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St. Patrick’s Day is NOT About Irish Cocktails

16 Mar

St. Patrick’s Day is NOT About Irish Cocktails: Here are Some Anyway

I want to make it clear that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is NOT about drinking Irish cocktails half the night (the Irish do that other days of the year). And it’s certainly not about green beer – there is NO green beer in Ireland – and it would probably be considered an insult to great beer.

Irish Cocktails aren't only for St. Patrick's Day

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is more like Thanksgiving in the US. Families go to church together to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland (that’s Saint Patrick). Afterward, they often enjoy a big family meal and a day off to relax. There might be Irish cocktails, but that’s more about Irish people making a drink than it is about a holiday tradition.

That having been said, I know some people are preparing for their St. Patrick’s party by stocking up the liquor cabinet. So, I thought I’d share some of the authentic Irish cocktails and drinks I actually had while I was in Ireland during Holy Week once upon a time.

Recipes for Real Irish Cocktails

Hot Irish

No, I am not talking about the gorgeous soccer players they do, in fact, have in Ireland. This deceptively simple Irish cocktail goes down surprisingly easy, then hits you hard if you’re not paying attention. Consider making these at home, so no one has to drive.

Ingredients

1.5 ounces of Irish whiskey (Jameson’s Irish Whiskey is my favorite; apparently, others exist, but I cannot personally confirm this rumor)
4 ounces boiling water
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp brown sugar (add more in ¼ tsp increments to taste, but the drink shouldn’t be too sweet)
¼ lemon

Instructions

  1. Grab your favorite mug, add the whiskey. (Plenty of folks stop here, and that’s fair. Jameson’s is that good).
  2. Pour in the boiling water, add the cinnamon and brown sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Squeeze the juice of the lemon wedge in.
  4. Enjoy!

When making Irish cocktails, tradition rather than imagination rules

Half and Half

Despite Americans’ love for the ‘Black and Tan,’ it’s not really an Irish cocktail – being neither a cocktail, nor something Irish people drink. The name refers to a British force responsible for suppressing the movement for Irish independence. In other words, there are rough memories associated with the term. Irish people don’t drink it, and I recommend you don’t ask for one if you go to Ireland. Make, or order, a “Half and Half” instead:

Ingredients

½ pint Guinness Stout Ale
½ pint Harp Lager

Instructions

Pour the Harp Lager into your pint glass first. Then carefully pour the Guinness Stout slowly down the side of the glass. The Guinness should layer itself atop the Harp. There you have a Half and Half – made of real Irish brands.

Irish Car Bomb

This is another of those drinks that people think is an Irish cocktail, but that no Irish person would ever order. Like ‘Black and Tan,’ ‘Irish Car Bomb’ is a phrase that’s weighed down with terrible – and violent – connotations.

That having been said, if you mix ½ ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream with ½ ounce of Irish Whiskey (you know my favorite), and a ½ pint of Guinness, you will have created this ill-named abomination.

In drinking parlance, a ‘bomb’ is a beer that you’ve thrown a shot of something into, and that you drink as quickly as possible. Here’s the bomb-style drink I was served at an Irish pub (to take the edge off the Guinness because the bitterness will kill you if you’re not a hardcore Irishman).

Ingredients

½ pint Guinness Stout Ale
1 shot black currant liqueur

Instructions

Drop the shot into the half-pint. Drink as much of it in one go as you can.

Irish cocktails are great for sharing any time of year

Vodka and Red Lemonade

Don’t you mean pink lemonade? No, I do not. Now, let me tell you how I found this drink. Bono taught me. Sort of. When I stalked him.

You see, Bono has a house in a suburb of Dublin. First, you need to know that all the taxi drivers know exactly where Bono lives, and they’ll tell you, “take the Dart to the Killiney stop, walk up the hill until you see the big iron gates with the copper plates that have scribbles all over them. That’s Bono’s house.”

Since it was Easter week, my college friends and I just wanted to wish Bono a happy Easter. So, we slogged all the way up the hill in Killiney, and found Bono’s impressive gates. There was actually an intercom and a doorbell. One of us was getting brave, going for the doorbell, when Bono’s butler (I guess), yelled at us. “Could you please step away from the gate please!?” Dejected, we trundled down the hill. Not to be put off our goal of finding Bono, though, we decided to try to find him at his club in Dublin.

He wasn’t there. But I found this – my favorite of all the Irish cocktails:

Ingredients

1.5 ounces of Vodka (or Irish Whiskey)

6 ounces KT Red Lemonade – this is an Irish brand, I haven’t been able to find it in the States. Because of this, many folks will have to suffer with their favorite pink lemonade. I recommend one that has natural lemon flavor and isn’t too sweet.

Instructions

  1. Fill a tall glass with ice cubes;
  2. Pour the vodka (or whiskey), along with the Red Lemonade, into a shaker;
  3. Shake until blended thoroughly;
  4. Pour over ice and drink before it gets too melted.

This is another of those drinks that won’t hit you until you stand up, so be wary. As always, we think sharing a great cocktail or two is a great idea, but we urge you to drink responsibly.

Images: #1 by Didriks
#2 by Steven Ramirez
#3 by Don LaVange

 
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8 Useful Lunch Box Life Hacks for Kids and Adults

10 Mar

If you wonder if packing your lunch is worth it, try it and find out! You’ll save on buying lunch every day, and you’ll enjoy delicious and healthy options you actually like. Plus, if you have children, you’ll be able to pack lunch for the whole family in one very rewarding session. We have 8 simple lunch box tips for grown-ups and kids that will help you pack your own lunch easily every day. Besides, March 10 is a National Pack Your Lunch Day, and it’s the perfect reason to have your lunch box ready to take to work, school, on a picnic, or where ever you spend the day.

Save money, save time - pack your lunch!

