan. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 1 hour. Serve with barbecue sauce or ketchup.

Turkey MeatloafSISTER TIP: For side dishes, I made a basic romaine salad and these easy cauliflower mashed potatoes! You won’t even miss the carbs, I promise. MOM! THE MEATLOAF!

8 Ways to Get More Green in Your Diet

According to nutrition experts, “green are the number one food you can eat regularly to improve your health”. I believe it, too. I can physically tell the weeks that I consistently eat greens compared to the weeks I slack. They’re full of fiber, minerals, and vitamins that help you look younger, prevent disease, and cure pretty much any ailment you can think of. Green = power. So how exactly do you add more in your diet??

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1. Smoothies

My absolute favorite way to get my greens is to add it to a morning smoothie. I know I’m getting 4-5 servings right off the bat, and it’s an excellent routine to get into first thing in the morning. Spinach is my favorite green to incorporate into smoothies because it has virtually no texture or taste, but I also throw in kale, celery, and romaine lettuce 3-4 times a week.

A great beginner green smoothie:

2 cups of spinach
1/2 cucumber
1 small apple
1/2 lemon
1 cup of water

Green Smoothie

2. Use leafy greens in place of bread

I’m not exactly a ‘salad girl’, but one simple way to add green to my meals is to replace the carbs with a leaf! That’s right. Try these turkey lettuce wraps or these low carb burgers, these fish green “tacos” or instead of ordering a burrito, get the taco bowl! No carbs, but tons of flavor.

3. Add spinach to pasta sauce

One of the easiest way to to add greens to homestyle dishes is to sauté some spinach, blend it, and add it to sauces. I add spinach to almost every pasta dish, and it’s just as easy to add it to tuna casserole, breakfast omelettes, or slow cooker meals.

4. Don’t put your produce in the refrigerator door

This is just a personal tidbit, but I am 99% confident that when my recently purchased broccoli, kale, or spinach is put into a drawer in the refrigerator (or the bottom shelf), they ain’t gettin’ eaten. Instead, put your fresh greens right on the top two shelves so as soon as you open the fridge, you’re forced to see them and remind yourself to add them to your diet!

5. Stockpile frozen veggies

Every time I go to Aldi (read my Aldi love post here) I stock up on frozen vegetables like it’s nobody’s business. I buy a combination of at least five bags of frozen broccoli, edamame spinach asparagus, and green beans, for only $1 each you can’t beat it. Frozen vegetables are actually among the healthiest veggies you can eat, because they’re frozen at the peak of freshness, and much easier and more convenient to make.

6. Be “Deceptively Delicious”

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Jessica Seinfeld’s, in which every recipe sneakily incorporates fruits and veggies to boost the healthiness without sacrificing taste. I check out her site Do it Delicious every week or so to check out new recipes.

7. Sprinkle spices

I recently learned as an adult that there are tons of ‘miracle spices’, and adding them to dishes can add tons of health benefits! Parsley helps pass kidney stones, prevents UTIs, and prevents buildup in the arteries. Thyme can help respiratory problems, and settles stomachache or sore throat, and rosemary can help aid digestion, as well as prevent brain aging. So sprinkle on, friends!

8. Drink green tea

We all know about the incredible health benefits of green tea, so instead of ordering a coffee this morning, swap it out for this miracle drink, and you know you’ll be doing something good for your body!

How do you add greens to YOUR diet?? I’d love to hear! :)

Yes, I admit, I shop at Aldi. And I’m Proud of it!

Aldi. An unintimidating, wee little grocery store (that can barely pass as one) where you have to pay to use a cart, and there are no such things as plastic bags. Parents feel safe letting their kids run around and play between aisles, while both old and young, single and married stroll around leisurely and save tons of money after even one trip. Wow, I’m painting a golden picture right now, aren’t I?

There’s a lot of preconceived notions about Aldi (I remember being mortified when my mom would take us to shop there as a kid), and I used to be a bit unsure about these 10,000-square-feet budget store havens. They’re owned by the same German family that started Trader Joe’s, so they’ve got to be good right? Now I’m hooked, and with prices even cheaper than Walmart, and an easy, fun atmosphere to grab groceries, Aldi has quickly become one of my favorite places to shop.

Aldi vs Walmart, who saves you more?

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If you’ve never been, or if you’re as proud as I am to shop there, here’s my version of Aldi 101:

Yes, you’re gonna pay to use that cart

I’m not sure what’s up with this policy, but you will have to pay a quarter to borrow a shopping cart. I’m assuming Aldi is able to keep food costs down because they don’t have to hire extra staff to go collect carts, and it’s near impossible for them to go missing. Regardless, I don’t mind punching in 25 cents to use one, just make sure you always keep a coin in your car!

Bring a reusable bag

The statistics on plastic grocery bags are revolting; they cost money, they’re not reusable, and they’re completely destroying marine ecosystems. Aldi doesn’t provide any bags, but you can buy reusable ones in line for 10 cents (pictured above). I just keep a few canvas bags in my trunk, and I feel better about helping the environment, as well as being able to pack more into them!

Be prepared to save A LOT of money, honey

My receipt from Aldi this past weekend reads this:

Carton of organic blueberries: $2.99
Almond milk: $2.79
Bag of spinach: $1.99
Bag of kale: $1.99
Log of goat cheese: $1.99
Refrigerated veggie pizza (this stuff is the bomb): $5.99
Bag of frozen chicken breasts: $6.79
Bag of organic gala apples: $2.99
Package of 3 green peppers: $1.99
Bag of onions: $2.99
Celery: $.79
Baby carrots: $.99
Bananas: $.49
Pasta & sauce: $2.00
Can of black beans: $.49

For one week’s worth of groceries, I spent about $60, which is an incredible feat. They do offer some organic options, but not eggs or meat, so I grab those elsewhere.

