Monthly Archives: August 2009

HoHoTo

hohoto 009What do you get when you cross do-gooding geeks of Toronto with the ubiquitous power of Twitter? Why, you get @hohoto, natch!

Hohoto was an idea conceived last December when a group of brain trusts from the technology, marketing and visual thinking communities in Toronto got together and decided to throw a party and, oh, raise some money for the needy while they were at it.  Hohoto was organized and promoted almost exclusively on Twitter for the Daily Bread Food Bank, Toronto’s organization de rigeur whose aim is to feed hungry people across the GTA.  The hohoto organizers sold more than 600 tickets, rallied over 60 sponsors, and actually planned the event within 13 days.  All told, they raised $25,000 for the food bank — all utilizing Twitter and all in less than two weeks.  Not too shabby…not too shabby at all.

Over the summer, the group decided they’d have a second hohoto event, but this time as a “Christmas in July” event, which turned out to be in August.  I started seeing tweets with the #hohoto hashtag a couple of weeks before the event and wanted to be part of the magic.  I reached out to the “camp leader” to ask if I could help and was welcomed with open arms. Planning was in full force and once again, the Toronto geek community jumped at the chance to share knowledge and help the needy. hohoto 16

On August 18, more than 500 people from across the GTA gathered at Wetbar in the Entertainment District for some Hohoto goodness.  Some of the creative things that were done incldued being able to “tweet” song requests to the resident DJs; a raffle with everything from sports paraphernalia to gourmet cakes from Cake or Death; a “photobooth” by Rannie Turnigan of photojunkie.ca fame (see photo of me on this post — clearly taken by a professional photographer as I *never* normally look that good. See? Hohoto even makes you glow.); $15 chair massages; a cotton candy (candy floss in Canada) stand run by RogersHelps; and best of all, the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of Toronto geeks. We ended up raising over $12,000 at the summer event, and in addition to the $25K raised in December, contributed more than $35,000 in less than a year to help end hunger in Toronto. All on Twitter. And all done in just a few weeks.  Pretty amazing what people can do when they set out to do some good.

Aprés Hohoto, we had a few items left from the raffle, so the geniuses that run this shindig came up with the idea of having an eBay-style auction on Twitter. So two days later, in the midst of a wicked bad thunderstorm, we held what I believe is one of the few Twitter auctions to date!  I was an “auctioneer” and let me just say that I have a new found respect for *real* auctioneers — that was hard and fast work! Anyone who wanted to bid would send a tweet with #hohoto, the lot number and their bid. I was responsible for managing all the bids, posting them back on Twitter so people would know where the bids were, and responding to DMs since we allowed people to bid privately!  it was the most I’ve ever tweeted at once (um, obviously!) and the most exhausted I’ve been in the span of a single hour.  We ended up raising another $650 for the food bank!

hohto spezifyThere was a tremendous amount of goodwill and support for Hohoto and I felt privileged to not only be part of the madness, but to get to work so closely with such dynamic, smart, incredible people.  We received quite a bit of press, and a group in Vancouver wants to have Hohoto-style event they’ve called Ghoulash Bash for their food bank.  They’ve contacted our team for help and are already going around saying they’re going to surpass our $25K, but as per usual, Toronto will reign supreme. I know it will hurt, but they can handle it. 😉

Check out the Hohoto Flickr group for some Hohoto eye candy, too. And, read an awesome recap from the Village Gamer here.

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Pho Real

iPhone 007Pho. That deliciously traditional Vietnamese soup that traces its roots to the French occupation and an appetite to blend the two cultures: the noodle culture of Vietnam and le bouef culture of France.  A healthy dish, as well, and one that, in the hyperborean winters of Canada is the perfect comfort food.  Or so I’d heard.  

Until I moved to Toronto, pho was a completely foreign concoction to me. Here, though, I heard about it non-stop.  I don’t know why it was never part of my dining repertoire in Houston since there’s a rather large Vietnamese population there (second only to the hispanic community, I believe), but it could have something to do with it being approximately 957F degrees in Houston ten months a year, and who the hell wants to eat hot soup?  Anyway. I’m a typically adventurous eater (bison tongue, anyone?), but just never had pho. So it goes. 

