In it for the long run…

I didn’t grow up running – in fact, I hated it! I was a tennis player through school and varsity – there was no mention of running anywhere other than around the tennis court in those days.  (In fact, when it came to the school athletics day when it was compulsory for every girl to participate in at least one event, my house teacher diplomatically suggested (or instructed!) that I do shotput! Enough said.

But after I was unceremoniously thrust into running a half marathon in Knysna in 2007 (thanks Craige!), my road to running (pun intended) started and I strunning8arted entering a few races, going to time trials and including a run or three in my week. I was purely a social runner. Yes, by that I mean a slow runner – I kept the back of the pack going nicely, thank you very much. I’d love to tell you that I enjoyed every step of my running, but very often it was far more the feeling of accomplishment after the run was finished than the run itself – I know you understand 😊 So after having not run for a good year or so and, even then, run relatively little for quite some time before that, one of my mate Nicky’s contributions to The List was to run another half marathon.

And before you think you know where this post is going and this is going to be some motivational post about getting off the couch and getting active, I’m not about to tell you about the training I did for the race (which wasn’t enough) or any magic strategies I implemented going into the race that I chose. Suffice to say that yes, I did it 🙂 I finished the Pick n Pay half marathon on 14 February 2016 in a time that I was properly chuffed with. And I finished it because in my mind I knew I could – I knew that, despite not being quite fully trained for it, I had it within me to finish the race, and to finish it strong.

And so it is that I’d like to share with you the story of a seemingly impossible race for me where I only finished because I mentally knew I could.

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Still happy and smiling at the 8km mark on my marathon

Some years back after having completed quite a few half marathons, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon.  I may well have had too much champagne when I made that decision, or I may have been just unrealistically inspired by my brother, who has completed seven Comrades ultramarathons, countless marathons and two IronMan events. He is my inspiration and my hero on so many levels in life.  Nevertheless, having made the decision, I marked the marathon on the calendar that I was aiming for – Waterval Boven 3-in-1 – and trained religiously, slowly building my mileage up. Even after not being allowed to train for six weeks before the race because of an injured foot, I lined up at that Start Line, ready to take on my marathon, both literally and figuratively.

I will not subject you to a ball by ball commentary of my marathon – but what I will tell you is that as I crossed that Finish Line, some five and a half hours and 42.2 kilometres later, the lump in my throat that had been with me since about the 20km mark, finally gave way and the tears started to fall.  And while being hugged by Mom and Dad (who had made the journey to support me along the road) I said to them through the tears “I bet, when I was born, you didn’t think I’d ever run a marathon!” By this stage Mom was crying too and then either Mom or Dad (I can’t remember who it was through the tears and emotion of that moment) said “When you were born, we didn’t even know if you’d ever walk, let alone run a marathon!”

The reality is that I was born with a club foot. For those of you that don’t know what that is, essentially my left foot was turned inwards and upwards – the level of severity of my club foot was such that my toes were virtually touching my shin (and hence my parents’ fear about being able to walk). While there are many newer and successful methods of treatment of clubbed feet today, some 40 years ago a club foot required fairly extensive surgery, often without significant success.  My lower left leg was in a cast for much of the first year of my life (with the cast being redone every six week to try and straighten the bones as much as possible) and I had three sets of surgeries.  The first was when I was a few months old, the second when I was 3 years old and the last when I was 5. And in between that, as a toddler going off to nursery school, I had to wear some sturdy black boots (the type that are often accompanied by callipers and are (or were) fairly common for kids who have had polio).  And those boots hardly came off. To this day I recall a nursery school ‘report card’ from when I was about 3 or 4, specifically commenting on the fact that I apparently “happily” wore my boots in the playground while all the other kids were running around barefoot on those hot Free State summer days. My casts and my boots were just part of who I was.

All credit to my parents, who never let the disability hold me back in any way.  Despite the surgeries, they didn’t make me feel different because of my foot – the only thing I knew as a little girl was that one foot was smaller than the other, it looked a bit different, and I couldn’t balance on my left leg. (I love it how simple things are at that age!)  I certainly didn’t think there was any reason for me not to be out running around and playing sport with the other kids. I played (and excelled in) tennis, and loved being out on the court.  I remember one Saturday morning in Standard 9 (that’s Grade 11 for my younger friends out there!) going to a first team tennis practice with a new coach and, when explaining the first set of drills which involved some sprints and skipping, he turned to me and asked if I’d be able to manage that with my foot.  I was so offended – how did he think I got to play tennis for the first team if I couldn’t run or skip? (Yes, I know in retrospect he was being considerate, but try tell that to a 15-year old!)

You may wonder what the relevance is of all of this to The List – why am I sharing this story ? Well, taking on that marathon is the one and only thing I’ve ever taken on in my life (so far) purely for the purpose of proving that I can do it despite my foot.  And I didn’t want (or need) to prove it to Mom, Dad, that tennis coach or anyone else – it was solely to prove to myself that I could do it, that I was stronger than some physical disability. And I was. I am.

Physically, have I let my foot impact me? Hardly. Yes, I limp when I’m tired and I often have people asking me what’s wrong or if I’m okay and I wonder what they’re on about, until I realise I must be tired and I must be limping a bit more than I appreciate.  Probably the biggest impact is when I go shopping for shoes. And before you laugh and shake your head concluding that it’s always about shoes with girls 🙂 let me fill you in. I long to wear a pair of glamorous heels, but unfortunately I can’t.  With virtually no mobility in my left ankle and overpronating substantially, I am physically not able to walk in heels.  So my dream of wearing a pair of high-heeled knockout glamorous shoes, will remain a dream. And when buying shoes, I need to buy two pairs every time – my left foot (or my ‘little foot’ as my family affectionately calls it) is a size 3 and my right foot is a size 6.   In addition to this often being practically difficult as a shop doesn’t always have both sizes in a particular style, you can imagine it’s also expensive. But if those are my biggest physical limitations, then I’m doing well (and better than my parents could ever have imagined when I was born).

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Mom and Dad – thanks for believing in me. Love you more than words can ever express!

