Ice, Ice, Baby

Mr. Hot Cocoa and I have very different aesthetics.  He's traditional and classic; if he were a store he'd be Brooks Brothers or Falconable.  You know that if I could be a store, I'd be Anthropologie -- fun and girly, with a splash of vintage.  So when it came to picking out an engagement ring, Mr. HC said he would pick out the stone, but felt very strongly that I should pick out the setting.  Initially, I was a little bummed about this -- I had a whole fantasy of him surprising me with the perfect ring that he'd designed. But I got over it when I realized that this meant I got to do more shopping. Schweet!

Cue the bling photos.  

At first, I zoned in on an emerald cut stone on a simple pave band.  I really like the emerald cut. It's understated, refined, and modern -- the Natalie Portman of cuts.

But when Mr. HC asked my mom for permission to propose to me (cute, huh?), she told him that under no circumstances could the engagement ring be square shaped.  She had this whole theory of how the stone represented the marriage, and that it's bad juju to have a stone with angles since you want your marriage to be smooth and corner-free.  Oy vey.  I'd never heard of such a theory.  But here's the thing about my mom: she's superstitious and persistent.  Oh, and Mr. HC finds her very intimidating.  Bottom line -- I wasn't getting an emerald cut ring unless I was ready to find myself a new mom and a new fiance.  Given that I'd had the former for 31 years and the latter for close to 15, it seemed a tad inconvenient to find new ones.

After near-talmudic discussions of whether cushion or asscher cuts qualified as "smooth and corner-free," I relented and decided to go with a round stone.  There was still, however, the question of the setting.  A pave cathedral design was lovely, but I was nervous that the thick band might not be comfortable to wear on a daily basis.

An heirloom setting sounded right up my alley, but I wasn't sure what it'd look like in person, and we'd already decided to get our ring online through Brilliant Earth.

One setting that I never thought about was the halo.  It looked like a donut. And I wasn't into any donuts that don't come off a Krispy Kreme conveyer belt.

But then I saw the cover of the Spring 2008 edition of Martha Stewart Weddings.  And my eye zeroed in on the ring on the upper right corner.

Halo.  Pave.  Round.  And so beautiful!  Still a bit unsure about the computer rendering of the halo, I asked Eric Grossberg, the very accommodating co-owner of Brilliant Earth, to send me a picture of a real ring with a halo setting.  He didn't have a picture of the halo with a pave band, but he was able to show me what a halo with a plain band looked like.  To my delight, the real ring was much more delicate and refined than the virtual ring.  And it had a sweet vintage vibe that I completely fell for.  

Ultimately, the ring was still a surprise, since I didn't get to see the whole setting or the stone until Mr. HC proposed.  And while it's not at all what I thought I'd like when I first started looking, I love it and think it's very me:

And here's a closeup (don't be scared off by my hairy knuckles -- I'm 3/4 Chinese and 1/4 werewolf, apparently):
Given the title of this post, there's only one appropriate way to end it.

Word to your mother!

Did you choose your setting, or did your fiance? Did your family have any say in the matter? Do you know of any other quirky theories about rings?


Bringing home the gown

As you might recall from my dress post from a while back, I ended my search for an affordable couture gown at the website of Dream Bridal LA, from which I purchased the very lovely Monique Lhuillier "Mona Lisa" gown. A week later, Mona showed up at my door. Instant gratification! But after the oohing and ahing was done, I came to the sudden realization that Mona was here for the long haul; she didn't have anywhere to go until late October, when I have my first fitting.

Flashback to 4th grade, when my mom finally got me that Cabbage Patch doll I coveted. Um, now what do I do with her?

