shoutout to my passion planner.

Dear Passion Planner,

Thank you for helping me get through this week. It was full of all kinds of ups and downs — some I expected, others I didn’t. 

You helped me stay focused and motivated in my new daily routine, despite the fact that I’ve really struggled to keep my head together and be creative in my work amid all the ugliness of our world these past few days. 

For the last eight months, you’ve indulged my crazy obsessive behavior, provided me with plenty of space to doodle and draw, and given me an excuse to invest in lots of colored pens. When I look through all of your pages, I see a full record of my first full year working out on my own, and that’s pretty cool. On the days when I wonder if I’m actually getting anything accomplished, you remind me that I’ve already made so much progress. 

Basically, Passion Planner, you are one of the better decisions I’ve made in the process of revamping my work and life over the past year, and you can consider me a true lifelong fan. 

Thanks! (No, seriously, thanks so much.)

Alli 

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Working on putting together my schedule for next week. 

For the record, this is not a sponsored post, and I am not a Passion Planner affiliate. I just really love this product, and I want to give it the credit it deserves. 

People often ask me what’s helped me be successful working from home, and my Passion Planner is easily one of my best secret weapons. But why should I keep it a secret? You can get your hands on one, too, and I totally think you should.

I’ve tried so many different planners and planning systems over the years, so why do I love this one so much? It gives me so much space. I use the classic size (instead of the compact), and it allows me to break down my day into hourly chunks. Since I make my own schedule, I find this really useful. I also love being able to get creative with all the white space! I keep a set of colored pens (I like Paper Mate Flair felt tips!) with me at all times, and noting my appointments, deadlines, and to-do lists in such a fun and colorful way makes the chaos seem a lot more approachable. If you’re someone who likes journaling and periodic goal-setting, the Passion Planner is especially perfect for you, because it prompts you to reflect on the progress you’re making both personally and professionally at the end of every month.

I wanted to let you all know that Passion Planner is currently running a Kickstarter for pre-orders on 2018 planners. There are tons of product options (including a new eco-friendly line), and for every planner sold during the campaign, Passion Planner will also plant a tree. What’s not to love about that? Inventory is often backordered later in the year, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on a Passion Planner for 2018, this is the right time to do it. I, for one, pre-ordered my Rose Gold Blossom planner earlier this week, and I can’t wait to get my paws on it in a few weeks when the Kickstarter is finished.

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Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have about how I use my Passion Planner. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I seriously love talking about it.

Are you pre-ordering your 2018 planner? I’d love to hear which one you picked in the comments below!

Have a great weekend, everyone! I’ll see you back here next week for the AUGUST GIVEAWAY!!!!!!

eleven month recap.

This week, as I celebrate eleven months of writing and working for myself, I have to admit that my spirits are a little low — a serious contrast to how I was feeling last month. I think I speak for the vast majority of this country when I say that the events of these past few days have felt like nothing short of a punch to the stomach. I’ve been glued to the news since Saturday afternoon, and it all kind of seems like a bad dream in slow motion. It’s hard to believe that such hate is not only so deeply rooted in our society, but also that it continues to grow. I am disappointed — in people, in our leadership, in the fact that so many seem to have taken so few lessons from our history. If I’ve learned anything from the ways these events have unfolded, it’s that words matter. Hateful words matter and unsaid words matter. As humans, we have the right and the responsibility to communicate with one another, and when we don’t do that appropriately or respectfully, there are consequences — some serious. This week, let’s be intentional with our words and use our voices to be clear and kind. 

