Category Archives: Black And White

Happy Friday + Randomness

young-authors-day

Happy Friday! A couple of days ago, I attended an event called “Young Author’s Day” at K’s school. It’s a big deal — the entire school participates and all the students are shuffled into groups of about 10 kids from various grades. Each student takes a turn reading a story he/she had written, and my favorite part is listening to the “About the Author” section. They all invariably include information about their family, a hobby and a totally random factoid like how they like to eat cereal for dinner or are completely opposed to school uniforms.

K’s group was exceptional. The fifth graders blew me away with their poetry (their haikus made me want to delete all of mine from here), and K recounted how M and I got engaged, which the teacher found hilarious. There was one girl who read a story about finding a lizard in the middle of the street and how she ended up keeping it as a pet (a true story).

The first grader who went last stole my heart, though. I saw how her hands trembled as she clutched her book with the green construction paper cover. Her cheeks blossomed into the color of the brightest of pink peonies, and her voice was so soft, barely a whisper, that all the kids tipped to their sides, cocking their ears to catch the small gasps of quickly strung together words. I remember being that little girl. The one who refused to go until there was no choice, the one who hoped that reading the story super fast would make it less frightening. I couldn’t quite hear the story in its entirety, but I saw her carefully drawn illustrations of a fox and clouds, and a little girl that looked very much like her. She beamed with relief and pride as the group enveloped her in applause and hands shot up to praise her efforts. What a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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Have a delightful weekend, my friends! I am going to RELAX. So, so, so, so excited about this.

At Mockingbird Books
I’ll be doing a reading
I feel like that girl*

I’ll be doing a storytime reading of Little Kunoichi at one of our lovely local bookstore this weekend – there might be a little bit of trembling involved…

Happy Friday + Randomness

moon-phase

Happy Friday! Sometimes don’t you wish you could pluck the moon and sun from the sky, put them into a container and take them out only when you need them? As I typed that it dawned on me that we use celestial movements as markers of the passage of time, but they aren’t time itself. I need a refresher course in the fourth dimension. The power to stop time…maybe in the future someone will figure out how to make it into an app.

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K: Look Mama! The froggies are breeding — that means they’re making babies. Just like you and Daddy did!*

*We finally had a successful discussion about the birds and the bees. As predicted, I was at my awkwardest, and she was completely grossed out.

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Abby-Sophia
You’re the giveaway winner!
Cute sock softies time

Have a wonderful weekend all!

Arrows

many-arrows

 

sometimes. life shoots arrows

that pierce blindly

the released air

sounds

like sighs of sadness

or

hiccups of laughter

or maybe

gasps of wonder*

*I am having a week in which the highs and lows are engaged in a major tug-of-war. So for today, this is all.

2014 Fall Sewing Plans

2014-fall-sewing-plans

It’s like clockwork. The frenetic start of the school year eases into a predictable routine, the air tingles with promises of cozy sweater weather, and then, M or K comes home with a cold and BAM, I’m laid flat on my back, sniffling and coughing up a lung. Due to my wimpy immune system, even the mildest cold tends to hit me hard.

I’m determined to not get sucked into the illness vortex this time (last year I was fighting one ailment after another from November to February), so I’ve been slowing things down dramatically. Yesterday, I did nothing. Okay, I dragged myself to Trader Joe’s and ran a couple of errands as I always do on Tuesdays, but otherwise, zilch. And yes, I drew that illustration, but that took less time than you would imagine. Alright, alright, I may have cut out a pattern that I thought I might be able to sew up for today, but I stopped myself from proceeding beyond tracing out the pieces when the world started spinning.

My mom told me during her last visit in August that when I was a baby, I would work so hard on everything that she used to worry that I had some kind of compulsive disorder. Take walking, for example. At 9 months, I was so intent on walking, I would go at it full force, fall flat on my face, turn a lurid and frightening shade of crimson, get up with renewed vigor and do it over. Sometimes I would fall backwards and hit my head and knock myself out. And yet, I would continue relentlessly and without breaks. It seems to explain a lot about my current spotty brain functionality. It also makes me wonder why my mom didn’t babyproof a little better if I was concussing myself on a regular basis.