Surprisingly, there's not much on the internet about how to store a gown before the wedding. Thank goodness for Martha:
Ideally, you'll bring your dress home a day or two before the wedding. But if you must store it for longer, you'll want to take precautions. If storing it for less than six months, hang it on a padded hanger in a closet away from direct sunlight, leaving several feet of space on either side. To shield fabric from dust, cover it with a material that allows for ventilation, such as muslin or a white cotton sheet. Don't use plastic -- since it's nonporous, it can trap condensation, causing mildew and mustiness; it might also emit gases over time that cause deterioration. If you'll be storing the gown for more than six months, it's best not to hang it to avoid stressing shoulders and seams. Instead, package the dress in an acid-free cardboard box.
Based on this advice, I went to the Container Store and bought these items:

I took Mona out of the garment bag she came in, hung her on the padded hanger (using the hanging straps of the gown -- not the embellished capsleeves, since that could damage/stretch the gown), and placed her in the canvas garment bag with the cedar hang up. For those of you with lacy gowns, Britta from Dream Bridal adds that it's best to store those horizontally because lace can stretch or tear in the pressure points. You can just fold up your dress in a Z formation, putting crumpled up acid-free tissue between each fold (so as not to leave creases) and store it in an acid-free box.

I think Mona's been pretty happy in her new storage place. Fingers crossed that she'll still like me when it's time to take her to the seamstress.

For those of you with sample or off-the-rack gowns, where/how have you been storing them in advance of the wedding? Any additional tips or advice?


Sample Sale Sites

[Barbara Kruger, Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am), 1987.]

Attention fellow shopaholics: I've posted previously on websites where you can find couture bridal gown bargains and sample sales.  Here are a few non-bridal-specific sites that you might enjoy.

Gilt Groupe - Designer apparel for women, men, and children at significant discount.  By invitation only (you can use this invite:  Tip: Although Gilt will send you an email each day notifying you that a particular sale has started, if there's a popular designer you really love (i.e. Vera Wang), don't wait for the email.  Log on right at noon EST. Certain styles and sizes tend to sell out really quickly.  Gilt emails a schedule of sales at the beginning of each week, so you'll know what's coming up and when to start refreshing your browser like a madwoman!

Top Button - Lists online and in-person sample sales.  A good source for wedding gown sample sale information.  You can check the webpage each day or sign up for email notifications.

Ideeli - A less user-friendly version of Gilt Groupe.  By invitation only (you can use the code "dailycandy" to join).  Unlike the Gilt Groupe, Ideeli has a two-tiered system where paying members get first dibs and non-paying members pick up the leftovers.  Good source of accessories, but IMHO not as good a source of clothing as Gilt.

NY Magazine's Best Bets and Sales - Like Top Button, this subscription-only e-list gives info on online and in-person sample sales, particularly in the New York area.  Another good source for wedding gown sample sale information.

Alright, I've shared mine, now share yours.  ;-P


You can't get away from me this time, Badgley Mischka!

Look, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, I wasn't mad at you when you chose the Olsen twins for your ad campaign, even though I told you -- nay, insisted -- that I was available.  I understand your decision; they are, after all, style icons to the bag lady set.  No, I wasn't mad at you even when they showed up with walk-of-shame makeup and Bellatrix Lestrange hair that even your team of crack stylists couldn't fix.

And I have forgiven you for the time you put me in this dress -- holy Martha Stewart, what's with those love handles? -- which made me look like a sausage.  A sausage in an overpriced -- albeit sumptuously embellished -- silk casing.

And I've gotten over the pain of having to say goodbye to dear, sweet "Lucia," who gave me a waist and made my butt look uber sexy, because you made her so very very heavy and hot and uncomfortable.

And I've almost recovered from driving four hours to Kleinfeld's to try on this ethereal masterpiece only to discover that you only sent them one sample, which they had sold just before I got there.

Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.  And still I pine for you.

Truth be told, Markster and Jimmy, I spent many a night cursing your names, rueing the day I first came upon your vintagey creations.  Imagine my surprise and begrudging sense of delight, then, when you sent me via Gilt Groupe this dreamy little number -- a darling confection that's oh so perfect for my rehearsal dinner. Its design even echoes the embellishment of my wedding gown -- how thoughtful of you!  And for a fraction of the retail price!

So in honor of the Democratic National Convention, let's play Clinton and Obama and let bygones be bygones.  (Btw, I'm still available for your next ad campaign -- you know, just in case one of the Hollywood trollops you've hired needs to drop into emergency rehab.  Call me? Please?)

Did you find a fabulous bargain for your rehearsal dinner?  Were you lured into purchasing it months in advance of your wedding because -- like me -- you can't let a good sale go by?


Style Inspirations

Please stop luring me into your web of gorgeousness.

Obsessively yours,
Hot Cocoa

What are your favorite sources of style inspiration?