Emotionally, however, my disability has impacted me. Like I said, my parents were amazing, but as I grew older, I saw that I was different to the other kids. And so started the striving to be “good enough”. I felt that because I had a disability, I had to make sure I made up for it in every other aspect of my life.  So I tried to be the child who never caused problems or issues and just tried to make sure everyone else was happy – in some way trying to justify my place in the world.  And let me be crystal clear – my parents only ever encouraged and supported me. They in NO WAY made me feel “less than”.  The striving to feel as good as everyone else was all self-imposed – and it’s amazing to me now to see the complicated emotions and strategies we can teach ourselves from a very young age!

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My brother, my hero

Bottom line… despite the physical and emotional impact of my club foot, it’s part of who I am. I’ve earmarked my next marathon and I’m in this for the long run, both physically and metaphorically. Most importantly, this is a big thank you to Mom, Dad and Craige who have supported me in everything I’ve put my mind to, including climbing mountains and running marathons – it’s because of you that I know that physically I can do (virtually) everything that anyone else can do. I know that there are times when it must have been hard for you, when you have wondered why certain things turned out the way they did – but thank you for never letting me see that, and for only letting me believe that I was perfectly made.

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The centre of my heart

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Wind in my hair, sand beneath my paws – pure joy!

When thinking about where to go for a coffee and some writing time on this lazy Saturday morning in March, I knew I needed somewhere with good coffee (obviously!), a place you could sit outside to enjoy the awesome end-of-summer weather and, most importantly, a place that allows dogs.  And so, as I sit here at the Mugg ‘n Bean in Lonehill (which fulfills all of these criteria), with Chuckles next to me, I am struck by how much my life (and my requirements for an ideal coffee shop) have changed over the last few years.

Not only have my requirements for a coffee shop changed, but similarly my requirements for a weekend break or a holiday.  I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you that one of the items on The List was a trip to the coast for a long weekend – for some long walks on the beach, fresh air, sun, sea, ocean spray… and just to feel the sand beneath your paws! Yes, you read that right… paws! Because on The List was to take Chuckles on another beach holiday!

I first took Chuckles to the beach about two years ago, when my dear friend Penny invited Chuckles and I to join her and her family in Zinkwazi Beach.  I had no idea how Chuckles would react to the beach and the waves (particularly given that he took a few years to learn how to swim!), but surprisingly he had absolutely no fear and cavorted in the shallows as if he’d grown up on the beach (as opposed to being a Sandton dog!).

And so I wanted to have Chuckles experience that again – I knew that seeing him so happy and carefree would bring me as much (if not more) happiness as it did him. I’m like any mom that way – just wanting to see their child happy, having fun, fearless and carefree, and enjoying even simple experiences to the full.

After endless searches for pet-friendly accommodation (which is a lot harder to find than you may think), Chuckles and I headed for Salt Rock on the north coast at the end of February. And immediately after checking in at our beautiful apartment, we headed down to the beach in the late afternoon to feel the sea sand between our toes and breathe in the sea air as soon as possible.  And again, my heart just melted at the sight of my boy running through the sand and the waves.  (He didn’t venture in to the sea very far…in fact, he didn’t venture in at all, he only got wet when the waves came closer to him than he’d been expecting and he couldn’t get away fast enough 🙂 ) I don’t think it was a coincidence that these first photos I took of him that evening shows his footprints having formed the pattern of a heart, with him in the middle.

Whenever I’m trying to explain to someone how much my precious Chuckles means to me, I always say that he lives in the centre of my heart – it’s the best way I know to explain it. And as I said at the outset, I still can’t believe how much my life has changed since it was blessed with Chuckles.

You would, by now, have seen many photos of Chuckles – both on this blog and on my Facebook page. So you’ll know that he’s a maltese (albeit a ‘giant maltese’ as I call him..the biggest maltese most people have ever seen. Hee hee, when he was a puppy, I feared he was going to grow into the Dulux dog when he didn’t stop growing 🙂 ).  A few months ago, my dad asked me how I came to choose Chuckles, given that I had never had an affinity for small dogs.  And my response was simple and immediate: “Dad, I didn’t choose Chuckles. He chose me.”

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“Why is there soil inside, Mom?” Such an innocent puppy after digging up the potplant!

Let me take you back to an ordinary Saturday morning in March 2012. It was just over a month since I’d come out of hospital, and I was trying desperately to put my life together again.  So that Saturday morning saw me doing normal Saturday morning chores at the Morningside shopping centre, when I bumped into one of my best mates, Nicky.  After hellos and hugs, she told me about these gorgeous puppies she had seen in the petshop downstairs and asked me to come with her and have a look.  Now, for the record, I HATE petshops – they break my heart. And I would normally find a reason to say no – but I found myself saying yes (thinking to myself “just humour her, she’s your friend, just go”). So Nicky and I headed down to the petshop and as I walked inside, there was a cage front and centre, with this little bundle of cream fur inside and which I found myself making a beeline for.  (Evidently there were some spaniels in the window, which is what Nicky actually wanted to show me as I’ve always loved spaniels, but I didn’t even see them).

I wasn’t looking for a dog, had no plans to get a dog, and yet when I picked up this bundle of fur and snuggled him in my arms, I just knew I was going to be taking him home with me. I was too smitten to be logical about any aspect of this experience, and unbeknownst to me Nicky was checking his paws, checking his eyes and checking for various other signs of health (Thanks Nicks!) while I was falling in love. (The one thing I do remember is that while I was cuddling the bundle of fluff, a little girl of about five or six came up and wanted to stroke him in my arms and was in the process of calling her parents over to tell them that she wanted him.  And Nicky, in her inimitable fashion, told the little girl to “Back off. We have a credit card, you don’t”. Hahahahah – I still giggle about that moment now.)

So, moving forward, precious Chuckles joined my world on that day in March – a day which started out as ordinary and turned into being extraordinary and the day that my life changed forever for the better.

I can’t begin to explain everything that Chuckles means to me and I could never hope to convey it fully.  I know, though, that I feel about him the way others would feel about their human children. He is my child – the centre of my world and my heart.  And he is the happiest dog you’ve ever met – people always comment on that.  He doesn’t have an angry bone in his body and loves everyone and everything. And heaven help anyone who refers to him as “just a dog” – he’s not “just” anything – he’s everything to me!