You’d think that I would have mastered walking quicker than most due to my persistence, but my mom said she couldn’t believe how long it took me to get the hang of it (months). When my younger brother came along and casually sauntered a few days after his ninth month without much of a stumble, my fanatical determination seemed doubly worrisome to my mom. The funny thing is, my brother and I have approached everything in much the same way our whole lives — effortlessly for him, unglamorously full of prolonged effort for me.

I’m not sure what made me think of that; wandering thoughts may be a symptom of this head cold. Anyway, I did have enough energy to start planning my fall sewing in a more structured way. Unlike last year’s out-of-control plan that I didn’t even come close to executing, this year, I have only three sewing projects and one super easy knitting venture on the docket: A wool zip-up vest, a plaid shirt (a must for Fall, no?), a pair of skinny jeans and a (gasp) cashmere knitted scarf. I’m going for quality vs. quantity, folks. I know I poo-poo’d knitting before, but I think I can manage a big rectangle…at least I hope I can. I’ll be using this book for the vest, but I’m researching patterns for the others. I’ve gotten some good skinny jeans recs from the Monday post, and I’m digging deeper. I’ll update this post with pattern candidates later!

For now, I’m off to brew up some Indian spice herbal tea with a touch of manuka honey and almond milk and will call it a day.

Sewing Plans for K

2014-summer-wardrobe

Now that both K’s and my wardrobes are entirely DIY’d (incidentally, am I the only one who has trouble saying DIY aloud? I always want to pronounce it “Dee-Ee-Why”), I find myself sketching a lot of potential sewing projects. I deviate from my plans more often than not, especially with K’s stuff, but it’s helpful to consider the holes in her wardrobe so that I’m not spending time on yet another linen dress that will never see the light of day.

What she needs are shorts, and lots of them. All the ones I made last year are beyond risque at this point, and Hooters will be dropping off an application for her at any moment. She also needs a mountain of knit clothing, but I might throw in some cotton too (preferably white eyelet). By the end of summer, I might be a knit expert. We’ll see. Almost everything in the image up there I plan to make in stretchy substrate; some are from Japanese sewing books, others I intend to draft myself. I hope to post them (and a few others I have in the works but didn’t sketch) in the coming weeks. I’m extra motivated to sew like a madwoman to have an easy-to-pack set of clothes for our upcoming Indiana trip. Wovens, as beautiful as they can be, are a pain to travel with.

While we’re on the topic of self-drafted clothes, K has officially put in her request for this year’s birthday dress (it’s coming up at the end of the month! How????). Last year, I wasn’t able to carry out my mission because I just couldn’t risk messing up a perfectly lovely all-white dress. Here’s her sketch for this year:

2014-bdaydress

She explained that it’s to be an all-black dress with fireworks and moons and stars. She wants it to be a Macgyver dress with sleeves that can be long, medium or short, adjustable via a piece of thread attached to the sleeve edge (?). And then there’s some doohicky that makes a cape appear out of nowhere. It sounds complicated and a touch beyond my skill level.

Shall we place bets on how many I’ll actually get done (not including the bday dress)? I’m guesstimating five things between now and July 12th, when we set foot on the plane.

P.S. Surprisingly, I’m sticking pretty faithfully to my own sewing plans!

Poppies + Distractions

poppies1

It’s good to be back. Taking a week off of blogging was rejuvenating without a doubt, but I also discovered how much my days are anchored by creating my posts, buoyed by the interactions I have with you. Beyond Tuesday of last week, I was completely in a time warp.

Spring break was amazing. So good, so good. Because many of our friends were out of town, K and I spent the bulk of the week with just each other (M made guest appearances in the late evenings and on weekends, but he works a lot). I’ve been on an athletic kick these last few weeks, so we played tennis, went running/biking around the local lake and practiced handstands. Okay, K practiced handstands and I sat on the porch, trying not to look at my ipad. We had some lovely downtime of painting and picnicking and reading books too.