Shopping for a Photographer

I am, if I do say so myself, a very efficient shopper.  You can count on me to zoom past the racks of schmatas guaranteed to make me look like the third Olsen twin (triplet?), locate the handful of items worthy of stripping down to my skivvies in a Loehmann fitting room for, and zone in on the one flirty number that is just right in style and price. And, unlike Mr. HC, who takes 3 hours to buy a pair of khakis, I can usually do this in less time than it probably took for us to find parking.

So imagine my frustration when I found myself lost amongst forty something photographers' blogs, trying to distinguish the difference between photojournalism and lifestyle, digital and film, lens flare and no flare. Thousands of shots of rings (rings on candy, rings in flowers, rings on tile, rings on lego people . . .), gowns in the window, and silver Jimmy Choos later, I was in what could best described as a tizzy.  If there were yellow wallpaper in my apartment, I would have crawled into it to escape my Google Reader.  I needed a personal shopper.  Stat.  Or else I'd be exchanging my wedding gown for a white garment of a more institutional variety.

To the rescue came Angel Swanson, our amazing wedding planner.  I likely would have hired Angel anyway based on glowing reviews from Mrs. Jasmine and Mrs. Lime alone, but as soon as I met her I knew she spoke my language.  Exhibit 1: Angel took one look at my list of photographers and immediately emailed me this:
Since I know you love fashion . . . I will classify them as stores . . . based on their style. ;-) I'd say [A] is like J.Crew (a little preppy, classic), [B] is like Anthropologie (more free-spirited and vintage feeling), [C] is like Betsey Johnson (romantic yet edgy) and [D] is like American Eagle (young, fun, carefree).
In one sentence, she solved all the problems I was having discerning one photographer's point of view from another.  For weeks, I had been trying to describe what I was looking for in a photographer; she made articulate what had to that point been the verbal equivalent of pureed peas.

Can you guess which photographer I chose?

 "Why, Miss Hot Cocoa, you heart Anthropologie.  It's like your mother ship."

"The answer must be [B]."

Is [B] your final answer?

"Yes.  Anthropologie rocks!"

Of course, you're right.  Behold the work of the awesomeness that is [B], a.k.a. Anthropologie, a.k.a. Leigh Miller, a.k.a. Ms. Seriously Talented:

Excuse me while I take a moment to wipe off my drool.  Just to underscore how Angel "gets" my aesthetic probably more than she even realizes, Leigh was the first photographer whose photographs made my heart skip a beat, the first photographer whose blog I bookmarked, under the title of "The Photographer!" -- and that was months before I started looking for a photographer.  I just didn't think we could a) afford her and b) convince her to shoot ordinary mortals (I mean, those radiant people in her photographs, they had to be models, right?).

All images courtesy of Leigh Miller Photography.
(Psst.  Image above is of the gorgeous and talented Erin Cole.)

I hope you enjoyed a little weekend eye candy.

How did you choose your photographer?  How would you describe her or his style?  And -- because nothing says fun like a good simile -- if your photographer were a store or a brand, what would he or she be?


Paper Couture

Today I've been a very lazy Haute Cocoa.  I meant to post on finding an eco-conscious ring, but with the typhoon warning here in Hong Kong and my impending departure (lots of goodies to pack), I just couldn't manage to put together a research-intensive post.  As an apology, I bring you something perhaps even better -- something that combines all three of my material loves (don't pout, Mr. HC): paper, couture, and bargains.  

The Creature Comforts blog -- always a great source of style and design -- brought to my attention a fun and fabulous freebie from Hermes.  That's right, bees, Haute Cocoa just put the words "freebie" and "Hermes" in one sentence.  Try not to squeal too loudly if you're in a public space.
The design house that brought celebrities and royalty the oh-so-coveted Birkin bag is offering to us mere mortals the smaller, though no less lovely Kelly bag . . . on paper.  From their website, you can download templates to make your very own Kelly bag.  Just go to, pick your location, click on "travel the world of hermes," and select the paper bag icon ("I want it, I'll have it.").

There are eight bags to choose from.  The black/white cherry blossom is my favorite, though I also love the patternless one -- a blank slate ready for your couture treatment.  How cute would the 8.5 x 11 version of these be as containers for favors at a bridal shower?  Or perhaps you'd rather blow up the template and use larger versions of these as boxes for your bridal party gifts?  Or make them for yourself, wish hard on a star, and hope that your dummy boxes will turn into real, live bags?!

