Monday, February 27, 2012

Playing Dress Up, Step #4: Confessions of a Shopaholic

I'm not sure when it happened, but I love shopping. I definitely wasn't that into clothes in high school and had no money in college. But somehow, it happened anyway. I'm not exactly Rebecca Bloomwood, and I probably own less clothes than a lot of people, but I do sometimes have to remind myself that I don't need another blue sweater! Hopefully you can benefit from my shopping knowledge. :)

1. Shop with a list. 
Especially if you are making over your whole closet!

2. Buy a latte. Drink it while you shop. It's just a good idea.

3. Buy nice underwear. I know, even I can't believe I'm talking about this on my blog. But trust me: get a nice bra and some underwear in the right sizes. It will make all your clothes look better and will hopefully make you feel awesome. I'm all about saving money, but don't skimp here. You wear these every day: it's worth it!

4. Shop for jeans/swimsuits on a separate trip.

This should be a separate trip from all your other shopping, or you will probably end in tears (I'm not the only one who hates jean shopping, right??). A few reminders:
*very few people look good in skinny jeans.  If you do, please wear them because I can't! My friend Megan looks amazing in skinny jeans, and every time I see her, I try again to find a pair that fits me. But I have yet to find any that even fit past my calves. And I'm pretty sure if I did find some, they would not look awesome. I have a theory that in a few years we will all look back and equate these with the Dreaded Tapered Jeans.
*most people do look good in bootcut jeans. You know, the boring ones, with no weird patterns on the pockets and no fraying, in dark blue that always look good on you even when bell-bottoms or stonewashed jeans are back in again? Those are the ones you should buy.
*Don't try on a bikini in the winter. Just don't.
*Don't eat a big meal before you go jean/swimsuit shopping. You will regret it.
*Do take yourself out for a meal after you go jean/swimsuit shopping. You deserve it. 
*Find what you love and buy two!

 5. Learn to love the clearance rack. 


If you can take the (small amount of) extra time to shop in the sale section, you will really be able to get nicer clothes than you otherwise might be able to afford. I like shopping in a bit more pricey places (for me, this is Banana Republic and Gap and Anthropolgie rather than Target and Old Navy) for things like sweaters and skirts for work. You could buy a $25 sweater at Old Navy. But you could also get one on sale at Banana Republic for the same price, and it will last you longer.

6. Find your favourite stores and stick to them. A few of my favourites:



Sweaters, skirts, tank tops, scarves. Gap is just so great at basics. A crazy amount of my wardrobe is from here. I also love their sale section because it is small and pretty well organized.



If you don't shop here for clothes, I actually think you're a little crazy. Not only do they have the best plain v-neck t-shirts ever (for $6), but if you keep your eyes open for their designer collaborations, you can get things designed by people like Jean Paul Gaultier, Jason Wu, and Paul & Jo. For crazy cheap. They are also great for other basics- jeans, pajamas, cardigans, shoes, etc. I can't help myself whenever Converse comes out with something new: uber cute dresses and sweaters.

Old Navy


I feel like Old Navy really goes through good and bad stages. Sometimes there is nothing that would fit me. Other times, it's like they made the clothes just for me. I have found sweaters, purses, and rings here that I wear all the time. Amazingly enough, I have a pair of black pants that I bought here at least 15 years ago for about $20 that are one of the best pairs of pants I've ever owned and I still wear them consistently. I also have things I bought here that practically fell apart the next day. Shop here a lot when they are in a good stage. If they're in a bad stage, just wait a few months.



This is a British company that makes awesome clothes for the 'yummy mummy' set. Or if you're me, for the single working woman set. They have great, practical (and really pretty) dresses, skirts, and jeans. It's more expensive than the stores above, but they have amazing sales multiple times every year. And their clothes are classic and will last you a long time. I don't know how they do it, but when I order things from Boden, they consistently look better on me than I thought they would. These clothes actually fit real women, which is encouraging! 

LL Bean/ Land's End

Please skip the tapered jeans and monogrammed polos (well, I guess the polos are fine if that's your thing). But if you do that, these are great companies! They both make quality things that will last you basically forever. I have gotten slippers and vests from Land's End, the Boat Bag and Duck Boots from LL Bean, among other things. They are the best. It is definitely better with these things to spend the money up front ($60 for the bean boots rather than $15 at Target) and not have to replace the item every year. 