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Surprisingly, all this one-on-one time was difficult for both me and K at first. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d gotten to her being in school for six hours a day, and even on non-school days, she spends a massive number of hours with friends being the extrovert that she is. And poor K: mama time is awesome until the realization hits that there are no friends around to come up with crazy games, because mama’s not so hot with crazy games. It felt a little like we were learning a new dance together — awkward and toe-stepping at first, and gradually, we found our groove.

More than anything, I found it incredibly challenging staying device-free. It was one of the things I promised to uphold (at least for myself) for the week, and I failed miserably. In lieu of blogging, I instagrammed a little, and quickly found myself getting sucked in, newly obsessed. Whenever K would be busy with piano practice or watching a show, I jumped on my laptop like a drowning woman to a floating log.

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I tried so hard to unplug from the digital chatter and acutely felt withdrawals — have you ever experienced this? I keep hearing and reading about how all this connectedness and flood of information is shaping our society into a giant ball of ADD-ness and I’m definitely exhibiting attention deficit symptoms. As an experiment, I monitored myself one afternoon and found that I incessantly clicked from my email to Instagram to Pinterest then back to email, then oh! I need to research summer camps so I start surfing the internet and next thing I know, I’m watching some ridiculous (yet undeniably entertaining) youtube video about a man who invented an Oreo cookie separating machine. I have the attention span of a gnat, and this has been creeping up on me in the last year. And it’s not lost on me that I’m contributing to the digital chatter.

I want to regain focus. To cut down on this scattered, stimulus-seeking, device-addicted behavior. I’ve been pretty good about curtailing internet usage before bedtime, though ebooks are my downfall because as soon as I have my ipad in hand, the email-pinterest-instagram carousel begins. I find that painting and crafting helps. I painted quite a bit last week, and I’ve been loving the proliferation of poppies in our neighborhood, which inspired these little gouache/ink sketches.

What about you? Do you ever feel like the interwebs is swallowing you whole? How do you whip it back into submission?

The Joy of Seeing

sketch1

I was sketching randomly today (sort of my version of a warm-up for the final phase of book illustrating, which is like a creative workout) and remembered when a friend asked me whether I’m researching other children’s book illustrators, and I told her that I purposely avoid it. Instead, I look for inspiration in other forms: traditional museum paintings, clothing designs and colors, old school album art, retail store advertisements, interior design, nature, everything. A lot of it has to do with a deep fear of copying. Although I know that original ideas are a rarity and that it’s almost impossible to truly replicate others’ work, I still don’t want to feel like I’m inadvertently taking on someone else’s style.

sketch2

I realized, though, that I wasn’t being entirely accurate. I’ve always been thoroughly enamored with children’s books, and I’m certain that my favorite illustrator’s techniques and aesthetics have unconsciously seeped into my own creations over the years. I may not have actively looked to my heroes in the illustration world while I’ve been developing my own artwork, but they’re all there as part of me, resting and clustered on my shoulder like miniature art teachers.

I stumbled across this book by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Lisbeth Zwerger, and these words pretty much sum up what I was trying to tell my friend and how I try to see the world:

The Joy of Seeing

Joy comes from seeing the beautiful.
A scarf, sweeping from the neck. A puffedout skirt with mysterious
draping. A wallpaper with an intricate pattern. Hats and furniture,
statues and inscriptions, graceful figures and dainty shoes.

Joy also comes from seeing the demonic, the ugly.
A man whose body looks like a fly. A fearsome witch. A ghost
holding his head in his hands. A black spectre.

Joy comes from seeing the fantastic.
Mr. Knife and Mrs. Fork, with blade and prong growing out of their heads. A
dancing camel. A boy climbing into a picture. A fish flying through the air.

Joy comes from the humorous.
A mouse wearing a woolen cover around its long, thin tail. A little
man with a pillow on his head. A donkey and some scholars
wearing the same spectacles. Maids lifting their skirts to hide
their kissing princess.

Joy with the eyes emerges from stories.