Jimmy Fallon can do no wrong in my eyes, but I especially appreciate what he had to say about what happened this weekend. Before I switch gears, I want to share this clip with you. If you haven’t watched it yet, I hope you take a minute to take it in now.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week as I try to focus on my to-do list in spite of the chaos around us is my work from home routine. It’s been a crazy summer for me personally, and as it winds down and I look ahead to calmer days, I’m excited to ease back into a more predictable, more consistent daily rhythm. As you know if you’ve been following the blog for a while, I’m constantly adjusting how I approach this whole work from home thing. It’s not a perfect science, and this lifestyle allows for so much flexibility that I feel it’s important to consistently look for opportunities to adapt my habits and optimize my time. Working from coffee shops was especially effective for me earlier in the summer, but it’s just not my preference right now. Spending the first hour of my day working from bed was a great way for me to build momentum a few months ago, but I’m trying to move away from that now.

When I think back on the things I’ve tried that are no longer working for me, I remind myself that making adjustments to the routine are not a sign of failure or of being “bad” at being my own boss! Part of working for myself is learning to motivate my team (ME… hah!) to do my best work. I’m learning new things about how to get the most out of this freelance lifestyle each and every day, and trust me — I am no closer to being an expert simply because I’ve been at it for eleven months now!

I was especially inspired this week by my friend Casey’s most recent post on The Intentionally Good Life (if you love images of beautiful food and amazing travel adventures, you should check out her Instagram feed, too!) Casey is a fellow freelancer and WFH-er, and in her latest blog, she shared some of her own notes on creating a work routine based on focus and intentionality. While some of her suggestions aren’t the perfect match for my personal situation, Casey has definitely motivated me to step back and reconsider my own habits, and I’m excited to move forward with a few changes inspired by her routine.

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  • I’m going to get more consistent with my wake-up time. While I’ve always been up and working by about 8:30 AM, my specific wake-up time has varied over the last few months — and since I’m usually awake by 6 with Matt, this inconsistency seems a little silly! Moving forward, I’ll be getting out of bed at 6:30 when Matt leaves for the office every day so I can get to work.
  • I’m going to put on my gym clothes as soon as I get out of bed. There are a lot of schools of thought across the working from home community about whether or not you should work in your pajamas. To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with doing this for a few hours in the morning (especially if it gets you working earlier!), and it’s been perfectly OK for me for the last few months. That being said, I’m going to reclaim one of the “rules” I set for myself when I first started freelancing and put on some “real clothes” right after I get up each morning.
  • I’m going to change up my morning work spot. love my home office, but I find that starting my day there often makes me feel isolated and un-focused. It’s a small room tucked in the back of our small apartment, and there’s just something about the energy of the space that doesn’t feel suited to the start of the day. Instead, I’ll be kicking off my workday with my materials spread out on the kitchen table, next to a big window that looks out onto the street.
  • I’m going to try to make my break times more consistent. I take one break from work every day to go to the gym (which is part of why I get started so early!), but for the last few months, the time at which I’ve done that has been really inconsistent. Assuming I don’t have calls or meetings, I’m now going to try going to the gym at roughly the same time daily.
  • I’m going to force myself to focus on one thing for certain increments of time. This is one of my favorite of Casey’s suggestions. In her blog post, she references listening to a podcast featuring a blogger/writer who said that he sets a 30-minute timer for himself when he’s feeling especially fidgety. For those 30 minutes, he’s only allowed to work on a single task — or, if he’s still struggling to focus, to think about that task. If I’m having trouble working on a particular assignment, I’ll typically just move on to something else. I can see how blocking out my time more intentionally will improve the quality of what I do, so I’m going to give that a try.

So excited to put these new habits to work in my own routine! Thanks so much for the inspiration, Casey!

my fave summer reads of 2017.

Word on the street is that I missed National Book Lovers Day.

I know, I know — I’m so embarrassed.

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a serious book lover, so the fact that yesterday’s celebration was so far off my radar feels to me like a failure to wish my mom a happy birthday or to celebrate Valentine’s Day (and I love Valentine’s Day). I can’t believe I didn’t know anything about it until I checked Twitter in the late afternoon to see that just about every one of my favorite authors and publishing pros was sharing their thoughts on the books that had changed their lives. Way to drop the ball, Alli. Way to be out of the loop. (picture me slowly dragging my hand, palm-down, from my forehead to my chin)

I know everything is supposed to be super immediate and quick these days, but I can’t let the opportunity pass to share some book recommendations — even if it’s a day late.  I’ve been planning to put together a summer reading list before the end of August, anyway, and I don’t think there could be a better time than National Book Lovers Day (or, well, right after that) to do it.