H&M, Zara, etc.  

These stores can be so busy that I have been known to almost have a coniption and have to leave immediately. But if you can manage to shop at a time when they are not as busy- like 10am on a Tuesday- then you can really find some awesome stuff! H&M is perfect for fun, funky, trendy things. $3 for a pair of purple earrings, $5 for a halter top, $10 for the hammer pants that will (hopefully) be out of style next year. Hard to beat. Zara is a bit more expensive, but well made. I have a paisley work shirt and a trench coat from here that I love. Plus Kate Middleton shops there, so you should too. With all of these types of stores (Forever21, H&M, etc), my M.O. is to swoop in, look around for 15 minutes, buy 1 or 2 things for $5 and then leave before I get overwhelmed. They're fun places for adding a bit of extra style to your basics.

7. Don't torture yourself.


While you are shopping remember: If you don't love it, move on. I learned this simple but amazing tip from my friend Kristen in college. You know how you are in the dressing room, trying on a pile of clothes and you put on a pair of pants and cringe? And then you stand there for 5 minutes, looking at yourself from each angle, saying, boy! these pants make my thighs look huge! they are sooo small! who are these made for? Well, whoever it is, it is not you: just take them off (quickly, people!) and move on. Don't stand there berating yourself. Just get the next size up! Or a different colour! Or a different style. Find something that does look awesome on you. Believe me, you're cute. There are plenty of things that look awesome on you.

Related to this, don't shop in places that make you feel awful. There are certain stores that just don't make you feel great. Either the sales people are too pushy, the store is catering to a different demographic, or the clothes just aren't right on you. There are two stores I love, but for the life of me I can't shop there. I really like the style of the shirts and tank tops at American Eagle. But every time I go in, I remember: oh yeah! They are catering to tiny teenagers and I am a normal size twenty-something. I also love J.Crew. A lot. But for whatever reason, even though I am small, their shirts only ever emphasize my stomach. So now, I just get the catalog and look for ideas on ways to put together outfits- which (sorry J. Crew) I buy at a different store.


Now, have fun going home and putting away all your new purchases in your clean closet! 

Come back later to find out how to put all your new items together....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

in the studio

After quite a few weeks of not feeling super inspired in the art-department (my studio was too cold, too messy, excuse, excuse)- I used my day off on Monday to clean it out, organize my supplies...and it worked! 

I'm inspired. 
Here's a peak at what I'm working on.

A new art journal...

I've been wanting to make some bigger pieces like this.
 I'm starting with this wall...

My next (kind of crazy) idea is to make one sketchbook for each inspiration board I have on Pinterest. Is it possible? We'll find out...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Playing Dress Up, Step #3: Make a list to fill in the gaps

After cleaning out your closet, you want to figure out what is missing before you go shopping. Make a list!

Here are some ideas:


This can be different for each person. If you are a lawyer, you should probably have a 3 piece suit, and if you are a stay at home mom, you probably don't need one. I tend to agree with my sister, who hates those 'lists of 100 items every woman should own.' (That said, here is a link to a good one:  5 Clothing Pieces Every French Woman Should Have.) Each person is different and will have different things that are must-haves. Here's my list:
*white tank top: on it's own in the summer, under sweaters or long sleeve shirts in the winter.
*cardigan: perfect for throwing on when the office is cold.
*jeans: I work in a casual office and can wear jeans all week long. Why would I not?
*leggings: under a dress with boots for work, with a long t-shirt or sweater at home.
*sleeveless dresses: again, on their own in the summer, layered with long sleeve shirt, sweater, leggings/tights, boots and a scarf in the winter.

What are your basics?


Again, this is different for each of us. Here's my list:
*Scarves:  I am a scarf fanatic. I have quite a few different scarves, although I tend to get stuck on one for awhile and wear it with everything. I am such a cold person, so these are practically essential in the winter, but I also like wearing a long, thin scarf with a tank top in the summer. Tied around your wrist, tied to your purse, worn with your jacket. Scarves are awesome.

*I wore a lot of earrings in college, but these days I pretty much wear one or two rings on my hands, and switch between two necklaces. I've been keeping it simple.