– Lisbeth Zwerger, from The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger

 

lisbeth-zwerger

This is a quick sketch I made of Lisbeth Zwerger – portraiture is not my strong suit! This also reminded me of the famous experiment with Joshua Bell – have you heard of it? It blew me away, and the part that affected me most was about the kids. There’s also a youtube video here. When do we lose the capacity to pay attention?

P.S. I’m working on an outfit for myself that I’ll try to share tomorrow!

Happy Friday + Randomness

wondering-illo

Happy Friday! I sketched this illustration while thinking about the poem K wrote below. I have it taped above my sewing table, and she also made that “I lov u” note for me using a stencil book.

wondering-poem

Wondering by K

I wonder about the sky
I wonder how birds can fly
I wonder as I watch the world go bye

I wonder about stars
and the planet mars
I wonder how I last
and the wonders of the past 

 

Isn’t she a wonder? I love that she included that little rhyming aside, “Have a good time with rhyme!”. KCL are her initials, by the way. I know I am repeatedly posting these little notes by K, but I’m just in awe of her developing writing skills.

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Relentlessly, the topic of my chest keeps coming up. As I leaned over to tuck K in the other night:

Mama, I don’t want a perfect view of your boobies. Put them away.

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Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, friends! On our agenda: lots of snuggling, our weekly brunch at the local cafe, an American Girl Doll birthday bonanza for one of K’s friends.

It’s the final phase
I need to complete my book
Diving into it*

*So I always say that I might be scarce here, but I just like to put it out there to make me feel better in case I do miss a post here and there. If there’s one thing I love more than creating picture books, it’s blogging.

 

What’s Your Cutie Mark? (Or, How Do You Find Your Passion?)

passion3I’m mulling. You know how I get into that mode, the one in which I go round and round just…brooding. A little while ago, K went through an intense period of wanting to know what her singular talent is. “What am I really good at??” she kept asking me. I finally deduced that this newfound interest was because she’d been binge-watching My Little Pony and became fascinated with the idea of a cutie mark. “Mama,” she told me, “your cutie mark would be a sewing machine and a paintbrush. And your ipad. But I don’t know what mine is!”

As far as I can tell, the cutie mark is the anthropomorphic pony version of a superpower represented as a symbol on the hind quarters. It’s like a tattoo on the butt announcing your individualized awesomeness. There are rainbows and diamonds and apples and I haven’t delved deep into My Little Pony land so I’m not sure what they all mean, but I found it riveting that K would be so insistent about figuring out her unique talent. It’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with forever.

This reminded me of an incident a few months ago when, at a gathering, a friend of mine sidled up to me and asked, “How do you find your passion?” I was stumped, not the least by the unexpectedness of the question, but because I don’t have the definitive answer. She went on to observe that I seem to have figured out my purpose in life and wanted to know how I did it.

passion1

As pleased as I am that someone thinks I’ve got it all worked out, this, of course, is hogwash. I’m bumbling along, very much clueless. And I have to say, I’m averse to the word “passion” because it always makes me think of romance novel covers with ripped dress bodices and glistening, inhuman-looking muscles (not that there’s anything wrong with romance novels, but I don’t know…I get discombobulated with the word). At any rate, I sense that what my friend meant to ask was how to find her cutie mark. Because — as K put it in her customary succinct and wise way — “your cutie mark is something you love that you’re super great at.” It’s the intersection of talent and passion, as it were.

This notion of loving what you’re intrinsically adept at is one near and dear to me — I have scores of journals dedicated to it. Looking back, I had a friend in high school who exemplified the difference between talent and passion. He was an exceptionally gifted pianist; his musical acumen was identified early on and his schedule filled up with lessons and there was no doubt that he was slated for world renown. Full music scholarship to any school, the works. Tragically, he hated playing the piano. His fingers glided over the keys, producing melodies fit for angels, but he abhorred every second of it. What he really wanted to do was make movies. In between school and piano lessons, he would round up friends and shoot detective flicks. His enthusiasm was contagious, but the quality of the films…well, we’ll leave it at that. This was high school after all, and the point is that he was having a blast. He ended up using his talent to fuel his love of movie-making. He got into his top choice university with aforementioned scholarship and then switched to become a film major. I don’t know what became of him, but he made an impression on me. It just goes to show you that you don’t necessarily love that at which you’re innately masterful and vice versa.