Here are five books I’ve read and loved this summer. Consider this your cue to run, don’t walk to wherever you buy your books and pick up any titles that aren’t already on your shelf. While these were my favorite summer reading books, I’m sure you’ll love them just as much as I did any time of year.

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#1: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker: Any book that tops my list is bound to be driven by incredible characters, and this is no exception. I loved the quirky and creative world of The Animators, and I truly fell in love with main characters Mel and Sharon. (Also, I hate to tell you that there’s a twist at the end, because then you’ll know to look for it… but it’s such a good twist that I just have to give it a shoutout. I promise you won’t see it coming, even with this subtle spoiler.)

wangs#2: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang: I picked this up for our trip to Turks + Caicos at the recommendation of a friend, and I have to admit that it was a total surprise for me. The Wangs is the perfect mix of relatable familial dysfunction, laugh out loud hilarity, and twenty-first century cultural commentary. Also, who else gets addicted to a good road trip story?

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#3: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: It’s been a long time since I fell so head-over-heels in love with a book written in interconnected stories and criss-crossing perspectives. If you’re looking to really get into the thick of a family’s history (we’re talking about some serious baggage here), this is the book you need to curl up with ASAP.

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#4: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Every once in a while, you find a piece of historical fiction that breaks your heart and gives you hope and makes you feel totally gutted — all at the same time. I’m still 100 pages away from finishing Lilac Girls, but this book has already made me feel all of these feelings (and more!), so it more than deserves to be included on this list.

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#5: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss: I’ve already sung the praises of this book several times here on the blog, and each time I mention it, I find it harder and harder to describe just how much I adored it and why it’s easily my new favorite title (like, ever). Read it. Please just read it. Then call me or email me or text me so we can talk about it right away.

What an amazing summer of reading it’s been, friends! As far as I’m concerned, any season that brings me to this many great new reads is an incredible success.

How about you? Have you read anything that you’ve just loved recently? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!

(Please note that, while I’ve included Amazon links for each of these books to make your life easier, I am also super in favor of you heading out and supporting your local bookseller. If there’s one in your neighborhood, don’t forget to help them out. They’re doing such important work in our communities! )

tired + uninspired.

Yesterday was a weird one, guys.

It was also an exercise in flexibility and in being patient with myself when things don’t go to plan work-wise. So often, I share the positives of freelancing and being out on my own, so today, I thought I’d give you a peek into the days that are less straightforward, the kind of days that can make me play head games with myself if I’m not careful.

I barely slept on Wednesday night (as many of you know, sleeping — or not sleeping — is a recurring problem for me), so my day yesterday started on a very wrong, very tired foot. When Matt left for work at 6:30, I resisted the urge to try to fall back to sleep and instead started working right away. Since I was already up, I figured I would get an extra early start on my to-do list for the day, and then take a break later on if I needed it. Everything was going OK for a while. I knocked a lot of items off my list, and I was feeling pretty good — even if I was still super tired.

At the beginning of every week, I loosely plan out how I’m going to spend my time for the upcoming days, so I knew the plan for yesterday was to be as productive as possible on a few miscellaneous projects in the morning, leaving the afternoon open to work on writing the book. By the time I got to that afternoon portion, though, I was dragging.

When I opened up my work in progress and started trying to type out the next words, I was suddenly totally overwhelmed. My mind was entirely blank, which made me feel terrible about myself, only making me feel less inspired. I sat in front of my computer stuck in this vicious cycle for about 30 minutes.

When it became clear that staring at the screen was only making things worse, I considered my options. All of my other urgent work items had been taken care of, so I thought about parking myself on the couch, granting myself an official half day, and simply sleeping it off with some Hulu in the background. Then, I remembered that one of my goals for August is to avoid low quality “me time” — basically the textbook definition of binge watching.