In Toronto, I live a short ten minute jaunt from Chinatown although, surprisingly, it’s never been a point of destination por moi.  Only the most seasoned Torontonians ventue into the unknown shops with unreadable menus to eat unknown foods.  And, also surprisingly, I was freakishly intimidated by the whole damn thing!   But for whatever reason, when I got home from work one night this week, I decided that it was going to be the day I would be a pho virgin no longer. So I did what any smart city girl does — I hopped on Yelp, found the best pho place nearest me, and off I went.

I knew what I was going to order — the spring rolls to start and a bowl of pho. Bowls of pho, though, come in sizes — small, medium and large —

Pre-assembled pho

Pre-assembled pho

 and because the bowls were so cheap, at least by Canadian standards, I ordered the large because a) it was my dinner and was just soup and b) I assumed that the bowls were small because of their price. And because sometimes a lady likes to enjoy a big, hot bowl of soup. Or an aperitif.  Ahem. But I was so WRONG! When the server brought me the bowl of pho that she was practically wheeling out on a dolly, my eyes popped out of my head and I actually said out loud “oh my God, that’s the biggest bowl of soup I’ve ever seen!”.  No wonder she, in all her petiteness, gave me such a funny look when I ordered the large bowl of the well-done flank steak and brisket pho. So, let me give you a visual — think apple-bobbing tin. You know, those giant aluminum tins that we used to use to bob for apples when we were six?  Yeah. That’s about the size of my pho bowl.  I’ve actually never been as embarassed as I was eating out of that bowl. I barely made even the slightest of dents in the pho, although it was delicious!  I specifically picked Pho 88 because I knew they served their pho with cilantro, and any time I can experience the “cilantrofication” of my food, I’m there. I dumped the other accoutrements — fresh Thai basil, bamboo shoots, lime and hot sauce — into the pho and experienced a mouth party like I’d not had in some time.

I’ll definitely have pho again, as it was delicious. I think I’ll try the vegeterian pho next time, though, sans tofu. Pho sho.

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That’s The Way

TOAE 006The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (TOAE) is just what it says: an outdoor art festival in Toronto that showcases contemporary art and craft of Canadian artists at Nathan Phillips Square each July. Celebrating its 48th year, TOAE showcases more than 500 artists, hosts an estimated 100,000 visitors, and is the largest outdoor art exhibition in Canada.  This means that all the cool Canadian kids flock from far and wide to the coolest city in Canada for one glorious weekend of art and to sell their wares.  And wares, there are plenty.  
 
Summers in Toronto are spectacular. Add in art by superb Canadian artists, and, well, it doesn’t get any better. I stumbled across TOAE while wandering around the first year I lived here and, in an attempt to fulfill a promise to myself to buy as much Canadian art as I could afford to buy, quicky snapped up a piece from a Peterborough, Ontario-based artist. I still love that piece much today as on the rainy day I bought it. I’ve managed to pick up a few pieces here and there, but my new favourite piece is one I just bought at this year’s TOAE from a way cool printmaker and artist named Agata Ostrowska.hohoto 003
 
Art is a funny thing. It’s certainly a personal thing. I have been privileged to know some amazing artists, especially my fabulous Houston friend and artist William Miller of whimdesigns.com.  One of my favourite things to do when I’m walking through any kind of art festival, crawl, gallery or museum (all of which I do often) is ask myself what I’m feeling when I’m looking at any given piece.  I’m often surprised at what a particular piece may invoke — sometimes shock, sometimes anger, sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness — but almost always something. I am also a word harlot. That’s probably not a surprise to you, since you’re reading my little slice of the intertubes where I, oh, write. And if you came to my house, you’d trip over books strewn about. Books I buy with every intention of reading, but never do. Books that I bought when I went to Chapters, or the now-defunct Pages (RIP!), or Book City; books that I couldn’t get enough of; the smell of the paper; or the rows upon rows in which to get lost; or hearing people quietly chat (or sometimes people talking loudly on their phone — so much so that I am required by law to give theTOAE 025m the stink-eye). My calendar is one of those tear-off Word-of-the-day ones so I can sound smrt at least one time a day.  So when I was walking through TOAE and spotted Agata’s work, I was immediately smitten. It was art all about — wait for it — words. Agata is a printmaker, and incidentally won the award for Honourable Mention, Printmaking at this year’s TOAE — most well-deserved. Her art is made of what were essentially long-form poems, which she then types using antique typewriters (so you can see the mistakes — awesome!), and then mirrors the “poem” on the opposite side of the canvas. Pure word harlot awesomeness.
 