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My friend Max and I (with Chuckles’ pawprint always with me!)

And if anyone didn’t know how much he means to me, they would certainly be able to guess it if they met me and saw my tattoo. I have Chuckles’s pawprint tattooed on my shoulder – and it’s not just a generic pawprint, but his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo and an indication of how much he has impacted and changed my life.  On my journey of healing, Chuckles has done more for me than any medication and therapy could have.  And I know this is true for many people (I think Discovery should start offering benefits and subsidies for having dogs in your life, the same way they subsidise you going to the gym – it makes you healthier!).Chuckles9

So, if you want to call me a crazy dog lady – go ahead, I’ll be honoured, because that just means that it’s evident how much I love Chuckles and what an integral part of my life he is. I’d prefer, however, that you are merely grateful for the love he continually gives me, and the joy he brings to my life. I wish moments of that kind of joy for all of you – they are priceless!

**Postscript: this morning (which is a few days after writing this post, but before it was ready to be published) I had a bit of a rough morning. I was lying in bed and was just incredibly sad because of a number of things that have happened over the past few days. And as I lay there and cried, Chuckles came across to me and gently licked the tears off my face as they rolled down my cheeks. There are no words to describe love like that.

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The world needs more hugs

In the two months that have passed since I first started writing this blog, I have (only) written five blog posts – which means that I’m still a verrrrrrrrry long way off from achieving my 40 before forty.  Neverthless, there are a number of processes that are in motion in the background that you may not yet know about (including plans made and bookings confirmed today for a little trip at the end of the month that is on The List), so there is still hope of getting through The List before the big day 🙂

I’m not sure if you’ll be disappointed to read that this post isn’t about another thing on The List that I’ve managed to tick off; and I don’t have any quirky or entertaining stories to regale you with today.  This post is just about a part of my journey – not only this 40 before forty journey that you’re so graciously joining me on, but also the greater journey of my life as it unfolds. In my very first post, I shared with you that turning 40 filled me with much trepidation and anxiety and it was to counter those thoughts and fears that I decided to live the journey to 40 deliberately, with intent and, in so doing, to hopefully uncover some moments of meaning, passion and purpose along the way.

You’ll hopefully agree that my first few posts have revealed that I’m committed to making this journey a successful, happy and exciting one and am actively going out to live with passion and purpose.  (As my friend Nicky says, you have to be “all in” in everything in life, and I’m certainly trying to follow that mantra!)

The last few weeks, however, have proven to be difficult and there have been speedbumps along this road that have slowed me down, even threatened to derail me entirely…

If you are someone who accesses my blog through Facebook, you would know that at the beginning of January I decided to go off Facebook for a few weeks – there were just some things on there that were upsetting me, so I made a choice not to access FB for a while – why voluntarily put yourself through something that you know upsets you?

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Gavin, Bron and Duncan stopping in to give me TLC on their way to watch the ODI against Sri Lanka in 2012

However, when I wanted to publish my last blog post, I went on to Facebook just to check that the link to my blog had indeed been posted – only to be assaulted, front and centre on my home page, with a photograph of me in a hospital bed, from four years ago, accompanied by a cheery message from some automated FB know-it-all saying “Nicky, we thought you’d like to know what you were doing on this day four years ago, so you can share the memory“. Seriously? Why would anyone possibly want to share or relive the memories from such a difficult and painful time?

So what exactly was it about this photo that upset me so? Well, in it I saw myself surrounded by awesome people, who were excited and happy about life (as well they could be, seeing as these special friends were on their way to a cricket ODI at the Wanderers that day 🙂 ), while I was desperately struggling to just make it through the day (no doubt you can see how heavily medicated I was – I can hardly even open my eyes in the photo!) In this photo, I saw someone trying bravely to smile, just so others could worry about her less.  In this photo, I saw three gorgeous friends who have all moved on to get involved in loving romantic relationships (two of them with each other, hee hee), and there’s even a beautiful baby in the mix now 🙂 while I (again bravely) smile while expressing genuine happiness at their joy and good fortune.

So it is that this one little photo led me further on a downward spiral of emotions that had marred much of January, where I found myself questioning what real progress I have made in the years since that photo had been taken in 2012. Am I the same person who desperately struggles to just make it through each day, all the while looking around me at everyone who appears to be living the dream, pairing off, having beautiful children, and effortlessly living one happy moment and occasion after the next, all the while smiling bravely so people will worry about me less? January 2016 has been a month for me when the answer to that question has unfortunately been “yes”.

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My precious ice-cream loving princess is two!!

So while I’ve been avidly trying to tick some items off The List, and while I’ve been doing all the things which are good for you mentally and physically – training, working on my nutrition, seeing friends, reading great books, spending time with Chuckles and celebrating my my gorgeous niece’s second birthday (just look at that pic – isn’t she the cutest?!) – the reality is that this past month has been difficult. And I have been sad. Very sad. I have been faced with relationship disappointments and had to deal with one too many social situations which pressed too hard on my emotional bruises.

So why am I telling you all of this? Am I looking for your sympathy? Or your pity? Am I just looking for someone to tell me it will all be okay? Or to point out how many good things I have in my life? Definitely not – in fact, the absolute last thing I want or need is for you to tell me how much I have to be grateful for. I know that. I know undoubtedly that I am blessed beyond measure, and the fact that I am on a rough part of the journey doesn’t in any way lessen my gratitude for everyone and everything I have in my life. Just looking at these few pictures (all from January) proves how blessed I am!

A smile can hide so much though – so I guess the reason I’m telling you all of this is because, if you’re on this journey with me, it’s better that you know the person who you’re on the journey with. The real person. And the journey that she’s on. The real journey. Because while she’s a professional attorney who brings optimism and sunshine into any room she enters, and while she’s always planning the next mountain to climb, hidden spot to travel to or adventure to go on, and while she’s constantly seeking ways to encourage, counsel and support those in her world, she’s also someone whose hope and faith has slowly been crumbling over the past years. She’s someone trying to hide the fact that she’s terrified because she’s a 39-year old single girl who has yearned for a family – a husband and kids – most of her adult life and is fearful that she has to give up on this dream. She’s someone who gets tired of being “the strong one” all of the time and who would appreciate the people in her world stopping every now and then – just stopping – to put their arms around her, and check in on her and her world. Her real world.