Of course, the paper Kelly bag makes a perfect accessory for a couture paper gown, like that which won Hanah Kim the 2007 Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Design Contest.
Throw in a tissue paper pomander or bouquet and you'll be ready to party.  Just check the weather first: these items are not typhoon friendly.


What's your flavor?

A friend of mine reports that a bridal shower this weekend, they played a fun little icebreaker inspired in part by my post on bridal party invitations.  Since this is the first time I've inspired anything other than complete and utter chaos, I am feeling very self-congratulatory.  Woo hoo! 

You might remember that I gave our bridal party a bottle of Soy Vay as "a little flavor of our wedding":

And in my post I wrote:
Mr. HC and I find Soy Vay hilarious. Like our wedding, Soy Vay is "produced by a Chinese girl and a Jewish boy." And like us, Soy Vay is kosher, delicious, and saucy.
Since they had a kitchen shower, the ladies at the shower my friend attended were each asked to bring 1) a food item that represented the wedding couple and 2) a food item that represented their own relationship or relationship status.  Hilarity supposedly ensued, though I remain skeptical until proof is offered.  (At the last wedding shower I went to, I seriously thought about upping the fun quotient by stabbing myself in the eye with a fondue fork.)

Well, hive, I ask you: What food item would you choose to represent your relationship or wedding?  Are you spicy, sweet, salty, or sour?  Organic, processed, or preserved?


Bridal Red: Qua or Qipao

I was psyched when I found a -- no, the -- dress for my wedding -- ivory, lace, train, the works. But apparently one dress is not good enough for a Chinese wedding. My mom (in the voice reserved for things of monumental importance) demands at least 3 dresses: a "western" bridal gown, a Chinese qua or qipao, and an evening gown. Apparently ("There are rules! Rules!") not only does custom dictate how many dresses one must change into (some brides go for as many as 7!), it also dictates when one must change into these getups, as well as what type of jewelry goes with each outfit. There goes my dream of sashaying about in my Monique Lhuillier all night. I'm going to spend all night changing from one outfit to another.  

[What Hong Kong looks like from a cab after a loooong day of wedding shopping.]

Oh well.  No use whining when one could be out shopping.  So this week, Hot Mama Cocoa, Sister HC, and I have been hitting the very hot pavement in Hong Kong in search of my Chinese outfit. 

The first choice I had to make is whether to go with a qua or a qipao for the tea ceremony.  The qua is a two-piece wedding costume that is ancient in provenance.  Here's a neat little explanation from Koon Nam Wah, Hong Kong's most established qua maker:
There are two types of traditional ceremonial costumes: . . . long gowns and short jackets . . . for men, and [qua] for women. In the past, people of the middle and upper class often wore these traditional costumes for birthday banquets or on other grand occasions. In recent decades, however, [qua] embroidered with the dragon-and-phoenix pattern has been the ceremonial costume for brides. . . . The wedding costumes are usually embroidered with auspicious patterns such as the dragon and phoenix, mandarin ducks or flowers and plants. Traditional [qua] have two decorative sashes embroidered at the centre of the lapel. These bands are called zisundai ("offspring" bands), which means "having an abundance of offspring."
It looks something like this:

In recent years, brides have opted for something a little more body-conscious, less boxy, more vavavavoom.  Hence, the qipao (sometimes called cheongsam).*  Here is a conventional version of the qipao, red with the dragon/phoenix embroidery:

* Some people also explain the choice between quas and qipaos as a regional one; northern Chinese brides wear one-piece dresses, while southern ones wear the two-piece qua. Neither I nor my family had heard of this difference before I sought wisdom from Auntie Google, but Auntie Google doesn't lie (or so my students claim).

At first, I thought the choice between a qipao and a qua was a no-brainer. Look, baby's got back.  And it does not look good in a boxy, straight skirt.  I mean, who wants to look like an embroidered potato sack?  And even Hot Grandmama Cocoa was certain that quas were dated, the equivalent of wearing a "rad" hypercolor t-shirt with Z Cavaricci jeans to the opening of NY Fashion Week.