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Instead, I gave myself permission to grab my book (I’m nearing the end of The Nix, which I would definitely recommend) and get comfy in my office chair. I left my laptop open in front of me so I could keep an eye on any urgent emails coming through, and started reading. If my problem was writer’s block and a lack of inspiration, getting lost in a good book seemed a totally worthy solution, even if it wasn’t part of my plan and even if it felt like a bit of an indulgence. I spent the rest of the afternoon that way, and it was (obviously) an infinitely more productive alternative to watching four episodes of the Kardashians.

Learning to give myself grace on days when I can’t simultaneously be the perfect boss and the perfect employee is an ongoing process, but I realize on days like yesterday that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I don’t need to be “on” or “off.” There are plenty of gray areas in between, and when I allow myself to exist in those areas, I make better use of my time than when I simply get discouraged and give up. And in my world — where words and creativity are the tools of the trade — spending the afternoon with a good book is the equivalent of spending an afternoon in meetings or workshops with upper-level management (and I know this because I spent five years in corporate America!), because it’s a dedicated period of learning and development. I’m a book lover, so I can’t pretend that it’s not also a treat, but remember — it doesn’t need to be all or nothing, one or the other. I’m working on figuring that out myself each and every day.

Happy weekending, friends. Wishing you lots of rest and inspiration!

monthly goals recap -> july + august.

Our trip down to D.C. this past weekend was the perfect way to wrap up July. We kicked off the month in a brand new place — Turks + Caicos (you can read more here) — and ended it in a place that holds so many old memories for us. We had a whirlwind two days exploring Arlington and Alexandria, capped off with an afternoon back on the GW campus. I haven’t visited since I graduated in May of 2012.

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My friends and I had so much fun being on campus. Somehow, even though it’s only been five years, it seems like everything’s different there! New buildings, new restaurants, new green spaces where there used to be empty pits (we noticed this because we used to be able to see said empty pit from the roof of our sorority house)… we were a little disoriented! Even though I felt a little turned around, it was really good to be back — better than I expected. It was fun to share it with close friends (and Matt, of course) so we could remind each other of the funny things that happened in this place or the weird tradition we had in that place. There’s more history there for me than I realized, and it was nice to soak it in with people I love.

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A highlight of the trip back to GW was a visit to our sorority house! We hung around long enough to find someone to swipe us in, and naturally, we convinced someone else to let us into our old common room (mostly by saying, “See? That’s us on the composite!” which was far from impressive to anyone), where we uncovered a few sets of letters for an ridiculous impromptu photo shoot. This is probably so frowned upon by nationals and all other powers that be, but whatever. We had the most fun.

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Guys, there’s nothing like good friends. Seriously.

But now, it’s back to the workweek grind, and it’s August (huh?), which means it’s time for a recap of my monthly goals (you can check out last month’s here). I’m going to be honest with you — I didn’t make us much progress on my specific goals as I would have liked to in July. What you see here on the blog is only a handful of my objectives for each month, and generally speaking, I’m not totally thrilled with the number of check marks I see on the full list. Still, I know in my heart that July was a super productive month, and that even though I didn’t necessarily gain traction in the ways I wanted, I still got a lot of things accomplished. Here’s a peek at July:

  • Finish book outline and start first chapter of book.√ YES! My outline didn’t look quite how I thought it would, but it’s finished and workable, and I started on Chapter One last Friday. I’m literally two paragraphs in, but that’s something, right?
  • Research writing classes and possible graduate programs. This didn’t happen in July. The longer I wait to do this research, the more limited my options may be time-wise, which is definitely a concern.
  • Break into one new outlet. √ YES! I had my first post published on The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog a few weeks ago. Gottman is the authority on all things relationships, so it was an honor to be asked to contribute.
  • Get placement for a story that’s close to my heart. This particular story is, unfortunately, still looking for a home. I’m getting to the end of my list of potential outlets, and I may have to accept that it’s not the right time for this one.
  • Read three books. I had such high hopes this month! I tore through The Wangs vs. The World and Commonwealth (both were great) in Turks + Caicos, and started The Nix on our plane ride home. I’m loving The Nix, but it’s super long, and I haven’t finished it quite yet.
  • Plan fall vacation.√ YES! We have one hotel reservation and an Airbnb booked, and we’re now in the process of nailing down flights, a car rental, and one more hotel. I’m so excited!