Virginia Satir, a respected psychotherapist, famously said “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.Perhaps my tough January is because I didn’t get the required four hugs a day (just for survival) – you never know.  So can I encourage you stop and hug the next person you encounter in your world – whether it’s at the workplace, at home, out and about, or anywhere….the world (and I) need your hugs!

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But weight, there’s more…

I was never a skinny child. In fact the word “skinny” or “slim” has never been associated with me, whether in childhood, my teens or at any time thereafter.  On the contrary, for most of my life I’ve considered myself to be on the slightly larger side of average. Who am I kidding – I’ve considered myself overweight (there…I said it… <shudder>).

There’s a big difference between thinking yourself overweight and putting it out there on a public blog, like I’ve just done – and having just written the above sentence, I already feel exposed. Nevertheless, I press on …

I know that every girl, by the time she gets to the age of 40, has been through many ups and downs about her weight and physical appearance, both physically (the curse of fad diets!) and emotionally.  I know I’m not unique in that way. I also know that some of you may be wondering why I’m focusing on this topic at all, perhaps preferring to placate me with sentiments that physical appearance is not important and that you love me just as I am. However, this is an issue that has made it onto The List and, as such, it’s an issue I’m going to delve into a bit more… (And yes, to the guys, there will be more talk of weight, diet, exercise and all those good things in this post…so you have my full permission to skip to the end if this is TMI (too much information) 🙂

Having always been unhappy with my weight, even since I was a young girl, (save for a few short months at varsity in 1996 when I was at my ideal weight after having been on Weigh Less – which was nicely helped along when I lost my appetite for a while after falling in love, as only a giddy 20 year old can do), I had become used to a life of constantly trying new eating plans and new exercise programs in an effort to look and feel better.  Despite the numerous ups and downs that plagued my teens, twenties and thirties, I was certainly not prepared for what I was to face in early 2012. I mentioned in an earlier post that I became ill in early 2012, which had a profound effect on me in so many ways – including physically. I was placed on round after round of a mixture of schedule 5 medication in order for the doctors to try and find the right combination of drugs that would work for me. Having to swallow a rainbow of drugs every morning and evening, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the inevitable side effects to follow – yet I was in no way prepared for the significant weight gain that was to accompany the drugs. And when I say significant… I MEAN significant. This was not 2 or 3 kilo’s that I could cover up under a slightly looser shirt or pair of pants. No, try 15kg! 😟 That’s the sort of weight gain that one only reads about, and you think will never happen to you. But it did, and given how essential the drugs were to my healing, there was simply no way that I could refuse the drugs just to reverse the weight gain.

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Focusing on the weights on the bar (instead of the weight on my body 🙂 )

This weight gain was not, however, something that I accepted readily. Without going in to all the minutiae of what I tried in order to get rid of the weight, it included every diet and eating plan available, and hectic exercise (try CrossFit five times a week!). Nothing worked 😞 The medication and my own body were working against me, counteracting every effort I put in, which left me feeling trapped in a body that I felt didn’t belong to me.

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Jeannie – Coach Extraordinaire

Fast forward to now…and the reason for writing this blog. I only weigh about three kgs less than in 2012, and the loss of those three kilo’s has only come through tremendous sacrifice, bucket loads of sweat and tears and single-minded commitment to my healing which has reduced some of the medication that I’m on. But right now I’m not overly worried about those three kilos …. I was so very lucky to be introduced to Jeannie Jordaan in May 2015, on my birthday in fact, when my friend Ingrid suggested I join Jeannie’s “5 weeks to 5 km’s” running program. It was early on a cold and drizzly Saturday morning (when any sane birthday girl would have been under the covers eating birthday cake for breakfast in bed), when I first met Jeannie (aka Coach Extraordinaire, Trainer, Motivator and Leader of the “Strong Girls”), I thought there was no way that someone could be so energetic, enthusiastic, and just so NICE! The cynic in me said she couldn’t be genuine! Needless to say, I was to find out in the months that followed how very real Jeannie was. In addition to the running programs I did with Jeannie over the following months (which I’ll write more about another time) I had some one-on one sessions with her about nutrition and training and started personal training sessions with her once a week. Most importantly, I believe, Jeannie invested some focused quality time with me – sessions where she asked pointed (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions, where she discovered various aspects of who I really am, and what makes me tick. And I am convinced that has been the key to unlocking the progress in me that she has – because Jeannie knows me now, and trains me not as a number,  but as someone she understands and genuinely cares about.  (Jeannie – you rock! I love you!)

So while I’m sure you’re now expecting me to say that Jeannie’s either already helped me or is going to help me lose all the extra kilos, you may be surprised to know that’s not what we’re focusing on at all. The goal over the next few months is based on health – I want to lose another 5% body fat – and that is what is on The List, with the accompanying increase in muscle mass and increase in hydration levels. I’ve already lost 3% body fat since starting my training with Jeannie, and am now focusing on this next goal.

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Goal setting in progress

While I had told Jeannie towards the end of last year about this item on The List, I realised she was totally committed to helping me achieve this when she finished our first training session of the year with “Nix, we need to meet for a strategy session“.  So one afternoon in the second week of January, Jeannie and I could be found strategising about my nutrition and training plan for the next few months, over a cappuccino at Woolies (and I’m pretty sure Jeannie only suggested we meet there so that I had the distraction of a yummy cappuccino while we put together these daunting plans!) The nutrition plan is going to be challenging, but the training even more so… bring it on!