Having been enthralled with this idea of finding my calling, I’ve treated my entire adult life like the first two years of general education at college. I dabbled in a wide array of industries, extracurricular activities and relationships to see what felt right, seeking that special quality (which I secretly called “The Big Kahuna” for some unknown reason) that would catapult me to success. Along the way I discovered that I’m terrible at the following:

  • acting (yes, my friend cast me in several of his movies — the Oscars are not in the cards for me)
  • public speaking
  • managing/supervising people
  • budgets and anything finance-oriented
  • sales
  • advanced technology; I am particularly good at breaking electronic devices. I have behind me a trail of broken laptops, desktops, large format printers, the list go on….M calls me the electronic black hole.
  • dealing with mean people
  • dating boys without a sense of humor

I also unearthed many strengths, most of which were totally useless and not many worthy of love. My ability to fold t-shirts perfectly is unmatched. See what I mean?

passion2

Which brings me back to homing in on your cutie mark/calling…it seems to require part luck, part instinct, a ton of determination.

I’ve been thinking that what trips me up is this idea that our “passion” should be inextricably linked with our career. It happens, sure. Absolutely. And it’s amazing when it does! I’m a huge fan of TED talks and actualizing human potential and I’ve spent many years studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We should all strive to use our talents to the fullest. In the way that K was seeking a single cutie mark for herself, I wonder if we assume that there can only be ONE holy grail-esque attribute that makes us extra special? I know I used to. It was find the Big Kahuna or bust for me. But we’re all born with so many gifts and have so many interests. Sometimes we need to prioritize them and rank them because there’s a good chance the two worlds of passionate hobby and livelihood will not collide. And I guess what I’m trying to come around to is that, that’s okay too. Take sewing, for example. I’m actually not stellar at it and seem to regress a lot, but because I love it so much, it doesn’t matter. It won’t ever become a real income-generating skill, and I’m fine with that. Having that feeling of excitement and enthusiasm for something, anything, will always enhance your daily existence (assuming of course, that the excitement/enthusiasm won’t land you in jail or cause suffering elsewhere).

I could go on and on, and I’m still mulling. I ended up answering the questions of both K and my friend basically the same way: I’m not sure how you figure out what you’re meant to do, but try things. A lot of things. Experience as much as you can. At some point you’ll feel that “click”, when you feel content and at home in your own body. Then keep doing the thing(s) until you want to continue even if everyone else might think it’s dumb or weird or unnecessary. It might be what you naturally do when you procrastinate. Or something you turn to when you’re feeling blue. Maybe you’re fifty and way into Dungeons and Dragons. Cool. Or you’re fifteen and can’t get enough of cheese-making. Go for it! Or maybe you’re like me and fill journal page after journal page (and post after post) with your incessant thoughts. Pay attention to what feels unabashedly fun and delightful. Thinking and analyzing tend to ruin the fun. Then keep trying because sometimes the talent portion takes time to catch up. And speaking from experience, when you follow that “click”, phenomenal things will start to happen.

So, what’s your cutie mark?

Side note: the only real talent I seem to have lately is to get sick. As a result, the cutie mark I’m sporting is a bruise shaped like Charlie Chaplin’s mustache on my upper lip from blowing my nose so often. Really attractive.

Happy Friday + Randomness

tolerations-january1

Happy Friday! I’ve been a busy bee. Once I declare something publicly, due to my powerfully guilty conscience I have a hard time not following through. This means I’ve been steadily working on my tolerations. Eliminating them, that is. I started out with 108 items (!) after going through each room in the house and other miscellaneous fodder. Currently, I’m down to 93, and rather than doing a blow-by-blow review of everything I accomplished which would surely send you and me both running for the hills, I thought it might be best to round up the ones that I found most satisfying at the end of each month. Accountability and all that. I confess that I couldn’t stomach the idea of including gross “before” photos here where I try to keep things pretty to the best of my abilities, so I resorted to sketches…