Here’s what’s up for August:

  • Create master list of story-worthy female professionals. Every day, I get emails from publicists about amazing girl bosses with incredible stories of success and innovation. While it’s probably not feasible for me to place every one of these stories, I want to come up with a better way to organize them so I can more easily keep track and (hopefully) share!
  • Brainstorm new blog content. I’m still really energized about creating fun, fresh posts to share with all of you, and investing time in brainstorming is a big priority in August. I’d still love your thoughts and feedback.
  • Break into one new outlet. This is always a monthly goal, but I’m especially focused on it this month. I’d really like to sell a personal essay to a new outlet, since essays are my favorite.
  • Finish first chapter of book. Ideally, I’ll move into Chapter Two and beyond, but one chapter definitely feels like a reasonable starter goal.
  • Research writing classes and possible graduate programs. Moving this one over from July! As much as I’d like to do this, I also know that if I can’t even make time to gather the information, I may not be able to prioritize actually taking classes enough to make it a worthwhile investment. We’ll see!
  • Read three books. As always! I’m really excited about the titles I have on deck, which is an extra motivator.
  • Higher quality “me” time. I’m bringing this one back from my list of June goals, because I found that it was really helpful earlier in the summer. It’s easy (for me, at least) to default to binge watching and Instagram stalking whenever I have a spare moment, and I always feel better when I spend that time reading, getting out of the apartment, or doing something creative instead.

What are your August goals? I’d love to hear about them so we can help each other stay accountable! Here’s to making the most of the last full month of summer!

 

 

july giveaway winner announced!

Good morning, friends! Is everyone ready to kick this week in the you-know-what? After a great weekend in D.C. with friends, I’ll admit that I’m a little bummed to be back in the work routine. BUT, announcing the winner of the July giveaway is the best way I can think of to get a jumpstart : )

As always, thanks to everyone who entered! Based on a random drawing, our winner this month is NICOLE C! Nicole, I’ll reach out via email to work out the details of sending you your prize. Congrats!

I’ll be back tomorrow with an update on my July and August goals. You can check out last month’s goals update here.

back to where it all began.

Matt and I are heading down to Washington, D.C. tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited! I went to college in D.C., and a lot of my closest friends from school still live there. Earlier this year, one of Matt’s best friends from college (who I’ve since stolen HAH!) and her (new!) husband bought a house outside the city. I can’t wait to check out their home and to catch up with some of my very favorite people.

Sometimes, I really find myself doing a double take when I remember that my friends and I are now in our mid-twenties (creeping up into that late-twenties category, too, yeesh!) and spread across the country in different cities, living our crazily different routines and digging roots in new places with new people. It’s always a treat to get a little glimpse into what those lives look like, and to be reminded of the fact that time and distance are really not a factor in your most significant relationships. Plus, you know I love any excuse to jump in the car with Matt, put on a great podcast, and drive down some new roads. (And maybe — just maybe — I’m also kind of planning the weekend around getting my favorite s’mores milkshake at a diner near my friend Gail’s apartment…)

D.C. was such a special place to go to school. While I wasn’t always crazy about my college specifically (that’s a topic for another post!), it was a pretty incredible experience to “come of age” (that’s a weird expression, but it fits here) in a city that was so vibrant and alive. When I think about the fact that I was 17 years old in my suburban hometown one day, and the next was set loose in Washington, D.C. among cabs and motorcades and inaugural crowds and a seemingly infinite number of bars and clubs, I can’t help but laugh. I really had no idea what I was getting into, but I firmly believed then that I did — and, luckily for me, I found the most amazing friends to explore it all with.