So now you know my goal and some detail about this item on The List.  In disclosing this here (and in again making myself vulnerable in a way that is either brave or stupid, or more likely both!) I’m now making myself accountable to those in my world – so feel free to gently (or vehemently) dissuade me from that slice of baked cheesecake that I may be convinced is winking at me.  And similarly feel free to ask me why I haven’t been for the run I said I was going for, or the training session I had committed to – because I know I’m not going to stick to every element of the plan perfectly all the time.  I know myself – I’m human, I fail, and sometimes I set loftier goals than I can manage at a point.  In fact, I have already missed some of the planned training sessions on my schedule, and have already fallen off the wagon once (or twice!) with my nutrition, and my plan is only a few week’s old.  And that’s okay.  I just start again the next day, or the next mealtime…as soon as possible.  Just carry on going – and working towards that magic 5% number that I’m looking to decrease in body fat.

I share this with you now, at the end of January, when so many well-intentioned individuals have already forgotten about the health or nutrition New Year’s resolutions they set a few weeks ago – that they swore they were going to stick to this year.  I share it now because this is NOT a New Year’s resolution.  I am embarking on an ongoing journey to health. I will no longer be beholden to a mere number on the scale – but want to enter my 40s as a more energised, vital and healthier version of me.

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39* (not out)

What’s the one thing that makes your soul sing and spirit come alive?

What an awesome question to ponder – because for all of us this question will yield a different answer and, no matter the variety of answers that will certainly abound amongst us, each of our answers will be beautiful, uplifting, encouraging…

Think about when last you’ve done something almost purely for the purpose of making yourself happy, and awakening your spirit in the process? And hear me out before you criticise me for contributing to an already overly-narcissistic world. Yes, there is far too much material self-promotion in the world around us, but for the most part the people in my world are on the other side of that particular scale.  The people in my world are those who are continually seeking to help others, put others’ needs before their own, run around after kids, family, friends, charities… you name it.  And generally, everyone else is looked after before yourself.  So it’s those people I’m talking to – when last have you done something that made your soul sing?

I am so blessed to be able to say that I did just that, for myself, a few weeks ago, prompted by my precious friend Dannean’s contribution to The List, being:  “What’s the one thing that makes your soul sing and spirit come alive? Being in nature? Time at the sea? Browsing through an old bookshop? Whatever it is – do that!

From dinner parties, to writing a blog, to kicking a nasty habit, the items on The List are clearly diverse, and so you would imagine there would similarly be numerous diverse options for me to consider in order to fulfil Dannean’s prompting. There was, however, absolutely no question in my mind as to what that one thing is that makes me “come alive” – and that is watching cricket.  I remember someone asking me a few years back about where I’m at my happiest (hoping to provoke an appropriately philosophical answer to such an existential question), and my unhesitating response that it’s when I’m at a cricket match, being part of the crowd, cheering, and being totally immersed in the spectacle and strategy of it all. Not much has changed since I gave that answer a few years back – if anything, my passion for the game has only intensified.

Kingsmead1

Kingsmead – my happy place from 26-30 December 2015

And so it was that while most were planning their Christmas/ December holidays around being on one or more of our beautiful beaches, I decided to drive down to Durban for the five days between Christmas and New Year to watch the first Test Match of the series between South Africa and England. I booked a place for Chuckles in his doggy-hotel (with only the presidential suite being available because of the high demand at this time of the year – the doggy hotel and presidential suite clearly require further explanation in another post!)), found a place for me to stay in Durbs – and that was all the planning required.

So early on Boxing Day morning, I left Joburg to drive down to Durban, with much anticipation to join a nearly sold-out crowd at the start of the traditional Boxing Day Test Match.  After a rain-interrupted day (which led to slightly dampened spirits in accordance with the weather), however, Day 2 in Durbs dawned without a cloud in sight – beautiful bright blue sky, no wind, hot sunshine…it was set to be an absolute gem of a day for watching cricket!  But don’t worry – before you skip ahead to the last paragraph – I don’t intend giving you a blow-by-blow account of the whole five-day test match (haha, I can just hear your sighs of relief!). I can say, however, that it was one of the best days of test match cricket that I’ve ever been to – and not necessarily because of what happened on the pitch, but rather because of the awesome people I sat with and the general atmosphere I was part of. It wasn’t even that I went to cricket with my group of best mates, I actually went alone. (I know people find that strange – but I’m quite happy to be at the cricket by myself – it’s my happy place). But I met fabulous people that day in the stands – there were various groups of diverse people around me (including a father and his young son, a group of a few women from Joburg, an elderly couple who only arrived after the stand was sufficiently shaded for them, and another group of brothers and their families. Very diverse, and yet within the first hour or so, we were all chatting like old friends. Everyone bought each other drinks when they went to fetch a round, shared picnic baskets, laughed and cheered together – all brought together by a common love of the sport!

I have often been asked why I love cricket so much and although I’ve always loved most forms of sport and spent my fair share of time as a kid growing up in Bloem watching cricket at Springbok Park (who remembers those Benson & Hedges Day/Night matches that were so exciting??) – the intense passion for cricket I now have didn’t really grab me until about ten years ago.   And while I’ve managed to come up with a few things about the game that intrigue and attract me, the truth is that I can’t really explain why I love it so much… I just do.  (And that’s alright too – sometimes things just are… without reason, justification or logic… they just are).

In my university days, I remember some guys being visibly impressed when they first met me and realised that I could more than hold my own in any cricketing conversation or circle. Cricket_educationYou may forgive me for thinking at the time that my ever-growing love for cricket may even have yielded an unintended bonus of making me more attractive to the opposite sex.  But that naive thinking was cruelly shot down one day when a bunch of my guy friends came over to watch South Africa play Australia and, while we were all gathered around the TV in my living room and in response to my “Not out, going down leg” comment after a particularly vehement LBW appeal, one of my mates calmly remarked “Wow, I would marry any girl who said ‘Not out, going down leg’ “, and calmly proceeded to take his next sip of beer.  My single self audibly sighed… my cricket love and knowledge was clearly not going to make me more of a catch (pun intended), but rather merely rendered me one of the boys!

One of the beauties of cricket, for me, is the sheer unpredictability of it. I remember once asking my dad, at the tender age of 12 or so, how it was possible for the top batsmen in the world to still be clean bowled? Surely at that level of expertise and skill the batsmen should be able to handle any and every ball bowled at them – otherwise how can you be a top batsman? Dad wasn’t quite able to explain it to my satisfaction at that time (sorry Dad, you did have most of the answers for me growing up though 🙂 ) and I think that’s because of the very nature of cricket – even at the top of his game, a batsman will be beaten by a bowler, and conversely a bowler will be pelted for six by a batsman.  That unpredictability, that excitement…it’s no wonder I get drawn into every game!