Not wanting to act hastily, I jetted through the exhibition again to see if I saw anything else I liked as much. I stumbled upon a few other things, like this from an artist named Carmen Schroeder who won the Mayor’s Purchase Award, but I kept going back to Agata’s work. I knew I had to have one. She’d done one piece that was broken into quadrants and that spun around. I was literally turning around to tell her I wanted it when another person came up and said “I’ve been thinking abTOAE 027out that piece all day and I want to buy it”. D’oh! Luckily, I’d had my eye on another piece called “That’s The Way”, which was inspired by the Tom Waits song <swoon> of the same name, and that’s the one I bought.  It’s hanging lovingly in my den and I still find myself stopping to read it every few days…and I still discover new little idiosyncracies about the piece that I hadn’t previously noticed.
 
Agata ended up selling every piece she’d brought to the show with the exception of one — a feat not many artists ever realize. Not only is her art brilliant, but she is, too. And That’s The Way it’s supposed to be.

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Video Sweet Video

As you know, I’m forever on the cutting edge just behind the technology curve. I am somewhat of a technofailure, but at least I try — ten points for me! I recently got an iPhone 3GS (oh, you know you’re so jealous!) which, for those of you who don’t know, has a video recording function. Freakin’ sweet! So, I decided to put it to good use by recording a little video of my slice of Toronto heaven. The good part is, of course, that I can’t actually see your eye-rolling, so it doesn’t hurt as much. 😉

[So, after I posted my vid essentially advertising my exact location to the world (since it’s kind of a landmark-y area) , I woke up in a total sweat. Although my building is as secure as Fort Knox — I am not kidding in any way…it’s actually a little ridic — I remembered that John Lennon didn’t get shot *inside* his building, but *outside*!  So I’ve redacted the video from public view here, as well as on YouTube, but if you’d like to see my soon-to-be Oscar-nominated video, feel free to email me privately and I’ll be happy to send it to you.]

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(Semi) Authentic Poutine Hath Finally Been Consumed

Montréal 059I visited Montréal over the August Civic Holiday for some hiking and Québecois goodness. Although I’d been once before — the year I moved to Canada — my trip was very brief. And in November.  Not just any November, though. Indeed not. I went to Montréal in November 2007, one of the coldest Canadian winters on record, and my thin Texas blood hadn’t yet thickened enough to be able to stand the ungodly frigid Québec temperatures for longer than approximately five minutes.  Needless to say, I didn’t see much of the city, save for the inside of my hotel room and the Bell Centre, where I was lucky enough to see the Montréal Canadiens play the Toronto Maple Leafs.  As an aside, it was the rowdiest, and best, hockey game I’ve been to — and this Texas girl has been to a few!  The Maple Leafs won, natch.

Long time ATGAIC readers will know that I’ve been hiking quite a bit lately (you know, like two whole times), and being the adventurous girl I am, decided at the very last minute to head to Mont Tremblant and go hiking. It would give me a chance to see Tremblant, about which I’d heard amazing things, as well as spend some time in Montréal. Slight travel issues ensued, including a strike by Via Rail, which precluded me from traveling by rail. I ended up driving — the drive being much longer than I thought — and got stuck in cottage country traffic on the 401 for an extra hour both ways. Cottage country traffic + long weekend traffic = Carmen pulling her eyelashes out one by one. Not pretty. Thank God for copious amounts of This American Life loaded on the iPod. There’s absolutely no better ear candy for a road trip than Ira Glass. Except David Sedaris <swoon, swoon, swoon>, so luckily I had him, too. 🙂

On my way to Québec, I stopped in Kingston and Gananoque, Ontario, two cities along the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands region. It was a cloudy day so, although I went down to each of their waterfronts, I couldn’t really see the islands. A trip back to the area, including a stop in the wine region of Prince Edward County, has officially been added to my Canadian traveling to-do list. But I digress. 