Smart Lunch Packaging Solutions

Invest in good, different-sized food storage containers. These are going to last you for a very long time, so spend a little extra here. BPA-free plastic or glass containers are the best choices out there. These ensure you have a leak-proof way to transport food that is more environmentally friendly than plastic bags or aluminum foil. Some containers are also microwave, dishwasher, and freezer safe, which you will appreciate later.

Lunch Box It

A well-made lunch box is another convenient option that will save your food from getting squashed or melted. Besides helping organize your belongings, it will make your lunch easily recognizable among others in the office fridge. Plus, a lunch box makes it easy to bring your empty containers home with you.

Get Organized

Create a lunchbox station in your pantry. Use clear containers with labels (e.g. snacks, fruit, drinks, chips, cookies). This way you will always clearly see and use the items in your pantry. With loads of boxes on the shelves, they can often get lost in the shuffle, but having them organized helps you use everything without purchasing duplicate items. Plus, when you set up your pantry this way, it’s easy for even young children to kids can assist with lunch preparations.

BPA-free containers are better for lunch

Use Edible Ice Packs

Keeping your food cold when you don’t have a fridge to store it in is a common problem. But ice packs get drippy, or even worse they can burst. You’ll keep your food nice and cold when you make your own ice pack out of a frozen juice box, water bottle, or other drink you love (though we do recommend staying away from freezing anything carbonated as it can burst). Another great idea for an edible ice pack is frozen grapes. The night before packing lunch, place washed grapes in a sealable plastic bag and pop the bag in the freezer. The next morning, throw it in your lunch box and when lunch rolls around they will be thawed and ready to eat. And your lunch will still be nice and cold.

Prep in Advance

Start planning your week’s lunch menus in advance. Make sure you have all the ingredients and think about ways to get ahead: slice fruit, cut enough carrots and celery for the week, and store veggies in the fridge in an airtight container filled with water. Freezing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is another helpful trick (see below).

New Old Favorites

Did you know that you can freeze your PBJs sandwiches for the week instead of making them daily? Make your life easier by making a bunch at a time and storing them in a zip bag in the freezer. Remember to spread peanut butter on both slices of bread with jelly in between to prevent the jelly from making your bread soggy. These sandwiches will stay fresh for up to six weeks, and are another great way to keep an edible “ice pack” in your lunch bag. The sandwich will thaw by lunchtime, and nobody will be able to tell the difference.

Ideas for National Pack your Lunch Day

Don’t Let It Get Soggy

If you’re a sandwich lover, here are some simple tricks to help you prevent your sandwiches from getting soggy when you get to eat it. If you make homemade hoagies or wraps, put the veggies and dressing in separate containers, and assemble everything right before you eat. When making meat and cheese sandwiches, avoid putting mayonnaise and mustard directly on the bread. Instead, put it in between the cold cuts and lettuce (this also applies to mushy toppings like tomatoes). For PB&Js,  spread the peanut butter on both slices and jam goes in between.

Secret Messages

Brighten up your loved ones’ day with a fun letter written on a banana! Yes, that’s right. Use a toothpick to write or draw a secret message on the banana peel, and as it browns the message will appear. Leave a love note for your significant other, remind your kids to do their homework or make yourself smile with a funny quote. There are endless ways to get creative here!

Are there any other helpful lunchbox tips we forgot to mention? Tell us how you prepare your lunchbox and make sure to celebrate National Pack Your Lunch Day with a delicious homemade lunch!

All images by Rubbermaid
 
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Healthy Pancake Recipes for Your Family

07 Mar

If weight gain wasn’t an issue, then we’d probably eat pancakes for breakfast and lunch, and maybe between meals. For those folks who are addicted to fluffy pancakes, with melting butter and a decadent drizzle of syrup, we have good news! Since we’re in love with pancake, but not the extra pounds, we’ve got healthy pancake recipes just in time for International Pancake Day on March 7th. It’s the perfect excuse to dive into a stack of steaming hot pancakes! But there’s no need to stick with the classic buttermilk version. It’s a hearty option for breakfast, but not the healthiest way start to your day.

Tips for Gluten Free and Healthy Pancakes

People who are allergic to wheat gluten, or who have other dietary restrictions, can’t include traditional pancakes in their diet! But our healthy pancake recipes make sure they too have options. Pancakes do not have to be full of carbs, or calorie guilt. When you learn these recipes, you’ll be able to indulge in heavenly homemade pancakes while on a diet, and it will be as easy as making regular buttermilk pancakes. These healthy pancake alternatives are low fat, delicious and absolutely guilt free. See for yourself!

Vegan Pancake Recipe

With only 6 ingredients and 10 minutes of preparation, this recipe will give you the most delicious vegan pancakes. Plus, they are only 100 calories each!

What you need (makes 8):

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups unsweetened plain soy milk
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Cooking spray or oil

Directions:

  1. First, place the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, and mix.
  2. Add soy milk, maple syrup and vanilla; mix until smooth.
  3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  4. Then, pour a heaping spoonful of batter onto the hot pan, and cook on one side until bubbles start forming. Then flip, and cook on the other side (about 1 minute).
  5. Last, serve warm and enjoy with maple syrup, jam, fresh fruit or any other side of your choice.

 

Healthy Pancake Alternatives

Gluten-free and dairy-free Pancake Recipe

Do you think it doesn’t get any easier than vegan pancakes? Trust me it does! This pancake recipe is a gluten and dairy free option that only needs 2 ingredients. That’s right, no mistake here, just 2 simple ingredients! The soft custard-like texture and a creamy melt-in-your-mouth taste of these pancakes will get you hooked after the first bite!