So here’s what I tackled in the month of January, and these had the highest yield of satisfaction:

1. The little kitchen trash can that couldn’t. For five years, we’ve had this dinky four-gallon trash can that would fit exactly two un-recyclable Trader Joe’s packages. It was a pain to constantly have to empty it, and the hinge on the lid was also a little loose, making it lopsided. A perfectly serviceable trash can that probably belonged in the bathroom, but out of laziness, I never changed it. Finally, I used a gift certificate M got me for my birthday last year, and got this uber cool, multi-functioning dustpan trash can two weeks ago. I love it. It’s utilitarian yet stylish and fits just the right amount of detritus. And you know it’s got street cred when Remodelista features it. The swinging portion of the lid is ingeniously a dustpan and the brush has magnets on the handle to attach to the powder-coated steel surface. I got the smaller size and it was on sale for far less than the posted price on the website.

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2. Busted toilet tank lid. M managed to crack our toilet tank lid (it’s complicated and better not to explain), and I kept avoiding ordering a replacement. I have no excuse other than assuming that it would take a long time to research, purchase, etc. etc. because everything in our bathroom is so old. It’s been plaguing me though, so I did a quick search online, and placed a call. I had trepidations ordering from a place called “Cheap Toilet Tank Lids” but no false advertisement there – compared to other places I searched, the prices were more than 50% cheaper. The guy was super nice, and after examining the photos of the busted tank lid I texted him, he identified the part in a minute flat and shipped it right away. We now have a beautiful, uncracked toilet tank lid again. I never thought that I would be so happy to see a toilet tank lid or that I would find it beautiful. Or that I would write the word toilet so many times in a post.

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3. The credenza horror show. Remember the strikingly spartan photo of my credenza I showed you? What you didn’t see was the cornucopia of junk housed within. I went through all the drawers and cabinets and thoroughly organized everything. Ahhhhh…..felt great!

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4. Death by expired pills. On the tippy top shelf in one of our kitchen cabinets, we stash all our meds and pills like aspirin and my thyroid prescription (which I took once) and various natural tinctures because doesn’t that make way more sense than having them in the bathroom? That’s all well and good, but I discovered a bottle of calcium pills dated 2008, and knew that it was time to clear the expired bottles out. It took five minutes and probably saved our lives.

As mentioned before, I’ve been using the todoist app to track my tolerations list, which has been fantastic for me. I wanted to tackle one room at a time, but I ended up searching out the ones that are either easy to do or annoying me most, and so far, it’s a good system. January always feels like the month of renewal and gives me the energy to attack these types of tasks. How about you? February, on the other hand, is when I start losing steam…

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A few tidbits before I forget:

Secret Valentine Exchange! I’m actively working on mine and hope to have it done in…oh…soonish (I’m putting finishing touches today!). I wanted to do a bit of cheering on if you’re participating and feeling nervous, because friends, I know how nerve-wracking it can feel to ship something you’ve made to someone you’re less than familiar with, uncertain of how it will be received. I’ve found that these types of exchanges pushes me to be more creative and to improve my skills — that alone is wonderful, and guaranteed, your creations will be so happily received given the awesomeness I’m already seeing on the Flickr pool! I love that many of you are keeping the photos mysterious and intriguing! I need to add some pics of my own. Also, having looked at all your blogs/flickr accounts/Pinterest boards, Ute and I are delighted by the loveliness and enthusiasm of the participants!

Imagine Gnats giveaway! Today’s the last day to enter the giveaway for winner’s choice of patterns from Rachael’s shop.

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K has been concerned about the downy fuzz on her upper lip, which is so not noticeable (it starts too early, the nit-picking). And then out of the blue she said to me the other day:

Mama, I’ve decided to think of my mustache as special, and I’m going to comb it every day.

I laughed and laughed and she came up with other similar gems. I love my beautiful little girl.

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It’s so much better
To hold what you have dearly
than to fret and fume

Alright, as M’s dad likes to say: it’s time for me to blow this popsicle stand. Have a fantastic weekend, all!

 

 

 

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