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Thinking I was the coolest on a night in D.C. senior year (at least then I had four years under my belt!). Doesn’t everyone have totally humiliating pictures like this?

Going back to Washington is also meaningful for me and Matt because it’s the place where our love story really started. We went to middle school and high school together, but it wasn’t until he and a mutual friend of ours came to D.C. for the Fourth of July the summer after our freshman year of college that we really even got to know each other (picture a high school of 2,500 students, a super cool soccer player, and the well-liked — but pretty introverted — editor of the newspaper)! It didn’t take long for us to realize that there was something more than friendship between us, and since I was working in Washington for the summer, Matt made a bunch of trips down to visit so we could figure out if that “something” could sustain long-distance once the school year started again. (Spoiler alert: we decided it could, and it did!)

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Our last visit to D.C. together… in 2013! So long ago!

After that first year, we spent most of our time together in Pennsylvania, where Matt’s college and my family’s house were just a few miles apart. Still, D.C. is where it all started, and since it’s been a long time since Matt and I visited the city together, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the Washington milestones where we have some of our earliest memories. Here are a few of those places…

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The very first picture I have of the two of us — and I’m so happy it’s in D.C.

  • The Lincoln Memorial: On that first Fourth of July, my friends and I took Matt to watch the fireworks from just under the famous monument. We try to go back (or at least drive by) whenever we’re in town, even though I know it’s kind of a tourist-y move for someone who lived there for four years.
  • The Kennedy CenterI really wanted Matt to think I was a total Washington insider, so on one of his first visits, I took him to the Kennedy Center late at night. Fun fact (for my non-D.C. pals): even if you’re not going to a show there, you can go up to the very top of the building. It’s my favorite view of the city.
  • Good Stuff EateryOne of my best memories from that first summer is when Matt drove me back to Washington after our “official” first date at a Dave Matthews Band concert closer to home. I knew that four hours in the car together would be a make-it-or-break-it moment! Happily, we learned then that we love taking road trips together. When we got back to D.C., I told Matt that I’d been dying to try a milkshake from Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill, and since he loves ice cream even more than I do, it was an easy sell!
  • The National Mall/World War II Memorial: Said milkshakes in hand (I think mine was Toasted Marshmallow), we walked down to the National Mall (can’t you tell I was trying to show Matt that I was so not a tourist? L-O-L) and wandered around. It started POURING rain and we (of course) didn’t have an umbrella, so we just hid inside the World War II Memorial. We were the only dummies out there in the downpour, so it was just us tucked into the beautiful monument late at night.
  • VapianoIn college, my friends and I thought this place was the. absolute. coolest. You could go there and customize your own pasta dish — and we did… often. That September, my mom and my grandmother were coming down to visit me in Washington for my birthday. Matt and I were barely “official,” but he so wanted to spend my special day with me that he coordinated with them and caught a ride to come see me. He spent the weekend with the three of us (keep in mind that this is a guy who’s one of three boys and was very much a fish out of water with three ladies). To this day, it’s one of my favorite things that my now-husband has ever done for me. I took Mom, Nana, and Matt to Vapiano for my birthday, and later that night, Matt told me he loved me for the first time. : )
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For my 19th birthday, my mom got me Lehigh-themed presents so I would be ready to cheer at Matt’s soccer games.

Thanks for indulging me in these memories! It’s always fun to think back on that special time — and to dig up these photos, of course. We look like SUCH babies. I can’t wait to get back to D.C. this weekend and feel even more sentimental. Hopefully, I’ll have pictures to share (newer ones, with better fashion)!

…AND don’t forget to enter this months’ giveaway! The prize is a necklace from The Shine ProjectAll you have to do to enter to win is comment on my last post. I’ll be drawing and announcing the winner on Monday 7/31, so get those entries in ASAP!

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