I arrived in Montreal, checked into my brand spankin’ new, and way cool, hotel complete with second floor glass-bottom pool in VieuxMontréal 020 Montréal, and ventured out straight away for some serious city annhiliation. I was immediately smitten. Quelle surprise! French speaking Canadians apparently just do something to me. I’m already a wanna-be Francophile, so being in a country I love with a language I love to hear was like manna from heaven.  I also immediately decided that I would not be wasting any time driving an hour and a half to Mont Tremblant the following day, but would spend it in the vibrant, gloriously old, je ne sais quoi city that is Montréal.

Even though I’d planned my trip in <48 hours, I still managed to snag a dinner reservation at one of the hip, nouvelle cuisine restaurants called Au Pied de Cochon.  It was simply AMAZING and foodgasms ensued.  Owner and executive chef Martin Picard is somewhat of a cooking legend (think Anthony Bourdain) and not only was he there that night, but he was in his finest togs — jersey knit shorts, gas station attendant shirt (complete with name badge) and Crocs.  Oh, how I love the Québecois joie de vivre!  I was seated at the bar, which I usually loathe, but at Au Pied de Cochon, you literally have a front seat look into the kitchen.  I got to experience the mise en place in real time.  Freakin’ sweet!   Everything — I mean everything — was freshly made there; they were literally pulling herbs out of potted plants and handmaking sushi rolls right in front of me.  Au Pied de Cochon is apparently known for their fois gras, which I personally take issue with, but when you read article after article about the foie gras poutine, you just have to give in. When in Rome, right?  I’ll literally try anything once — and because I was in a new city, I decided I’d be bold and à gogo with my menu choices. I had the Tarragon Bison Tongue as an appetizer — thinly sliced pieces of tongue that, had I not known it was tongue, would have seemed like just cut-it-with-a-fork-it-was-so-tender slices of beef with delicious mustard and tarragon sauce; the Duck in a Can and frites for dinner, and the Sugar Pie à la mode for dessert.  

Au Pied de Cochon Duck in a CanLet me just talk for one second about the Duck in a Can. I’d read about it, was intrigued, and decided I needed to try it. Firstly, they brought out a plate with bread slices covered in a gravy.  Then, I saw them literally pick a can out of a gigantic pot of boiling water, wrap a label around it, put it on a plate, and bring it to me.  With a can opener. Oh yes!  I had to open my Duck in a Can with an actual can opener!  Talk about presentation! Except usually when you talk about presentation, you don’t talk about deliciousness. I know it sounds weird, but in this case, I could literally have put my face in that plate, it was so damn good. (As a matter of fact, give me just one moment………..okay, back. ;-))  Anyway, the process of the can is to dump the layered contents of the can — duck, 100g of foie gras, 60 mL of balsamic vinegar, 180 mL of cabbage, 1/2 a head of garlic and 2 branches of thyme — out over the bread. After my first bite, the party of flavours in my mouth was more intense than anything I’d eaten in quite some time. Exquisite and luscious and delightful, they were. I washed it all down with a delicious glass of VDP Des Cotes Catalanes Rouge Baux 2004 – mas baux (basically a blend of Syrah and Cab Sav). The food was pure perfection.

I’d seen a sort-of-cookbook by Martin Picard on my way in, and I thought it would be a cool way toMontréal 008 remember the experience, so I asked if he’d sign one for me if I bought a book. Of course they said yes, had me write my name on a piece of paper and a few minutes later, returned with my book in a large, brown paper bag.  I opened up the book and he’d signed it “To Carmen, Enjoy the read, Cochonne, Salut”. I knew cochon means “pig”, so I asked if he was calling me a pig and the servers kindly informed me, after giggling, that the translation loosely meant “horny” in French. Love it!  I guess the chef saw us laughing together, so he came over to say hello and ask how dinner was. My server, whom I’d already told we don’t eat mayonnaise with our frites where I’m from, told the chef and he asked in broken English “where are you from?” to which I replied “Texas!”.  He jokingly said “is that near Brussels?” and then said “you don’t sound like George Bush”. Except he said it all French like which sounded more like “zhorzh boosh” than “george bush”. Anyway, we all laughed, I paid my very large bill and off I went.  An amazing experience, indeed.