*I'm also not really a purse or a shoe person (I know that is rare!). I like to find the ones I like (black flats, flat brown boots, and plain brown leather satchels) and stick to those. 

Extra, Fun Items


These are things that give you a little style. It can be anything from a brightly coloured sweater to patterned ballet flats, to stacks of bracelets, to funky sunglasses. This does not have to be complicated, it just has to be something you like. Put these on with your basics: simple.

While you are at it, jot down any items that repeatedly  show up on your inspiration board but aren't in your closet. If you cut out 10 pictures of floral skirts and realize you don't own a single one, that might be a good thing to go shopping for. Or if you love striped shirts or anything in blue and don't own either of those things, make a note of it.

Now you are ready to go shopping!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Playing Dress Up, Step #2: Clean Your Closet, Young Lady!

The next step in having a pulled together wardrobe is to clean your closet! I love cleaning and organizing (I know, I know), and I hope a little of that love will rub off on you today.

Does your closet look like this?


Or (maybe worse?), like this?

Let's fix that.

You will need:

*Your style notebook/inspiration board; a pen.
*Three trash bags or boxes & a sharpie. Mark these: Trash, Give Away, Repair.
*Some inspiring music & a cup of coffee.
*Your resolve.

In my mind, there are two camps when it comes to getting rid of clothes:

1. My mom's camp. She owns a small amount of clothes and could toss out a sweater she's had for 10 years without batting an eye.
2. My camp. I have more clothes and have trouble throwing away a ratty old t-shirt because, well, it's been in my closet for so long, and it's made friends with the other t-shirts.

Whichever camp you are in, it will be helpful to have a bit of inspiration for cleaning out your closet. Keep your inspiration board/ Pinterest close by and remember that you would like to have a closet full of clothes that reflect you and your style. And I'm just betting there are no old stained t-shirts on your inspiration board.

Before we get started, remember: this is not the time to clean out your husband's/kid's/roommates clothes, nor to finish that project hiding in the back of your closet or to sort through all your old pictures from highschool. So if your clothes share closet space with any of the above, ignore them and come back to organize those another day. Stick to your own clothes for now!


1. Pull all the clothes out of your closet and stack them on your bed.
2. Grab a spray bottle and a rag and quickly clean your shelves & sweep your closet floor. Later, you'll be glad you did!
3. Start sorting by category (t-shirts, sweaters, black pants, tennis shoes, socks, etc.)
4. Now this is the part where you need some resolve: try your clothes on. I suppose if you have a pair of jeans or a shirt that you wear every day and you know looks great on you, you can skip that. Otherwise: try it all on. Stand in front of a mirror and try to step back and see the item and how it looks on you. This is not the time to berate yourself (more on that topic when we go shopping), but just be honest!

*Is the sweater pilling? The t-shirt stained? Do the shoes smell? Does the dress just not look right?
*Pay attention to colour: do you look amazing in a black tank top but totally washed out in that beige sweater? Toss the sweater, keep the tank top. 
*This might seem obvious, but try not to keep things you don't like. It's easy to just keep something because you feel like you should: it was expensive, it was a gift, you should wear it. But if you don't ever wear it and/or you don't like it, then it is just taking up space.


5. Next, sort your clothes into categories: 
*Rubbish: these are the obviously-this-should-be-in-the-garbage-items. If it is stained, ripped and irreparable, makes you feel awful when you wear it: throw it in the box/bag marked Trash. 

Tip: I would like to lobby that any item that makes you feel sad should not be in your closet. What do you mean? How could my clothes make me feel sad? Do you have an old boyfriend's sweatshirt, but every time you see it it makes you want to cry/seethe with anger? Maybe a deceased relative's old clothes and you have to sift through them every morning when you get dressed? Old college t-shirts that make you miss the good ol' days when you didn't have to dress to go to an office? There's memorabilia and there is torturing yourself. Either box it up, move it to a different closet, find another way to use it (ex: make a t-shirt quilt with all those college shirts) or if you are feeling full of gumption, throw it away. Example: I love sleeping in my grandma's old UCLA sweatshirt and it is maybe one of the first things I would grab in a fire. But I felt much better about myself when I finally got rid of the t-shirts that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend.