Healthy Pancakes with fruitWhat you need (makes 8 small pancakes):

1 medium ripe banana
2 large eggs

Optional extras:

1/8 tsp. baking powder (for fluffier pancakes)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. honey
Butter or oil for frying

Directions:

  1. First, mash the banana with a fork. Add any extras of your choice or skip and go to the next step.
  2. Whisk the eggs and stir into the mashed banana until well combined.
  3. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet or a non-stick pan over medium heat with a little butter or oil (optional).
  4. Drop 2 tablespoons of batter onto the hot skillet and cook for about 1 minute until the edges start to look set. Flip and cook for another minute or so. (The first time, flipping can be tricky, so make sure to do it gently and slowly with a thin spatula).
  5. Finally, serve warm with maple syrup, fresh fruit or any other topping you like. Though best when eaten fresh, you can also save them for later storing in the fridge for a couple of days.


Are you excited to try these new guilt-free and delicious recipes at home? Or maybe you’re craving for something more authentic? How about some Russian pancakes? Check out more traditional recipes and let us know how it goes. Or share your favorite pancake recipes.

Image #1 by Jen Cooks
Image #2 by Dana Moos
Image #3 by Mechie Choa Yu
 
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What is Purim? A Time For Joy and Giving

01 Mar

What is Purim?

For many people, Jewish holidays are shrouded in an air of mystery, and Purim – since it’s lesser known among non-Jewish people – can be even more enigmatic. It can be intimidating or awkward to figure out the best way to approach someone and ask what their holidays are all about. So, we’re here to shed a bit of light on Purim: a holiday that you may have never heard of, and certainly, have some questions about.

Purim Celebration Decorations

 When Is It Celebrated?

First, Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. This year, that falls on March 11th and will go into March 12th.  The holiday remembers a time when Haman, King Ahasuerus’ vizier, plotted to destroy the Jewish people. But Esther, the King’s wife – who was Jewish – unraveled the plot, and saved them. This story is recorded in the Book of Esther. While celebrating Purim, people read this book twice during the celebration.

With its history, you’ll be surprised to know that Purim is one of the most colorful holidays in the Jewish tradition. In fact, imagine a carnival filled with your loved ones – it’s a lot like that. Family feasts include delicious pastries, and everyone celebrates together. The holiday’s timing for the holiday adds to the festive feel, too. Purim Masks and Decor In many countries, spring is coming; many families like to enjoy part of their celebrations outside. In the US, it’s tax season, and many families have a little bit of extra money they can use to indulge in the feasting and parties.

How do People Celebrate Purim?

That extra money is very helpful, since two of the traditional ways to celebrate the holiday revolve around giving. First, it is customary to exchange gifts with your loved ones. The most popular gifts during Purim include kosher foods, sweets, and drinks. This tradition is called “mishloach manot,” and it’s a great way to appreciate the people you love. The second important tradition is to donate to the less fortunate. This tradition is called “mattanot la-evyonim” in Hebrew. You can the way you like: from volunteering time, to donating food or money to your favorite charity.

Purim is about celebrating the fortune you have, and sharing that wealth, love, and happiness with those around you. This explains all of the really fun events. Friends and family gather for feasts and to read the Torah together. They drink wine, wear colorful masks, dress in (sometimes extravagant) costumes, and perform Purim plays (often retelling the story of Esther).  Plus, the skits don’t have to be religious. You can dress up as your favorite hero, or character if the event is casual. Purim is a time for family fun with a serious message of gratitude and remembrance.

In the spirit of Purim, if you get a gift this March, then consider sending one back. Even if you’re not celebrating this holiday, it is always just nice to return generosity with another act of kindness. To stay true to Purim, make sure your gifts are kosher, delicious, and made to share. Gourmet gift baskets or sweet assortments are the perfect things to send to a family to help them enjoy this holy day. And if we’re honest food is always a welcome surprise!

Cupcakes | Kosher Gifts for Purim  Kosher Variety Gift Basket

 
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How to Welcome Spring Into Your Home in 5 Easy Steps

17 Feb

In like a lion, out like a lamb, the first spring month is almost here, which means we made it through the coldest season and it’s time to shed our winter layers in favor of the lightness of spring. While it may still be a few weeks until we can put away heavy jackets and sweaters for good, it’s perfectly fine to start preparing your home for the big seasonal transition. Brighter hues, fresher scents… it’s time to bring the warmth indoors, and the warmth outdoors will follow sooner than you think!

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  1. Clean and declutter

Unfortunately, there’s no way around a time consuming and massive seasonal spruce-up. But there are some tricks that can make the process faster and hopefully a little bit simpler. Before you go cleaning all the way, make sure you de-clutter right out of the gate. This will clear the space and make it easier for you to see what needs sweeping, dusting, or to be taken to the dry cleaners.

And don’t forget to check your fridge! Even if you’re pretty good about keeping your refrigerator in a good shape, you might be surprised to find some expired condiments, forgotten leftovers, and other unwanted items. Make sure to clean the inside of the fridge! You can either spray it with some vinegar and water and wipe it down or make a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda for every quart of warm water for any hardened spills. To make the cleaning easier next time, make it a habit to throw out old food at least once a week. What a great spring resolution to have in the beginning of a new season!

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  1. Give your home a quick color makeover

Nothing says spring quite like cheerful and vibrant colors. As we head into spring, switch things up inside your home. Start with changing the darker and deeper hues of winter and surround yourself with a light springy palette. Pack away heavy fabrics, knit blankets, and remove heavy window coverings in favor of lighter and brighter fabrics.

A quick and easy way to bring a laid-back springtime vibe into the bedroom, is with a fresh duvet cover, featuring a cheerful stripe pattern, flower illustrations, or a more pronounced accent color. Swapping out your shower curtain for something bursting with happy hues is another quick and inexpensive way to bring the feeling of spring into your home.