The rest of my weekend was spent doing all kinds of things: walking around the residential neighbourhood of  Plateau Mont Royal (whenI travel, I like to spend as much time as possible in the *actual* areas of the city rather than the big tourist traps, which prolly explains why I’ve still yet to venture up the CN Tower, even though it’s less than 200 metres away from my house), visiting the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire, le Fleuve de Saint Lawrence, Place Jacques Cartier, the Basilique de Notre Dame, and the Vieux Port, having lunch at Olive et Gourmando and dinner at Santos, running into a eccentric French soirée as I ambled through the Latin Quarter, spotting the plethora of fleur de lis literally everywhere, and seeing no fewer than three weddings — three!  Let me just add that the Québecois put the word “wed” into wedding (yeah, I know, but work with me).  After the wedding, the newlyweds are driven through the downtown streets while the driver honks and honks and honks!  It was way cool. I’m totally doing that the next time I get married in Montréal. 🙂

Montréal 025Alas, the curtain was closing on my lovely weekend and it was time to return to chez moi. Before I left, though, I still had two things to check off my Montréal to-do list: eating smoked meat and poutine, and all their accoutrements. I’d only eaten poutine once before and a pleasant experience it was not. I knew that if I was going to find good poutine, it was going to be in Québec. I jumped in a cab and asked to be taken to Schwartz’s, the legendary Montréal smoked meat house, and Maamm Bolduc for poutine. When my chauffer pulled up to Schwartz’s, the line was literally wrapped around the building. Twice. I’ve never seen anything like it, with the exception of waiting to get into a film at the Toronto International Film Festival…just about the *only* thing for which I’d wait in line that long! It was *totally* pouring down rain, so I asked him if he knew of anywhere else I could try smoked meat and poutine that would be good.  He said “what about La Fleur?” and I said “M’okay”, because what did I know?!  He started getting all excited about it and telling me about how they slice the potatoes for the  poutine right in front of you, so I was thinking “this is gonna be great!”.  He rounds the corner and says “here it is!” and when I look up, it was a fast food place.  Classic.  I thought what the hell, les chauffers know all the best places to eat, hopped out and went in. The staff didn’t speak English very well and after a couple of tries, I finally got both of my requests in one place: smoked meat sandwich and real poutine.  I loved the smoked meat and the poutine was okay, but I still don’t get the big deal. I think it was basically the McDonald’s of poutine places.  I’m a french fry fanatic — I could basically live on them — but maybe I just like mine with sea salt and ketchup, and not covered in gravy and cheese curds.  It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, for sure, but I think it’s probably more of a late night, game day, hangover-recovery food than it is an actual dinner food. But I’m from Texas, so what do I know?!

Despite what I constantly hear from Ontarians about the Québecois, I found them to beMontréal 058 affable, funny, and avant-garde raconteurs. Basically, I fell in love with Montréal — it was trés cool. I will continue to be a travel ninja this year with trips planned to Calgary/Banff/Jasper, Alberta and Whistler/Victoria, British Columbia.  While I’m sure those cities will be just as off-the-chain as the other cities I’ve visited in my adopted country, I seriously doubt they’ll be quite as soigné or magnifíque as Montréal. 

Merci beaucoup, Montréal!  Au revoir!  J’adore.

 

Check out the rest of my Montréal photo goodness here.

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There’s No Health Without The Care

I received a flyer in my mailbox this week that I found sufficiently interesting and felt should be shared. It stood out amongst the (very few) pieces of mailbox candy I usually receive because of the recent, and incessant, barrage of U.S. healthcare drama that has essentially turned the good ol’ United States of America into a complete and utter gong show. Also, it stood out because the photo is the worst I’ve ever seen. And, being the marketing maven and professional consumer I am, I’ve seen some pretty bad images, so I know one when I see one. I would offer that Mr. Ignatieff’s minions take a quick perusal through iStockPhoto.com, or similar stock photo purchasing website. They’re cheap and have a plethora of direct mail-appropriate images. Of course, if the aim, Mr. Ignatieff, was to garner attention by displaying a lack of relevant imagery, you succeeded. Anyway.