Cricket 22_1I also fell in love with cricket because of the intense strategy involved in the game, especially in the test arena, and the careful calculations that are required throughout the game if a win, or often even a draw, is to be on the cards.  (And when I refer to these “careful calculations”, please be assured I mean things like thoughtfully considered field placings, wisely timed declarations and the taking of a cheeky single …. I do not refer to any calculations related in any way to the Duckworth Lewis system, which system has only caused South Africa marginally less defeats than our unfortunate lack of BMT (aka choking tendency)).

For many years, watching the Ashes at Lords has featured right at the top of my bucket list, albeit that I had little hope that I would actually get to do this given the virtual impossibility of obtaining tickets.  But, through a number of instances of sheer luck, coincidence and good fortune, the universe conspired to transport me to the Home of Cricket in July last year, to watch the second test in the Ashes series.  Not even having to wear an Australian cricket supporters’ shirt and cap (as I was travelling with a Cricket Australia group) could dampen my enthusiasm – there was clearly very little I wouldn’t do to sit in the hallowed ground at Lords watching the teams pursue the oldest trophy in Test cricket history, surrounded by tradition and, of course, drinking the mandatory champagne.

I was quite anxious walking from the tube station at St. Johns Wood to Lords on the morning of Day 1 of the Test – this had been on my bucket list for so long that I suddenly feared I may have built it up in my mind as too big of a deal, and that I was setting myself up for disappointment? Not a chance! As I went through the turnstiles, ascended the grandstand, and got my first glimpse of the gloriousness that is Lords, I stopped, smiled and just breathed it all in. Literally! I just breathed – THIS was the home of cricket, THIS was a dream come true, and THIS was the start of one of the most exciting and memorable experiences in my life.

Dont like cricketSo although my passion for cricket didn’t win me any more boyfriends at varsity, it has certainly brought me more colourful, fun and passion-filled experiences than I could have imagined.  So whether it’s the major events like Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2003, and the Ashes at Lords in 2015, or whether it’s just a local T20 match down at the Wanderers or Supersport Park – cricket ignites a spark in me. Because when I’m at a cricket match, I feel alive. I feel vibrant. I feel involved. I feel enough.  I feel more of my authentic self – I’m just me. Deeply involved in a strategic but fun game, which I don’t like…I love.

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Nailbiting stuff!

Nicky_Chuckles 1
Merry Christmas from my precious boy and I

I am so humbled by the interest and enthusiasm you’ve all shown for The List – I have inhaled every comment that has been posted on my blog or on Facebook in response, and have been encouraged (and even pressured… eek!) by the constant “What’s next on The List?” that I am met with from the people in my world.

While I’d love to keep revealing chapter after exciting chapter of The List on a regular basis, the reality is that there are a number of things on The List that cannot simply be posted as a single event – there are things that involve a process. (Don’t you hate that word? I learnt a long time ago that it’s just a diplomatic way of saying something is going to be long, difficult, and sweat and tears will in all likelihood be shed along the way!)

My initial thoughts were to reveal the “process” items on The List (of which there are quite a few) once I had reached the end goal, or achieved what I had set out to do in the particular process. (Because, being a generally determined and positive (aka stubborn!) person, I know that I’ll achieve these things if I set my mind to them.)

A few days ago, however, I was confronted by some less-than-desirable thoughts about one of the processes on The List and my progress (or lack thereof) in this particular process.  The thoughts were ugly and self-deprecating, and involved me criticising myself in a way and using words that I would never dream of saying to any other human being. So notwithstanding the nagging voice in my head that was telling me to hide those less-than-attractive parts of myself and to only show the good stuff here, I’m not going to do that.

One of the items on The List is to enjoy my 40th birthday party in an outfit that makes me feel confident and sexy, with my hair blow-waved to perfection, and with beautifully manicured nails.  So what’s the problem? you may ask.  Well, while I like to believe that I’m a relatively well put-together professional woman, this image unfortunately falls by the wayside when your glance falls to my hands and, in particular, my nails. After 39 years, I am ashamed to admit, I still haven’t been able to kick that nasty habit of biting my nails.

When I refer to tNail biting1he habit of biting my nails, please understand that I’m not a girl who says she bites her nails and by this she means that every now and again, she may innocuously lift a finger to her mouth with no real damage done.  Don’t picture the glamorous images of nailbiting that you may see in ads like this one to the right. If all nailbiters looked like this girl and had nails like hers, there would be no issue, no necessity to kick the nasty habit – in fact, it probably wouldn’t even be classified as a nasty habit then!  Unfortunately most pictures you see in the media depicting some form of nailbiting are entirely removed from any semblence of reality.  The truth? Most nailbiters often chew on their nails until they bleed, even tearing into the skin of the nailbed at times. (Sorry – perhaps I should have issued a warning for sensitive viewers at the outset!)  So in addition to suffering the ugliness of nails chewed to the quick, nailbiters often suffer the accompanying physical pain of torn and sensitive  skin, which throbs, bleeds and aches for the following days.

Now that I’ve drawn the curtain back on the ugliness of nailbiting, you can understand why I am so keen to kick this habit once and for all – and to enter my forties without having to hide my hands behind my back whenever I meet new people.  And so, immediately after finalising The List, I embarked on this nail biting (or rather…NOT nail biting) journey!

A few days ago, however, reality ploughed into my plan of achieving the goal of the beautiful (or at the very least, not unattractive) manicured nails I had dreamed of.  I found myself in a situation where I was overcome with anxiety and almost unconsciously began chewing on a nail. And the more anxious I became, the more nails I chewed on….another nail, then another, then …. And as I realised what I was doing, and that it was not the plan, I should have immediately stopped. You would think so, right? But no, I couldn’t stop. It was seemingly the only outlet for the anxiety I was experiencing and the inclination to bite my nails had a force of its own which could not be countered. (I think it’s a bit like when you’re on a diet, and you have a little cheat, and then the voice in your head tells you that you may as well eat whatever you want for the rest of the day, because you’ve cheated anyway!). So instead of stopping midway through this anxiety-driven nailbiting, I carried on. 😦

The result? I woke up the next morning with painful and throbbing fingers, raw skin and – perhaps the most painful of all, regret and self-loathing that I could not do this one seemingly simple thing that I should have outgrown in my childhood.