*Give away: this is for the nice items in your closet that you no longer want: if it's the wrong colour, shape, or size, put it in this box. Either give these clothes to your best friend or sister or take them to Goodwill. 

Tip: Because I have trouble actually getting rid of clothes, I keep this bag/box for a short amount of time. By the time I look through them again, my emotional attachment has lessened. After about a month, I go back through the box and pull out the clothes. It is usually immediately obvious to me: I either think: I was going to throw this away? or What was I thinking buying this in the first place? So if you can't throw away half your clothes in one afternoon, give yourself a little grace. 

*Repair. First: ask yourself if you will honestly repair it. If you will, do it within the week. If you won't, just save yourself the guilt and toss it now!

*Keep. We will come back to this pile later!


6. As you go, jot down things you need to buy/replace. Need a new pair of work shoes that aren't falling apart? Did you finally throw away that ratty sweater but now you're freezing? Do you have only 2 pairs of socks without holes left? Realize that the blouse you love won't look right without a camisole? Write it down!

7. While you are at it, jot down any items that repeatedly  show up on your inspiration board but aren't in your closet. If you cut out 10 pictures of floral skirts and realize you don't own a single one, that might be a good thing to go shopping for. Or if you love striped shirts or anything in blue and don't own either of those things, make a note of it.


7. Now, go back to the pile of clothes on your bed that you have decided to keep. Go through them and nicely fold each t-shirt, sweater and hang each dress and coat up. Put these items back into your (already cleaned!) closet. You can arrange by item- t-shirts together, pajamas together, etc. or by type- casual vs. work. I like organizing the things on shelves/in my dresser by item and the hanging things by colour (I told you I like organizing!)


At this point, you either will not have much left in your closet (in which case it is time to go shopping) or you can just enjoy having all the clothes you love neatly organized. Either way, hopefully what you have left are things you like that fit you and your style!

Come back soon for tips on creating a shopping list.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I can't eat WHat?!: What to do when you are diagnosed with allergies, celiac disease, etc.

You just got home from the doctor, who told you that you can no longer eat wheat, gluten, sugar, dairy, etc. You're mind is reeling and you aren't sure what to eat for dinner tonight... or ever! What should you do?


I have been intolerant to a bunch of foods since I was 10 years old: wheat, sugar, chocolate, tomatoes, among other things. Last year I found out I am also gluten intolerant. While I don't have a serious disease like celiac, I do understand what it's like to feel awful and to feel way better when you cut out certain foods. It can also be overwhelming. Here are just a few ideas for getting started:

*It's fine to be sad. 
I remember making a list in my head on the way home from the allergy specialist as a kid ('I can't have spaghetti! I can't have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!'). It is a loss, so allow yourself to be sad for awhile.

*Be grateful. 
You now know what is wrong and will have the tools to be healthy. Be thankful for all the food you can still eat! Make a list of the things you can have.


*Keep it simple. 
You just found you you're allergic to 10 things, or to gluten, and oh! gluten is in everything and you're feeling overwhelmed. And unsure of what to eat for dinner tonight. Especially at first, keep it simple.
Try to eat unprocessed foods. This will help you avoid having to read 20 ingredients labels before you have lunch. Can you still have vegetables? Make a big salad or a stir fry with chicken. Eat rice and beans. Have plain yoghurt with berries for breakfast. Don't worry that this is all you will eat forever. This is just to tide you over until you have time to do more research.


*Do your research. 
I suggest not starting online, although in reality, you probably will (you're online now. Hmm.).
  • Friends. Think back: do you know anyone who has similar food issues? It doesn't really matter how well you know them- ask for their advice! They will remember what it was like when they first found out and be glad to help. 
  • Talk to your doctor/nutritionist. Obvious? Hopefully. 
  • Read some books. There are so many good books out there now: go to the diet/health section in your local bookstore and get reading!

*Eliminate the obvious first.
Bread, pasta, donuts, your morning glass of milk. You will have to be more detailed later, but my advice is don't freak out about it all at once!

*Collect new recipes. 
elm street life

  • Pinterest has lots of options! Just search for "gluten-free/sugar-free/dairy-free/vegan" etc. Be sure to double check that the recipe is really allergy-friendly. 
  • Cookbooks. There are some seriously great cookbooks out there. With a little ingenuity you will soon be back to eating things that taste normal. 
  • Friends. Again, ask your friends with food-issues for their favorite recipes. 