They sell wine! And it’s good!

At least in the Illinois stores, Aldi sells inexpensive, tasty wine and beer, and I love it! I grab a few bottles every time I go for $5 or less – the Moiselle Sweet Red ($4.49) is my favorite. It’s a perfect place to stock up for parties or just relaxing weekends.

Their website offers tons of recipes

I always love when recipes are easily at my fingertips, and Aldi has a great recipe portion of its website devoted just to that. I always check out recent additions, and I usually make at least one thing per week from their suggestions!

Great quality

17j7hmxlavin6ziad92gI consistently buy Aldi brand goods, and there have been only one or two that are forgettable. I actually prefer certain Aldi generic products to their name brand counterparts! – Aldi bran cereal, rice chex, potato chips, sour cream, feta cheese, refrigerated pizzas, frozen peaches, almond milk, coffee K-cups, and frozen vegetables, just to name a few! Plus, they have an incredible double guarantee, where if you don’t love a product you buy, they’ll not only replace it, but refund your money, too! I’ve used this a handful of times, way to go Aldi.

Bring a debit card or cash

Another way Aldi cuts costs is they do not allow credit cards for purchases. So be sure you bring a debit card or cash, and you’re good to go.

I’d love to hear what you think! Are you a proud Aldi shopper? Or still on the fence??

My New Chic, Affordable, Carry-On Travel Bag

I’m taking a few overnight trips these next few months, so I was on the look out for a carry-on travel bag for all my junk I like to take with me when I travel. Carry-on bags can be tricky for women. They have to be functional for travel, but still cute enough so I feel stylish while running down the terminal to catch my plane (I’m rarely punctual). This Target slouchy tote offers me the best of both worlds AND it’s only 50 bucks!

IMG_0985The bag is offered in black and a cognac/caramel color, and even though it’s obviously faux leather, it’s still really soft and flexible, so I can cram as much nonsense in there as possible. There’s a removable strap so I can wear it cross-body, but the handbag straps are big enough and comfortable just keeping it around my arm.

Target Bag

 

What do you think of this travel purchase?? What will you travel with?

3rd Time’s a Charm: More Disney World Hints & Tips!

I love all things Disney, and you should, too! To preface this article, you should probably read my post from last year’s Disney vacation: 5 Disney World Tips for Adults. It covers tips that we discovered to help you have a fun and inexpensive time in this Orlando, including the resort we stayed at, and information about dining plans and saving money.

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This past weekend, my little sister and I headed back to Disney for my dear friend’s wedding (for the third time in three years, wow!), and it was just as incredible as we hoped it would be! Disney World is one of those vacations that you should take more than once, because you learn so much each time you visit, you can make your trip even better the next time around! Here are some more sisterly tips and advice that I discovered during my end of January Disney World vacation.

Disney World Tips1) If You Plan to Visit Epcot a Lot, Stay at Yacht Club

I had never really heard of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, but it was on the block of discounted rooms for the wedding, so we booked it and hoped for the best. It turns out that this resort is less than a 10-minute walk to Epcot, which I think is the absolute best park for adults to visit! The rooms were great, and the entire hotel follows an adorable and chic nautical theme. It’s a little pricey (around $350 a night), but if you’re looking for a great location to Epcot and Disney Boardwalk – two excellent areas for adults – I highly recommend it!

Yacht Club Disney

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort Room

 2) Speaking of Epcot, You Should Totally Eat There

We ate two of our meals in Epcot, and honestly, I probably would have done more if I had the time. Epcot is an amazing experience for all ages, but particularly for adults if you go visit the world showcase. I got an incredible ham and cheese and authentic crème brûlée (ohhoho gettin’ fancy there) for under $10 at the Boulangerie Patisserie in France! It was seriously so delicious (see below), and you can’t beat the price. For dinner Sunday night, my sister and I decided to treat ourselves to a fancy sit-down dinner, so we dined at Via Napoli in the Italian village. We figured we’d splurge a bit, but we ended up just splitting a large pizza, and were full and satisfied for only $15 each!

Boulangerie Patisserie

$10 meal at Boulangerie Patisserie

3) Get the Park Hopper… and Wear Comfortable Shoes

APark Hopper Schedule one day park ticket is around $100, and a park hopper adds $60 to that price, which allows you to visit any park unlimited that day. If you have a complete & full day to devote to visiting the parks (and some comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a wholleeee lot of walking), then the park hopper is probably worth your money. We spent one whole day at Magic Kingdom, so when we used our park hopper, we were able to skip it during our park hopper day, which was a lot less stressful.

SISTER TIP: Check out Disney park hours to see what days parks open and close late, then make sure you start/end at those parks to get your money’s worth!

4) Visit the Boardwalk

I mentioned above that our hotel was luckily walking distance from Epcot and Disney Boardwalk, but even if your resort isn’t, make time to stop by this adorable area. It’s like you’ve stepped back in time, and between the candy shops, margarita stands, and scenic views, Disney Boardwalk will become one of your favorite features very quickly!

Disney Boardwalk5) Use the App!

The My Disney Experience Mobile App is actually frickin’ amazing. My sister and I both added it to our phones and used it pretty much every hour during our stay. You can check wait times, park hours, link Fast Passes, make dining reservations, and tons of other things that make this free app worth the download. Plus, there’s free wi-fi in all parks, resorts, and restaurants, so you don’t have to worry about data!

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Until next time, princesses and pirates! :)

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