But why am I telling you all of this? The point is that I immediately felt ashamed about what I’d done. Once again, I had to sit in a meeting at work the next day with my hands under the table, because I was embarrassed. I was too embarrassed to even take notes in the meeting for fear that someone looked over at me writing in my notebook and saw my shameful hands.  I’ve heard it said so often that you can judge a woman by the way she looks after her hands, and that her hands show her level of grooming.  If that’s the case, then my grooming leaves a lot to be desired (which I somehow don’t think is true).  The reality is, though, that I failed myself. And although it’s not a big issue (certainly not anything that anyone will remember next year, next week or even tomorrow), I wanted to hide my hands (and my failure) from people. Because in hiding my hands physically, I could also hide my anxiety and poor self image from the world, and not have to explain myself to anyone.

So how do I get from the desire to hide my hands and the emotions they represent, to shouting it from the rooftops in this blog? It’s  very simple actually – it’s because I am real.  And because I’m real, I’m making myself vulnerable (again), and just saying it like it is, and revealing parts of myself that are crying to stay hidden.  I point blank refuse to be a part of society that only shows its best side and avoids showing weakness or vulnerability at all costs – that is why we have so much judgment in society and why there are so many people that feel like they’ll never be “enough”. And I will not be a part of that.

As I said in a post on Facebook a few weeks ago, I don’t believe in only sharing the highlights reel of my life as so many on Facebook do – that does me no good and does the people in my world no good.

Importantly, I wanted to share that on this 40 before forty journey of mine,Nicky 1 it’s not going to all be about achieving what I set out to do without any obstacles and detours. The last thing I want is to end up with 40 things “ticked” on The List, having  created the impression that I methodically (and seemingly effortlessly) just went about merrily ticking everything off. Life is not like that. Life is tough.  And life can challenge and even break you sometimes. So I won’t just be sharing the “highlights reel” of The List – but will rather be sharing the reality of it. And if that means exposing myself to judgment or criticism where I share areas where I have stumbled or fallen, then so be it.

So at the start of 2016, when we’re surrounded by “New Year,  New You” sentiments, you won’t be seeing a “new me”. You will, however, continue to see a “real me” (who’s not giving up her quest for pretty nails). And if this post or any of my other posts or messages encourages even one person to be a bit more vulnerable and real, that’s worth more than any item on The List for me! So here’s to us all showing immense courage and bravery in 2016 through being real!

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“The List” revealed … or maybe not?

Gorgeous Abi, who consistently melts my heart and who was an angelic dinner guest

A confession (eek…not a good start!) – in my first post, I said that I’d be sharing my 40 before forty list (aka “The List”) with you all in this post.  But, as the cliche goes,  a woman is allowed to change her mind. So instead of sharing The List in its entirety at this point, I’ve decided to only share a few items at a time.  Why? Well, I reckon it’s like reading a book – if you know at the beginning of the book what every chapter is going to be about, it takes away from the adventure and exploration of the reading journey. And while I don’t for a minute presuppose that this blog is going to be as much of an adventure for you as it is for me, the principle remains 🙂  So I’ll only be revealing one or two items on The List at a time.

Having already revealed the first item on The List last week (being to start my blog – so far, so good), the second item I took on was to throw a dinner party. I can just hear your exclamations now – A dinner party? Is that all? How can something so small and easy make it onto The List, particularly given that we seem to be surrounded by domestic goddesses who can throw a dinner party for forty people with a click of their fingers? Alas, I’m not one of those and hence, not so small and easy a task for me.

I used to have dinner parties frequently, and ironically this was when I lived in various tiny apartments where the space (or lack thereof) was certainly not conducive to such. Notwithstanding the enforced “coziness” of those situations, I loved having people over and if you could read the grains and stains of my diningroom table, you would see a procession of friends and family gathered around the table over the years, eating, drinking, laughing and solving the problems of the world late into the night.

I even had a signature dish! (I bet that surprised you!)  My sublime individual chicken pies, made with chicken, feta, spinach, love and a few other secret ingredients were demanded at my dinner parties (polite requests had long since gone out the window).  In fact, during those years, my friends dubbed my home at that time “The Real Home of the Chicken Pie”.  (For those of you that don’t live in Joburg – there is a place out on the Lanseria road, virtually in the middle of nowhere, called The Home of the Chicken Pie – where the chicken pies are legendary (apparently second only to mine, according to my friends 🙂 )

Where did the dinner parties go and what changed? Well, a number of things – but perhaps the biggest influence was that I was unfortunately sick for an extended period from early 2012 (the details of which I won’t belabour this post with), but which in short resulted in me being somewhat less social and more withdrawn for a fair period of time, and left me with a fragile sense of self. Hence, even after moving into my beautiful new home nearly two years ago where I have stacks more space including a refurbished, light, bright and welcoming diningroom, my dinner table remained forlornly expectant.

Which brings me to the seemingly innocuous “throw a dinner party in your gorgeous new dining room” contributed to The List, by my friend, Nicky.   As soon as I read it, I knew it was time. I didn’t need any further encouragement – I set the date, sent out the invites and we were in business!
Or so I thought…

There were first a couple of unexpected disappointment hurdles to overcome, most pertinently related to my invited guests. After first one, then two, then more people declined my invitation, I couldn’t quite quell the insecure voice in my head that was berating me for even trying to step out and organize the dinner in the first place, effectively setting myself up for disappointment (or so that little voice said). And somehow that voice wasn’t appeased by the fact that all of these people had perfectly understandable reasons for being unable to join me.  It eventually took a frank discussion over the obligatory glass of wine with my friend, Penny (who was incidentally one of my invited guests who had accepted my dinner invitation) to realise that my negative emotions were because I was focusing on the people who couldn’t attend, rather than focusing on those who could attend – the awesome friends and family who had excitedly rsvp’d that they’d love to join me! Lightbulb moment… shift your focus, and your emotions shift too – a valuable lesson, thanks Penny!