If you’re not afraid of making a drastic change and a bold statement, go ahead and welcome the season with a bang! A fresh coat of paint in a bright hue is just the thing to make your living room exciting again. Something vivid but not overwhelming like pale aqua, spring green or crisp white will create a wonderful spring atmosphere you are sure to enjoy.

  1. Get creative with a spring DIY project

Spring is the perfect time to take on a new DIY project. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and something as simple as displaying your favorite photographs or pictures in a creative way can be sufficient enough. While we love gorgeous gallery walls, there is a much simpler solution. A metal photo clip string hung on a wall is a great and very easy way to decorate your living room or kitchen and set the right mood.

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  1. Bring some life indoors

Buying fresh flowers or a beautiful new plant will add a nice finishing touch to your refreshed space. Not only will they complete the spring look, but also make you a happier person. As they say, plants can improve indoor air quality, brighten your mood, and even boost your creative energy. That’s exactly what you need to start a new season!

Why not commit to treating yourself to a fresh bouquet of flowers every week? This small and inexpensive ritual will go miles for your mood and general well-being. If you haven’t indulged in a bouquet in a while, now is the perfect time. And don’t forget to spoil someone you love! Surprise your best friend, significant other, or colleague at work with a spring flower arrangement and be sure this thoughtful gesture will go a long way.

Besides flowers, potted plants add life and refresh a home unlike anything else. Natural air purifiers, they will not only add a welcome burst of green, but also help you with your spring makeover. As an added bonus, you can try planting herbs like mint or cilantro. Not only are they pretty, but they smell wonderful and can bring a bit of freshness to your dinner.

For a quick pick-me-up, head outside and just snip any green foliage that caught your attention (make sure to stay on your own property). Placed into a mason jar or a cute vase, a small bundle of ferns or tree leaves makes a simple, fresh, (and free!) arrangement.

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  1. Reward yourself

By now, you’ve completed your big spring cleaning and did a nice job refreshing your living space for the new season, so it’s time to reward yourself! And the best grown-up way to savor vibrant spring flavors as you coax the sun out of winter hiding is a seasonal cocktail. Not just any cocktail but a perfectly spring-inspired yummy sip that’s easy to make and fun to share with friends.

A Kiwi Capiroska is a Brazilian drink, similar to a more popular caipirinha, but made with more familiar vodka and kiwi for a punch of flavor. Bright and refreshing it’s our top choice this spring.

Kiwi Capiroska (Serves 3)

Ingredients:
1 Cup kiwi, peeled and diced + 1 kiwi peeled and thinly sliced to garnish
6 Mint leaves, divided
1 Tablespoon sugar, divided
1 1/2 Limes, juiced
1 Cup vodka
1 Cup tonic water
Ice cubes

Directions:

  1. Prepare 3 highball glasses and fill each with 1/3 cup of diced kiwis, 2 mint leaves, 1 tsp sugar, and ½ lime juice.
  2. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Fill each glass with ice and top off with 1/3 cup vodka and 1/3 cup tonic water.
  4. Stir, garnish with kiwi slices and enjoy.

 

You think you’re ready now to bid winter adieu and welcome spring into your home? Then put on your sunglasses and spring jacket, and enjoy the rewards of the fun activities that spring brings!

 
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5 Creative Valentine’s Date Ideas

03 Feb

Valentine’s Day is nearly here and we’re sure many of you haven’t planned a date yet. This is bad news if you want to book a reservation at the most popular restaurant in town. But you probably don’t want to do that; after all, you’re a free spirit, an innovator, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person who likes to go against the rules and do things last minute. Or, maybe more honestly, you’re reading this on February 13th and won’t for the life of you be able to do any of the more traditional things and that’s okay.

Just for you, dear romantic voyager, we’ve put together some of our favorite date ideas that aren’t the typical Valentine’s Day package. Some cater to those who “plan” last minute, some cater to those who like adventure, and all can be enjoyed by couples, singles, friends, and family alike. After all, Valentine’s Day is a day we think should celebrate love in all of its many amazing forms.

1. Spend the night Scrapbooking (digital, Facebook, or physical forms are all acceptable) – This may seem cheesy, but if the night is about celebrating you and the person (or people) you love most, then this is a perfect way to cherish them. Pop open your beverage of choice, order in (or cook together), and spend the night reminiscing about your favorite moments together. Once you’ve finished putting together your album of memories you might be surprised to find that you feel closer than ever before, all while ditching crowds and having an evening more intimate than any dinner and movie combination could hope to provide.

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2. Enjoy one of your favorite childhood activities This can be anything from paintball to staying up late and watching a comforting TV show. The love of your life should welcome all sides of you, even your childish moments and you may find the nostalgia comforting.  This is particularly great for a singles night together. Have everyone bring their favorite board game and spend the evening battling it out! Winner gets to pick what wine you open next!

3. Support local art A lot of cities have different concert venues large and small, art galleries, and independent film showings going on during Valentine’s Day. While they may not make the top of everyone’s list that is part of their charm. You get an evening filled with culture and new experiences the two of you can share. You also get the satisfaction of knowing that your date is supporting local creative arts and helping enrich your community. There is nothing sexier than a partner who cares about community!

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4. Volunteer This may not be the most romantic way to spend your evening we admit, but it is one of the most fulfilling. Volunteering is something you can do together with friends, family, and a partner who doesn’t like the idea of a traditional Valentine’s Day. A lot of people are starting to think that a big date on Valentine’s Day is somehow cheating since every industry in the world is reminding you to participate. So don’t! Go against the grain, and ignore the date all together.

As a bonus, you’ll feel amazing! Nothing makes you appreciate the people and things in your life like helping out the less fortunate. If you do pick this route, we recommend you plan a romantic night later. Maybe at the end of March. Show her you want romance to make her happy, not because a calendar reminded you too. Besides, it’s a great bonding experience! You will discover the qualities in your special someone you never knew existed. Sometimes it’s an unusual experience that helps us to know each other better and to connect in a way we weren’t able to before.