*Tell your friends. 

babycakes nyc: gluten-, sugar-free & vegan

This can be hard and a bit awkward, even for me now. But if someone invites you over to dinner or out to lunch, you have to tell them about your new diagnosis. For a long time, I felt awkward telling people or turning down an offered cookie and always regretted it when I was sick later.
Just tell them right off the bat and then offer alternatives (I can eat rice and chicken! How about we go to Chipotle? or I'll cook!). Trust me, it will be less awkward to say "I'm allergic to sugar" when they invite you then it is to say it when your host is offering you a piece of cake that she slaved over all morning.

These are just a few things I've learned over the years. Leave any questions you have in the comments!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Playing Dress Up, Step #1: Define Your Style


Are you feeling a little bit lost when it comes to getting dressed in the morning? Do you have 2 shirts and you don't like either of them? Or are you overwhelmed by the amount of clothes and styles in your closet? The first step for getting an awesome wardrobe is to figure out what you like. I'm going to share a few ways to make a style inspiration board, as well as tips for what to put on the board.

No, the first thing you should do is not go shopping. Some of you might be sad about that, others might be happy because you are dreading going into a dressing room. Not to worry! The first thing you get to do is cut out some pictures. :)

Here are a few ideas on how to compile a style inspiration board:

1. Pinterest

I already told you how much I love Pinterest. It is great for collecting ideas, sharing recipes, and it is also great for figuring out your style!

a. If you aren't already on Pinterest, get on! (Let me know if you need an invitation)
b. Create a board for collecting style ideas.
c. Pin pictures of style ideas that you like. You have 2 options here. You can either pin something from online (from a favourite blog, magazine website, or from google images) or you can repin something that is already on pinterest (use the search bar to find pictures. You can search for pretty much anything: polka dot shirts, simple outfits, Julia Roberts. And you will find pictures).
d. In the comments, note what you like about a picture (simple shirt, brightly coloured pants, a cool colour combination, etc.).

You can see my style pinboard here.

 2. Magazines & Catalogs

a. Gather a stack of magazines (Lucky, Instyle & Vogue are my favorites) or order some (free!) catalogs (J. Crew, Boden, Land's End, Garnet Hill) and get out your scissors.
b. Go through the magazine or catalog and cut out the pictures you are drawn to. Try not to stop and think "wow, that model is a size 0" too often. Just find outfits you like the look of and cut away!
c. Either pin the pictures on a bulletin board or glue them in a notebook. I like the notebook route because of step d.
d. Jot down what you like (or don't like) about the picture. Do you love the floral shirt but hate the skinny jeans (me too.)? Write it down!


 How do you know what you like?

If you're feeling a little lost as to what you like, what your style is or just where to start, here are a few tips:

*Think of a movie or actress  that you like (Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail? Helen Mirren? The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Kate Middleton?)  Look for pictures from that movie/ of that actress.
*Find a fashion blog that you love. A few of my favourites:

*Think of an outfit you remember wearing and loving. What did you love about it? Was it comfortable? More casual or more dressy? Was it a bright colour or all black? Write it down!
*Think of a friend whose style you like. Ask yourself the above questions about your friend's clothes! Then ask your friend to go shopping with you. :)

*Don't judge your own style. If you keep seeing pictures of girls in jeans and tshirts but you're thinking that's probably not stylish enough, then let yourself like casual clothes! If your wardrobe is full of baggy sweaters and tennis shoes but you've saved 12 pictures of high heels, you might really like dressier clothes and want to lose the flats for awhile. Allow yourself to be you, because no one else can be.


As you step back and look at your board, you should slowly start seeing some themes. Jot down whatever it is that you notice. Here are the things that I noticed on my board:

*striped shirts
*messy hair
*simple outfit combinations
*big scarves
*comfortable clothes
*simple dresses
*trench coats

Some other things you might notice:

*long hair
*short hair
*casual shorts and t-shirts
*super high heels
*lots of colour
*lots of black and white

This stuff will really help you when you are actually standing in your closet or in a store making decisions about what you like and what you should wear. Next up, we will be cleaning our closets (don't worry, it's more fun then it sounds)!