So back to the dinner party, held on Saturday evening, the 14th of November 2015.  I bought all the ingredients that morning for my chicken pies, veggies and salad, picked up some freshly baked bread and bought (way too much) wine and champagne, as everyone knows that good wine and bubbles are a prerequisite for a dinner party (actually, for any party, actually…for anything at all 🙂

Proteas make any dinner table look amazing – proudly South African

To put my preparation into context – you should know that I’m not the most organised person in the world. When it comes to travel, for example, one of the reasons I enjoy travelling with Nicky is because, whether it’s in the morning leaving the hotel, or when we’re leaving any place, or at the airport or any other appropriate time, she double-checks with me that I’ve got everything I need (or have done whatever needs to be done), and she does it without judgment, and with a smile.  (And given that I get impatient with myself and get myself into a bit of a frenzy, that is always most welcome (and calming)).  So, I decided I was going to be organised for this dinner party and do things in advance. I started cooking early, set the table early, and put the drinks on ice. But despite being relatively organised in getting ready for the evening, there was a certain point in the afternoon while I was cooking when I became extremely anxious and had to take myself outside to the patio in the fresh air, take a few deep breaths and give myself a good talking to! What reason was there for the anxiety attack, you may ask? Well to me, inviting people for dinner is not just inviting a few people into some bricks and mortar and giving  them some food. It’s about inviting people into your space, both physical and metaphorical. It’s about opening your front door, but then more importantly opening your arms and your heart, and making yourself vulnerable by having people in your personal space. Vulnerability is scary – very scary. And this vulnerability and the fear of opening yourself and your “space” in a personal and intimate way, simple as it may sound, was the reason the years had passed without any further gatherings around my diningroom table.

Having dealt with the anxiety (through a couple of deep breaths and an encouraging chat with a friend (thanks Ingrid!), I scurried around according to my meticulously planned schedule, unsuspecting of course that about a half hour before my guests’ ETA, Penny called asking if they could come early, as they were in the area already. Of course I said yes, but naturally warned them that I was not quite ready.  They promptly arrived about eighteen seconds later (they really WERE in the neighbourhood!), and I opened the door to them in my shorts, t-shirt and barefoot – not exactly the picture of a glamorous hostess.  I took them through to the patio, brought a bottle of bubbly and glasses through and asked them to look after themselves for a few minutes. Once again – not the best way to start off an evening where you had hoped to be organised and calm and a textbook hostess! And before I could even return to the kitchen to carry on where I had left off, the next guests (being my brother, Craig and my amazingly gorgeous niece, Abi) arrived similarly early.  It was clear that there was no part of this evening that was going to go according to my timing schedule!

But by the time my next two guests arrived – despite me still running around barefoot and all organisation thrown out the window by then – there was already lots of talking, laughing, drinking of bubbles and every other good thing amongst my guests settled in on a beautiful summer’s evening on the patio. Suffice to say that, although I would have liked to be more “present” during the first hour or two of my dinner party (as I would have been if I’d been more organised), it was still lots of fun and my guests ably got on with themselves and each other.

Plates licked clean!

Plates licked clean!

The actual dinner was awesome – my chicken pies were a hit (as expected, I venture to say – I’m glad I haven’t lost the magic touch), the veggie dish was virtually licked clean and my guests confirmed that my home is still The Real Home of the Chicken Pie – high praise indeed!

But as you would guess, the dinner really wasn’t about the food. I can’t adequately describe the joyous feeling of having such special people gathered around my table that night…at a point I just sat back, was quiet, and took a moment to look around me, and savour each and every individual around that dinner table.  I had made myself vulnerable – I had opened my home, my arms and my heart – and my guests filled all three of those to overflowing. So to Keith, Penny, Nicky, Max, Craig and Abi…thank you! I don’t think you realised what an important and special role you played that evening for me – I love you all.

My guests left with full tummies, and (hopefully) full hearts. And the ones that couldn’t make my dinner party?  I’ll have them around around another time – because it was nothing personal that they couldn’t join that night – it was just legitimate stuff (particularly at this time of the year, when everyone’s social calendar is so booked up).  Plus – that gives me a reason to have another dinner party and to introduce some more people to The Real Home of the Chicken Pie 🙂 So check your inbox – The Real Home of the Chicken Pie has re-opened its doors and is sending invitations out.

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40 before forty – the journey starts

nicky5I’m a 39-year old single girl living in beautiful Jozi – mom to my gorgeous pup, Chuckles; daughter; sister; aunty to my precious niece, Abi; friend; listener; encourager; adventurer; runner (which may be a flattering term for what I do); lawyer, mountain climber; champagne drinker and generally someone who welcomes a challenge, and goes out to disprove stereotypes and beat the odds.

In six short months’ time, I’ll be turning 40 – which has me filled with much trepidation and anxiety, on the one hand, wondering is this the end? Not just the end of my 30s, but the end of some family life choices, and the end of being regarded as still being relatively young and adventurous? On, the other hand, the anxiety has been coupled with some nervous excitement – maybe it’s just the beginning? Beginning of my 40s, and a time to live with meaning, passion and to find hope along the way? Given the trepidation and anxiety, however, I decided to make sure that I live these next six months deliberately, and that I don’t just float my way through them – only to look back and wonder how quickly the big four-oh arrived and what exactly I had done to welcome it in!

So, I decided to compile a list of 40 things I’d like to do in the next six months – a type of bucket list if you like – and asked my family and friends for help by giving suggestions of what I should put on my list. I only provided a few guidelines – they should be things that challenge me, make me smile, create memories… nothing financially extravagant – so they should at least be somewhat realistic.  

I received far more than 40 suggestions – but have now managed to pare it down to 40 (which shall be revealed in my first post).  And why am I blogging about this? Well one of my “40 before forty” items is to finally start blogging, which I’ve been threatening to do for years. So this blog will follow my 40 before forty journey – thanks for being part of my journey, and contributing your ideas! I’m super excited for the next six months and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

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