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5. Schedule a classWhat would you like to learn together? There are cooking classes, guitar classes, acting lessons, pottery classes, painting classes, couples massage classes, dance classes, and more. If you can name it, someone out there is teaching it. Why not use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to learn and grow together?! If you two are into completely different things, make it a weekend event. Go to the class you know your partner would love one day, and a class you would love the next. That way you both walk out happy, with skills to last you a lifetime. The most romantic gift of all is one that helps your love grow and fulfill their passions.

There are many more ideas we didn’t list, so if you have one we would love to hear it! Whatever you choose to do, just make sure it is something that is from the heart. The best gifts in the world are ones with sentimental meaning. And if all else fails there’s the traditional flowers and chocolates, they are classics for a reason.

Image #1 by maf04
Image #2 by gabyalcantara
Image #3 by Mystic Country CT
Image #4 by Katja Hasselkus
 
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The Year of the Rooster: How does Chinese Zodiac Work?

23 Jan

The start of the lunar year is getting closer, and millions of people around the world have already started getting ready for one of the biggest celebrations: Chinese New Year. This January 28th denotes the beginning of the Year of the Red Fire Rooster, as defined by the Chinese zodiac cycle. But what does it really mean to all of us?

Chinese astrology has been around for thousands of years and it is deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy and culture. It’s based on the belief that both living things and objects have a purpose in this world, and achieving harmony is the most important among them. The Chinese also believe that everything has its own energy which can be either male – vibrant and outgoing called “yang”, or female – quiet and subdued, called “yin”. Yin Yang energy plays a key role in Chinese astrology and determines common traits and potential for compatibility between the animal signs.

Just like in Western astrology, there are 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac, but they are divided by years instead of months. While the Western astrology signs are based on the solar cycle, Chinese astrology months are based on the lunar, sixty-year cycle, with the animal signs changing every year, and elements changing every other year. The animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac relate to the signs in the Western Zodiac, and are in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Legend has it that it was Buddha who founded the system for Chinese astrology. To celebrate the New Year, he invited all the animals, but only 12 showed up and that’s how they got their place in the calendar. According to another legend, when developing a calendar, Buddha invited all the animals to a race and the order in which they would arrive determined their place in the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese Zodiac

  • Rat

Years: 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912, 1900
Fixed Element: Water / Yang
Characteristics:
The rat is the first sign in the Chinese Zodiac. Those born in the year of the rat are known to be quick-witted, creative and innovative people with rich imaginations. They are hardworking and problem solvers. Their appealing personality makes them charmers who are very good at getting along with all types of people. Rats are also quite wasteful and don’t like saving money. The rat’s color is black and their element is water.

  • Ox

Years: 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913, 1901
Fixed Element: Earth / Yin

Characteristics:
The ox is a born leader with strong opinions but poor communication skills. They are extremely powerful and stubborn. On the other hand, oxen are honest, patient, trustworthy, conservative and peace loving. They are usually quite patriotic and deeply attached to their family and friends. The ox’s color is yellow and their element is earth.

  • Tiger

Years: 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926, 1914, 1902
Fixed Element: Wood /Yang
Characteristics:

Just like in nature, Tigers are brave, independent and powerful creatures. They are authoritative and dare to take risks, which makes them good natural leaders. But sometimes they have to be careful not to get too short tempered, selfish and head-strong. The tiger’s color is green and their element is wood.

  • Rabbit

Years: 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915, 1903
Fixed Element: Wood/ Yin
Characteristics:

The say that those born in the year of the Rabbit are the luckiest of them all. This is because Rabbits have wonderful demeanor and are very easy going. They are one of the most compassionate signs and want to see peace in life. Rabbits are also affectionate, gentle, friendly, gracious, which makes them highly popular among their friends. Sometimes, a Rabbit can be quite shy and sentimental, but if they can overcome that, they can succeed in almost everything they do. The rabbit’s color is green and their element is wood.

  • Dragon

Years: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928, 1916, 1904
Fixed Element: Earth / Yang
Characteristics:
The dragon is the most vital and powerful sign in the Chinese zodiac, although with an infamous reputation for being aggressive and having a sharp tongue. Dragons are one of the most popular of the signs and demand attention. They are energetic, talented, determined creatures with interesting imaginations. They can also be overly-dramatic, quick-tempered and moody. The dragon’s color is gold and their element is earth.

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  • Snake

Years: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917, 1905
Fixed Element: Fire / Yin
Characteristics:
Don’t believe those who say that snakes are sly and cunning, because they are actually extremely intelligent, graceful and talented creatures. People born in the year of the Snake are the most intuitive and represent the symbol of wisdom. They are generally alluring, care about their looks and can be rather stingy. However, if only the Snake knows how to make use of their true qualities, they will be very successful. The snake’s color is red and their element is fire.

  • Horse

Years: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918, 1906
Fixed Element: Fire / Yang
Characteristics: A Horse’s love of life and energy are engaging. Their positivity and loyalty make them extremely popular among friends. Horses are very elegant, charming, smart, but also hard-working creatures who have high goals in life. They tend to be stubborn when it comes to their beliefs, but are also very patient and good listeners when they need to hear out other people. The horse’s color is red and their element is fire.

  • Goat / Sheep

Years: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, 1919, 1907
Fixed Element: Earth / Yin
Characteristics:
Sheep are loving and gentle artists who can be quite shy and emotional at times. Although they try to stay positive, they often complain and stress about simple things. Sheep do not like sudden changes or impulsive decisions and they are also very protective about who they let into their inner circle. The goat’s color is yellow and their element is earth.