But then I went to look at quas in person at the Wing Wah Embroidery Co. and was floored by the amazing embroidery:

As you can see, the embroidery is lush, artful, and three-dimensional. Here is a particularly fine specimen of a well-embroidered qua; the silver embroidery almost covers all of the red satin underlay, and the gold dragons and phoenixes literally pop off the material:

And here is darling Mrs. Toucan, looking gorgeous in hers:
The prospect of wearing an art piece alone probably would have swung me over to the qua side. But then I visited Koon Nam Wah's website and read all about the xi fu (masters) who create KNW's embroidered pieces.  The xi fu have to do some pretty fine embroidery work, so it's no surprise that KNW selects only those with skill and dexterity.  But that's not all.  You see, sweat can damage the embroidery and material.  So KNW selects only xi fu who don't sweat.  Yeah, you read that right.  Only those with the ability to suppress their glandular secretions need apply.

Beautiful embroidery?  Nice.  Beautiful embroidery done by little old men with no sweat glands? Awesome.  I must have it.  Plus the curmudgeonly xi fu I spoke with at KNW said he could make me a more modern qua, with a scalloped edge on the bottom of the jacket and a slightly more fitted shape.  Sold.

As for the qipao, well, I'm not giving that up either.  I have a scheme to reinterpret the classic qipao to make it work as fusion formal wear.  More on that to come.

In the meantime, tell me . . . have you made any wedding attire decisions that surprised you?


(M)engagement rings?

Some of you might have noticed while reading the Hot Cocoa engagement story post that there are two rings in this photo: an engagement ring on my finger (yes, that Oompa Loompa set of appendages does belong to me, not a four-year-old gnome child) and a band on Mr. Hot Cocoa's finger.  Do not adjust your browsers.  That shiny washer on Mr. HC's digit is, indeed, an engagement ring.  From me.  To him.

When we started talking about getting engaged and going through the process of selecting a pretty bauble for my finger, I started feeling somewhat sad for Mr. HC that he wouldn't get some shiny thing of his own.  Why shouldn't he have a token of my commitment and love too? And truthfully, Little Miss Snarky (my bad, bad alter ego) also thought that it seemed unfair that I should have to be "marked" as off-the-market, while Mr. HC gets to sally forth unchanged.

Then there's also the fascinating theory I read about in law school of how the custom of giving an engagement ring only to women came about.  WAIT - don't stop reading!  I swear it's good! Prof. Margaret Brinig (in an article you can download here) points out that in the olden days, if a man broke off an engagement, a woman could sue him for breach of promise.  BOP was not just about a jilted lover's sweet revenge; in the days when women needed to remain a virgin to be marriageable, this civil action gave men an incentive to go through with the wedding and women some measure of financial support if the engagement fell through after, um, some hanky panky.  But in the 1930s, BOP was legislated out of existence.  Hence the need for some expensive doodad -- a performance bond, if you will -- to keep grooms honest.  (And it helps that, as discussed in this must-read Slate piece, the 1930s were when DeBeers began its "A Diamond is Forever" campaign.)

Anyway, I decided I could do without a (one-way) performance bond; Mr. HC has seen me at my worst and hasn't run yet (I mean, he's sometimes hid in horror, closed his eyes, or fled the apartment temporarily, but he always came back -- sucker!).  And the feminist troublemaker in me liked the symbolic value of exchanging rings.

So I contacted Etsy seller imakecutestuff and ordered one of her custom "secret promise rings." It's a simple sterling silver band that's inscribed with a hidden message inside.
I had it inscribed with "Have a little faith, there's magic in the night," a quote from one of our favorite Springsteen songs.  And sometime after Mr. HC proposed with his ring, I proposed with mine.

Since Mr. HC can't wear any jewelry to the hospital (which is pretty much where he is every hour of every day as a med student), he hasn't really been wearing his pretty shiny thing.  In truth, he also thinks it's a bit weird, even if he completely endorses the sentiment behind it. Despite this, I kind of like the idea that he has it.

Any of you get or think about getting a mengagement ring?  Does the term "mengagement ring," which I'm totally claiming as my own, btw, make you giggle -- like man-purse (murse) or man-bra (bro)?  Did you stop reading when I put "fascinating" and "law school" in one sentence?  Sorry -- it won't happen again, I promise.