Feel free to post your Pinterest style boards in the comments so we can see them!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Survive Winter in a Cold Climate

Large flakes of snow fall outside while you sip hot chocolate on a quiet evening at home. Twinkle lights reflect off the store windows as you crunch through the snow.


Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

While this is sometimes accurate, the reality of living in a cold climate is a little less glamorous:

You have trouble even getting out of bed in the morning because it is just so cold.
You spend 20 minutes scraping your car off to go to work only to find that your car door is frozen shut. Again. (This actually happened to me: I was trying to open my car door and the handle fell off. I currently climb through the passenger side to get into my car. True story.)
The snow turns to black slush, people drive like maniacs, everything is so dreary, your skin is dry and you have a terrible attitude.

Believe me, I've been there. I grew up in Seattle, where daffodils bloom in January and if it snows (about 1/2" every 2 years), the whole city shuts down. People don't go to work, school is cancelled, you use all the snow in your yard to make one snowman.

I've now lived in the midwest for over 10 years (including snowing Minnesota and windy Chicago) and no matter how much I like a white Christmas, there comes a point in the middle of winter when I just. Want. To. Move. I always say it is a good thing that my lease is up in August rather than January. If I had to renew it in the middle of winter, I would just move for sure.

You might be one of those people who loves winter. If you do, please give us some tips! If not, here are a few tricks I've amassed to help you through winter- without moving to a different country.

*Burt's Bees Chapstick
Yes. This is the first tip. I have a chapstick and a hand lotion (my favorites are Crabtree & Evelyn and Aveda) everywhere I might be: my car, my purse, bedroom, makeup bag, my desk at work. This will make your winter life much more pleasant.

*Work on a project

This is a great time to stay inside and do something creative or just finish that project that's been hanging over your head. Organize your kitchen, take up knitting, make a photo album, rearrange your books, write in your journal. Do something you know won't be as fun in the summer.

*Flannel & Wool.


They are your new best friends. Wool socks, blankets and sweaters. Flannel pajamas, sheets and hot water bottle covers. Do what you can to stay warm and cozy. On a related note:


*Have a good winter coat. I spent my first year in Chicago walking around in a semi-thin pea coat. It wasn't until someone told me that I realized: this is not a winter coat. In Chicago, everyone wears long down coats. There is a reason: they actually keep you warm. Invest in a real coat, preferably one that goes past your hips. You will not be sorry.

*Take a vacation. I realize this is this is not realistic for many of you. Last year was the first time I did this: I went to Texas in March. And realized why people go on vacation then. If you can, leave for a week and remember that it is warm somewhere. And it will be warm here again.


*Take a walk. After college, I nannied for a family from Russia. The mom wanted us to go outside and play in the snow. Every. Day. At the time I was just mad: Do you realize how cold it is? But now, I wouldn't say I get it, but I realize getting outside can be helpful. Even if it is just for 5 minutes, bundle up, find a sunny side of the street, and get a little bit of Vitamin D. And make yourself some hot chocolate when you get back inside.


*Winter it up. I have two takes on getting through winter: I either pretend it's not winter or I embrace winter with a vengeance. I tend to alternate between the two.
Stay home a few extra nights a week, rent some cozy movies (The Holiday, While You Were Sleeping, Little Women), read some British literature, drink hot beverages, eat some warm soup, wear colourful scarves and mittens. Try to enjoy the fact that you live in a place with four seasons.

*Pretend it's not winter. If the above is not working and you are just cold and you can't fly to Florida for the weekend,  then your new friend is Armchair Travel.
Get under a blanket in your living room and watch a warm-ish movie (Enchanted April, Roman Holiday, a summer blockbuster) or read a warm-ish book (A Year in Provence, Mark Twain, Gone with the Wind). Be temporarily transported to a warm climate.


*Plant a few house plants.
I just did this last week and it is making a huge difference. If your house is feeling a bit stuffy, you need a little something alive. Buy some flowers or a plant and put them where you will see them often. You can do the same for your desk at work. While you're at it, re-read The Secret Garden.

*Twinkle lights. Put up some white twinkle lights in your house. Because there are a few things that are not as awesome in 80 degree weather.

What are your tricks for getting through winter?


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