  • Monkey

Years: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980. 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1908
Fixed Element: Metal / Yang
Characteristics:
Monkeys are outgoing, energetic, positive and really fun people to be around; that’s why they usually have a lot of friends. They are also quite curious, very confident and often very successful. Moving from one experience to the other, they don’t care as much about the things that they are doing as the feelings that they evoke. The monkey’s color is white and their element is metal.

  • Rooster

Years: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921, 1909
Fixed Element: Metal / Yin
Characteristics:
Roosters are very independent and confident people who dream big. They will achieve anything they put their mind to, especially if they allow themselves to be led by their instincts. Roosters are generally punctual and reliable people who enjoy being in the center of attention and sometimes suffer from being vain. The rooster’s color is white and their element is metal.

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  • Dog

Years: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922, 1910
Fixed Element: Earth / Yang
Characteristics:
Dogs are honest and extremely loyal people who are going to fight for what they love. They are intelligent dreamers who don’t like sharing their inner lives with others. Dogs are also helpful and positive, although sometimes they tend to worry too much. The dog’s color is yellow and their element is earth.

  • Pig

Year: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923, 1911
Fixed Element: Water / Ying
Characteristics:
Pigs are strong and noble creatures who will always put others ahead of themselves, especially when it comes to family.
Typically a follower rather than a leader, they are one of the easiest signs to get along with. Friendships build by Pigs will last for a long time even though their careless nature can sometimes be hard to handle. A pig’s color is black and their element is water.

The Year of the Red Fire Rooster is the time when all the 12 Chinese zodiac signs need to work hard and be patient in order to achieve success. Ruled by the fire element, this Yin year is to be spent in solitude and harmony with friends and family. The Chinese horoscope predicts that this year can be beneficial for career and money investments as well as auspicious for starting a new family. Professional relationships too will turn out to be fruitful. Just do not complicate things by over thinking and analyzing too much. Also stay away from risky ventures but stick to well-proven paths to ensure success.

If you’re wondering whether the Year of the Rooster will be lucky for your sign in particular, Chinese astrology forecasts predict that Dragons, as well as Snakes, Oxen and Roosters will be extremely successful. The Rats and Tigers too will have a good year. The Sheep, Pigs and Monkeys will have a mix of good and bad luck while the Rabbits, Horses and Dogs might face a few problems. But there’s no need to worry, in a Rooster Year, all of the Chinese animals can reach their goals by possessing the key Rooster traits. Loyalty, willpower, hard work, family values, and top-notch appearances are just some of the characteristics that are sure to be rewarded this year.

Image #1,3,4 by IQRemix
Image #2 by Janet Hudson
 
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7 Bizarre Cheeses From Around the World

19 Jan

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January, 20 is a National Cheese Lovers Day and a perfect excuse to talk about our favorite food, cheese!

There’s so much more to the amazing world of cheese than your typical grocery store can offer. There are a lot of great affordable cheeses out there, don’t get us wrong, but none of them made it to our list today. Thousands of artisan cheeses are produced through their own intricate and labor-intensive processes, creating complex varieties with unique flavors. Join us as we explore the most unusual (and expensive) cheeses around the world, because we’re going to give the term “indulgence” a whole new meaning!

Stilton – golden cheese from UK

Let’s start with a fancy cheese.  This delicacy, believe it or not, would be served to you as a dessert! The most expensive cheese in the UK, White Stilton Gold, is made by Clawson who is known as ‘The King” of the British cheeses. With only six creameries in the world, it’s no wonder the prices for this luxury “gold” is so high. Creamy and crumbly White Stilton Gold is made with real edible gold leaf and gold liqueur. It will cost you around $500 per pound and will certainly make an amazing gift for any cheese connoisseur you know. Rumor has it that celebrities and oil sheikhs are already in line for a sample of the golden cheese.

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Pule – donkey’s cheese from Serbia

Another option for those who don’t mind spending a fortune on good cheese is Pule. Even more expensive than Stilton (around $600 per pound), Pule is made outside Belgrade, Serbia and only available on demand. So, even if you’re a millionaire you will still need to go to Serbia and wait for the cheese to be made, which might actually take a while. To make 1 kilogram of this cheese requires 25 liters of smoked donkey’s milk (or 3 gallons per pound) collected by hand from 100 donkeys who only produce 200 ml of milk per day, each!  But this cheese may just be well worth the wait, not only because of the unique crumbly taste, but also due to its health properties. Pule is low in fats, rich in proteins and vitamins (60 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk), and is known to strengthen the immune system.

Moose Cheese from Sweden

Moose cheese? The main reason you probably have never heard of it is that there are only three moose on the planet capable of producing milk. Their names are Gullan, Haelga, and Juna and they all live in Bjursholm, Sweden.

The process of making moose cheese is long, expensive, and tricky. Moose only lactate 5 months a year and require the most tender handling in complete silence otherwise they can get unsettled and dry-up for good. Each moose can produce about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of milk per day if you’re lucky, which means the farm can make no more than 300 kg (660 pounds) of cheese a year. So if you’re looking to surprise your friends and have $400 to spend on a pound of cheese, pick yourself up some of the world’s rarest moose cheese. Although, instead of actually giving them this cheese, you can always go the cheap route, and just say, “Did you know you could make cheese from Bullwinkle?”.

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Epoisses – stinky cheese from France

If smelly cheeses aren’t a problem for you, then Epoisses should be on the top of your “to try” list.   As a hand-washed rind cheese, it is considered among the stinkiest in the world. Of course, cheese-lovers know that’s a sign of potent, delicious flavor.  Made from raw cow’s milk with its rind washed with pomace brandy, this cheese has a flavor and texture as unforgettable as its smell, which has made this cheese a culinary treasure. Some liken its scent to gym socks, and it has even been banned from public transportation all over France. I wonder what made Napoleon love it so much?