"and yes I said yes I will Yes" - Part II

For those of you kind enough to be following the Hot Cocoas' engagement story, you'll remember that after a close run-in with Canadian immigration, we landed in Prince Edward Island, the destination of my surprise 31st birthday trip.  P.E.I.'s tourism industry is centered around Anne of Green Gables.  But while quite a bit of it is faux-Avonlea (complete with a faux village in which tourists sporting faux-Anne braids interact with faux-Annes, Dianas, and Gilberts), it's also a real maritime province -- rustic, charming, authentic:

We arrived at our B&B, the Elmwood Inn, and our wonderful innkeepers, Carol and Jay, greeted us with fresh flowers in our suite, my favorite Lime Green Tea Snapples in the mini-fridge, and a stack of exceedingly specific Google Map directions. They also seemed incredibly insistent that we use the directions that night to see the sunset. Their zeal struck me as a bit odd, but I just thought that P.E.I. people were really proud of their sunsets.  After all, even daytime in P.E.I. was picture perfect:

Mr. Hot Cocoa had made dinner reservations for us at the Dayboat Restaurant. We arrived over an hour late because a cartographically challenged Hot Cocoa got us completely lost. In my defense, all the roads were numbered, not named; it was like a group of geeks from MIT got high on math and went to town. We had a delicious and leisurely meal, but as the sun began to set, our waiter Tony started getting oddly pushy, bringing us dessert before we had even ordered it, bringing the check before we were even finished with dessert, essentially speeding us out of the restaurant. What was up with these people and their preoccupation with the sunset?  It was like we were in some Bram Stoker novel.

It turned out that Mr. HC had contacted the innkeepers and the restaurant almost a month before our arrival and had told them all about his plan to propose at sunset near the Cavendish coast. He had even chosen a particular location to propose, pinpointing on Google Earth the location of the scene in the "Anne of Green Gables" movie in which Anne and Diana watch the sunset on the red cliffs of P.E.I. (I've always loved what Anne said to Diana in that scene: "We are rich . . . . Look at that sea -- all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.") Of course, my map skills (or lack thereof) had made us so late that the sun was practically down by the time we left the restaurant. Alas, we didn't quite make it to the location that Mr. HC had so painstakingly mapped. But we found a site with a spectacular view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where I, still clueless, proceeded to take a zillion pictures of the sunset.

I think I was still taking pictures when Mr. HC, thankfully ignoring the sign above, said, "I have a question to ask you."  Of course, Little Miss Snarky that I am, I was probably about to say something like "No, I will not stop taking stupid pictures!" But as the sun was disappearing over the horizon, Mr. HC got on one knee (on a concrete block, no less) and proposed.

And I managed to overcome my shock and tears to say yes, but only after making him asking me multiple times. Because the only thing better than one romantic proposal is multiple romantic proposals!

Once we got back to our suite at the Elmwood, we discovered that our hosts not only had stayed up to greet us and hear our happy news, but also left us champagne and chocolates.  I didn't know how to take a picture that would capture the radiance and beauty of the ring that Mr. HC had gotten from Brilliant Earth.  Here's a trying-too-hard to be artistic photo of it in my birthday bouquet.  It's not going to win me any WPJA awards.

For all you kindred spirits out there, we did in fact go to Green Gables the next day (my actual birthday).  We strolled Lovers' Lane, which you can see in the photo below is basically a glorified muddy path, but I suppose Anne would say that this just means there's scope for imagination.

And we spent a wonderful day getting deliberately lost (not my fault this time!) around P.E.I.  I got some lovely shots of the island's famous red cliffs.

Then it was time to leave the island.  Remember how Mr. HC left his passport on the plane?Well, he did eventually recover his passport from lost and found at Ottawa airport (though we spent most of our flight from Charlottetown planning a life of exile in Ottawa). So we didn't get stuck in Canada. We didn't get sent to Gitmo. We didn't get suckered into buying any chintzy Anne of Green Gables crap (a Green Gables thimble, anyone?), except a bottle of Anne's Raspberry Cordial, which I had to have. I don't usually believe in perfection, but all in all, I'd say it was a perfect weekend . . . because after fourteen years of dating, the Hot Cocoas were engaged!


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