What I’ve gathered from the flyer (because I can read real good) is that the opposition party in Canada, which happens to be the Liberals, (one of three major Canadian parties, for those of you who don’t know) and led by Michael Ignatieff (who has been living in the U.S. for 30 years, and who will, of course, be the closest Canadians will ever come to fulfilling their lifelong dream of having an American run their country ;-)) is using the furor over the U.S. healthcare debate to scare Canadian citizens into voting for their party. The Liberals apparently need some support against Prime Minister Harper‘s Conservatives and the Conservatives’ apparent “inactivity” and “non-strengthening” where the Canadian healthcare system is concerned.  Which won’t at all be a problem once the Liberals are in office since they’re, well, liberal, and because Ignatieff has *so* much experience with the system, what with his 30 years in the U.S. and all. 😉

Ignatieff 2

Oddly enough, it seems that the Democrats in the U.S. (by which I mean the “pro-universal care contingent”) are using Canada as a utopian example of how universal healthcare works, and succeeds, on behalf of its citizens (seen Sicko, anyone?), whereas the Republicans (by which I mean the “con-universal care contingent”), are engaging actual Canadian citizens who’ve been wronged by the system in one way or another to dispute the validity of the universal plan.

I can hardly keep up anymore.  It’s all enough to make your head explode, really, and just proves that the proverbial grass is truly always greener. It just needs a little mowing from time to time.  So I say that, in this time of conflict, we should take pause and watch this lovely video that I think sums everything up ever so nicely:

Fortunately for me, and unlike most of the talking heads, I’ve actually lived both systems, so I think I’m entitled to an opinion. Also, because I’m the boss here, yo.  I can honestly see the pros and cons of both systems, and, although my actual care was better in Texas (just like most things there), it sure is nice not having $20 co-pays, long waits to see a specialist and access to $2 prescriptions.  I pay $2 for a three month supply of medicine in Ontario, where the same exact thing cost me $45 when I lived in Texas. As you can imagine, this savings is beneficial on many fronts, such as when I’m old and need lots of medicine, and also when I need to support my local shoe merchants — it’s most excellent for the economies. 😉

So, my message to my fellow Americans is this: just pass the bill already. Enough with the fist-fighting and death paneling and doctored-up images of President Obama as Hitler. Seriously people, come on!  Hitler killed six million people, for Christ sake — SIX MILLION PEOPLE — and nearly took out an entire race. I hardly think trying to secure decent healthcare for our fellow citizens who don’t have it, like small business owners or the elderly for example, is quite the same as the Holocaust (read: you’re making us look like giant, howling monkey brigade imbeciles). I mean, think of all the money you’ll save.  And when it all goes awry, you can just blame Canada. 😉

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In Six Words or Less

My day today: threaten self to get out of bed NOW…or else.  Pour copious amounts of caffeine down esophagus, just for the taste of it. Speed to work. Curse at idiots good citizens of Toronto driving slowly in the left lane. Don’t they know?? Then work. And work. Eat lunch. And work some more. Speed back downtown as quickly as humanly possible. Breathe easier when CN Tower comes into view. Almost home now. Check for mail candy. Jump up and down, smile, and clap quickly — Coraline DVD has arrived. Power on laptop with the broken back. Check email. Open Google Reader. Check backtype (yeah, right. It hurts, but I can take it.) Consume leftovers. Put on Coraline, but become distracted by websites and blogs and sanguine vids. Vids like TO in 6 Words (posted below for your viewing pleasure) that make me swoon and coo and fall head-over-heels in love with my city all over again.  Because I effin’ *love* my city.  It really is the *best* city, yo.  Even when it’s cold 11.5 months a year (damn “wintersummer” of 2009).  Even when the plethora of downtown construction causes my streetcar to go on unnecessary half-hour long wild goose chases.  Even when I want to be anywhere but here, my city always manages to inspire me. Even then. And so I post, because what I feel for my lovely city starts with an l and ends with an o-v-e.  But I digress.  Then, put on pajamas and keep nightly date with heavenly bed. Set alarm for an hour far too early por moi. And rinse and repeat. 🙂

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