Casu marzu – flying maggot cheese from Italy

For the extreme foodies out there, here’s a cheese that will horrify you. Casu marzu literally means “rotten cheese.” It is one of the most disturbing cheeses out there, and here’s why. To make it, you start with regular sheep cheese and basically leave it out to attract flies until it’s infested with thousands of live larvae. This cheese is only made in Sardinia, Italy and is quite popular with locals. They prefer to eat it while the maggots are still alive (they think it’s unsafe otherwise). Some people get rid of them before consuming, while others leave them in but cover the cheese with their hands while eating because the disturbed maggots can jump up to six inches high! Soft and liquidy, Casu marzu has an aftertaste that lasts for hours and is definitely one of those foods that require a certain courage to try.

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Milbenkäse – cheese with mite excrement from Germany

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Italian maggot cheese, along come the Germans who take cheese-making to another level. Their Milbenkäse is made by allowing quark (a fresh dairy product much like yogurt) to sit amongst thousands of dust mites that transform it into a highly sought after delicacy. The mites excrete an enzyme that ripens the cheese for about a year until it turns to a blackish lump with a bitter and zesty flavor. Is there anything more to this cheese rather than the unique process and high price? They say by consuming Milbenkäse you can rid yourself of a host dust allergies. That might be a question worth asking some aficionados who’ve already tried it.

Yak – everlasting cheese from Tibet

Are you one of those people who wish good cheese never ended? They have a solution for you in Tibet! Hard like a piece of resin, Yak cheese is so hard it could break your teeth, but at least you can suck and gnaw on it for hours. Made by wrapping the curd from yak’s milk in cloth, then pressing and drying it over a wood fire to give it a distinctive earthy taste, this cheese variety can only be found in Tibet, India and Nepal.

Of course there are so many cheeses that haven’t made our list. What’s your favorite weird cheese? Make sure you stay tuned as we’re sure to write a part two to bring you more delicious, odd, and wonderful cheeses!

Image #1 by Yoane Carle
Image #2 by Simon Doggett
Image #3 by Ewan Munro
Image #4 by JohnPickenPhoto
 
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10 Tips to Jump Start Your New Year

08 Jan

The Ball has dropped, the last of the party is finally cleaned up, and your New Year’s Resolutions might have accidentally gotten tossed out with the trash. Don’t worry, we all say things we don’t mean when under the influence of champagne and party hats. But if you are really looking to make some real positive change in your life for 2017, the best advice we can give you is start small, and do something that resonates with you are and who you want to be.

If you need a little bit of help thinking of things that will make your life better and make you feel good while doing it, we just happen to have a list ready.

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  1. Clean out your pantry!  No really, this is going to make you feel better. We all do it, buy something because we forgot we had it and next thing we know there’re 4 unopened tubs of peanut butter in our cabinet that we are never going to eat. Go through each space, and keep what you know you are realistically going to use. For the rest, make sure they aren’t expired and bag them up. Donate them to shelters, food banks, or even college campuses (which often have a location where they accept donation for students in need). New year, new you, new food! It’s a great motto to live by.

  2. Clean out your closet. We promise this isn’t all about donating to charity. But if you have some things that you can give away, that’s great. The point of going through your closet is so you know what you have, what fits, what doesn’t, and so on. You’d be amazed at how many people buy a shirt or dress and put it in their closet only to forget about it. You may find so many hidden treasures that you won’t need to use all those gift cards your family gave you on clothes.

  3. Finally match your socks. While you’re surrounded by your wardrobe anyway, take a minute to pull out all your socks and actually match them. This may sound silly, but we know you’ve had more than one morning where you could not find a pair of socks. This way, the first few weeks of the year, you can get up late for work confident that the battle to find socks won’t slow you down. Plus, we’re betting you’ve got some socks with holes, stretched-out tops, or no more partners. Set these lonely socks aside – they’re perfect for wearing on your hands when you dust hard to reach places, for DIY sock puppet projects with the kids, OR they can even make great toys for your pets.
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  4. Make a calendar you can use. We aren’t talking a paper calendar, but you can use that if you want. Pick whatever phone app you like. Google calendar seems to sync with everything.  If nothing else, make sure you have reminders set up at least a week in advance for things like birthdays, anniversaries, and even a reminder for the movie you saw advertised that doesn’t come out until summer 2017. It’s a little thing that will help you remember to buy gifts and make plans.

  5. Learn to make at least one new dish. It’s as simple as that. Promise yourself you’ll learn one dish this year. If you’re really into cooking, one a month. They don’t have to be complicated or fancy, just put some new flavor and a little variety into your diet. We know you have about a thousand saved in your bookmarks.

  6. Treat yourself.  Yes, you can use the New Year as an excuse to get yourself that thing you always wanted. Want a weekend away? Make plans to travel somewhere! Learning guitar? Take some time to replace the old strings and really clean up your baby. A moment to spoil yourself after months of planning to give to others can be very emotionally and mentally relaxing.
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  7. Take inventory of your holiday haul.  There are always a few things that don’t fit quite right, or need to be in a different color, or came out of the box broken. Most stores stop accepting holiday gifts returns at the end of this month, so make sure you take some time to go through what you got and take care of what needs to go back.

  8. We’re not saying take down your tree, but you may want to dust it.  For a lot of people, holiday trees stay up until…Whenever. And that’s okay! But if you’re leaving yours up, take a moment to dust it, and change up the decorations. Keep that beauty – and holiday spirit – in tip-top shape with a little TLC.

  9. If you made a resolution and you’re finding it too hard to stick to, try taking baby steps.  You don’t have to totally give up on your resolution if you’ve already broken it.  If you want to do something like to learn a language, try learning a new word or phrase a day. You can slowly build that up to more and more, and before you know it you’ll be picking up whole sentences and having basic conversations.

  10. Make sure your home is ready for anything!

This is a good time to:

  • Check batteries in alarms;
  • Check batteries in remotes;
  • Do a little of the deep cleaning you swear you’ll get to;
  • Make sure you have at least one flashlight in an easy to reach place;
  • Make sure you have candles;
  • Get a bottle of water and some dry food for “just in case;”
  • Check your emergency supply kit, renew/update/add items as needed;
  • Go to the car, make sure it’s ready to start fresh and prepared too;
  • Make sure your basic medicines/vitamins are in stock and not expired.

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Whatever way you start off 2017, don’t forget that it is okay to stumble. You won’t get to everything on your to-do list, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re trying and doing just a little bit more than the year before. Let us know what you plan to do and how in the comments! You might inspire someone else to greatness.

 
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5 Unusual Airbnb Spots for New Year’s Eve

22 Dec

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. You know exactly where you want to celebrate New Year, but you just can’t decide on a hotel. The place needs to be fun and fit your personality down to the letter, because as they say, ‘the way you meet the New Year is how you’re going to spend it!’ We want your upcoming year be full of adventures, breathtaking experiences, and unforgettable emotions.  Going with a traditional hotel room just can’t guarantee you any of that, no matter how fancy it is.  That’s where Airbnb comes to the rescue. This website is a priceless resource of the most unique lodging rentals around the world, and it will tempt you with the vacation of your dreams. Still skeptical? See for yourself, but don’t hesitate too long because these incredible locations around the world are already filling up.

 

Bamboo House (Bali, Indonesia)

If you’ve ever dreamt about an exotic place where you can enjoy fantastic panoramas of the jungle, you’ll be amazed to find out that such a place actually exists. This luxurious bamboo house set on the sacred Ayung river in Bali, Indonesia is nothing but unique. Dreamers and celebrities alike are mesmerized by its fabulous settings and incredible views, keeping the Sunrise House busy since 2010. Though it is located in the middle of the jungle, the villa has a lot to offer. The Bamboo House comes fully equipped with luxury amenities including a plunge pool and private garden. This incredible four-story, all bamboo construction comprises 3 bedrooms, a lounge area, a kitchen, a media room, and a work space all furnished with exquisite bamboo furniture. With so much to offer, it is an easy pick for a family or group of friends who want to escape for the holidays together.

If you’re interested, here is what you need to know:

The Bamboo House is priced at $335 per night and comfortably accommodates 6 guests. This seems like a more than reasonable price to pay for a once in a lifetime dream location you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. Let the Tarzan in you enjoy the amazing sceneries of the dense jungle waiting to be explored!

 

The Seashell House – Casa Caracol (Isla Mujeres, Mexico)

If you want to spend New Year’s Eve like a mermaid or Neptune, this eccentric Seashell House is a perfect fit for you! Located on the most beautiful Caribbean island, Isla Mujeres, it looks (and feels!) like something out of surrealist paintings or the pages of Zeus’s children’s books. Built in 1994 by a famous architect Eduardo Ocampo for his brother, the unique building was inspired by a seashell. Every little detail inside and outside of the house is themed around shells which makes you feel like you’re one with the ocean. Which is a great transition since the ocean is the view just outside of the window.

Casa Caracol accommodates 4 people and has all the amenities for a comfortable and enjoyable stay with family or friends, and costs $308 per night. It is easy to get to and from Cancun International Airport, making this Caribbean gem the place to escape to for those who believe that crowded pools and touristic attractions aren’t part of a perfect New Year’s getaway.

 

Cabana Floripa (Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil)

You may be looking for something that puts you totally out of your element. A real adventure! Perhaps something that is part Oz adventure, an all eco-friendly, artsy tree house.  Cabana Floripa captures all of that and much more. Made of colorful recycled glass artwork, this one-of-a-kind cabin is an incredible place to explore for both kids and adults.  If you desire a vacation filled with emotions over luxury, Cabana Floripa is a truly unique and special experience for romantic getaways or family vacations alike.

The price may just be the best part at only $73 per night! As an extra bonus, you’ll have beautiful white sand beaches at your disposal only a walking distance away.

King of the Castle (Galway, Ireland)

Who doesn’t want to start a new year like a king? Well, you can make that dream come true and start your year off like royalty in an actual castle!  This restored medieval building is full of character and looks exactly the same as it did 600 years ago when it was first built. Though now it has a few modern conveniences to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Just imagine yourself sitting before a huge fireplace wrapped in a blanket, looking at crackling wood and raising a toast to a new year. Don’t forget to top the experience off with delicious festive meal and a little pinch of snuff, just like the nobles who stayed before you. Yes, in a castle!

Your loved ones or friends can join you on this adventure since the castle accommodates 5 guests and costs only $161 a night. For a castle that price is an absolute steal!

  

Elqui Domos Astronomic Hotel (Paiguano, Coquimbo, Chile)

For couples looking to spark love on the New Year, what could be better than gazing at a breathtaking view of stars in the comfort of your own bed?! The only astronomic hotel in the Southern Hemisphere, Elqui Domos is a unique place that offers just such an evening. Located deep in the wilderness of Elqui Valley in Chile, these rooms were designed to be an absolute dream for stargazing. The resort offers two-story geodesic domes; each with a living room and a bathroom on the first floor, and a comfortable bed with a detachable roof over it on the second floor.

If you’re looking to get out and adventure you will find exciting tours, nighttime horse rides, and plenty of gorgeous vineyards in the area to help you make the most out of your getaway. At $196 per night we know these rooms will be all booked in no time.

What is your ideal place to celebrate New Year? Would you rather look at the stars close to nature or watch fireworks in the busy Times Square in New York? Please feel free to leave your comment below and have a wonderful and exciting New Year’s!

All images courtesy of airbnb.com

 
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