Green (ish)

2013-11-03 10.24.21Labels are tricky. Over the years I’ve struggled with how to define my lifestyle. Is it slow? Mindful? Intentional (more of that another day). Or am I green, low carbon, eco friendly or ethical? The problem is, however I define myself, someone else will have a different set of values. I’ve been told my lifestyle isn’t “ethical” because I eat meat and “green” still carries all sorts of baggage. Whenever I find a way to describe how we live, someone else will find fault or gleefully pick up on my failings.

So, I’ve tended to stick to “Greenish” if people ask. The fact is, I just think of our lifestyle as “normal”. Well, it’s normal for us. Trying to avoid waste, thinking about our shopping habits and trying to buy clothes made of natural fibres in factories that value their workers all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

My neighbour recently “went vegan”, she’s on a mission to convert us all to a plant based lifestyle. Yesterday, she drove a 10 mile round trip to buy  a tetra pak of soya milk (she’d run out and “can’t” drink her coffee black). I thought about our own purchasing habits. When I run out of milk, I can walk to the local farm, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle from the vending machine and be home again in under half an hour. I struggle with the idea of getting in the car and driving so far to buy one thing. The packaging has to be recycled, the ingredients in her milk were part of the mechanisation of food production that I’m trying to avoid. But, she’s happy. Her choice didn’t harm an animal, that’s her bottom line.

So, how do we stay friends? Our ethical, moral and  lifestyle choices seem to be at odds. I buy organic, Fairtrade and local. She buys vegan ready meals, wears plastic shoes and acrylic jumpers from Primark. She eats an awful lot of imported fruit and veg. Air miles, carbon footprint and the issues of recycling aren’t on the list of things she worries about. She has made her choices and she’s happy with her decisions.  I’m happy(ish)  with mine.

Does it matter that someone else has a different set of values and priorities? Just because someone has a different idea of “a good life”, does that make it OK to criticise and condemn? I find myself mulling this over a lot at the moment. I would dearly love to reduce the amount we recycle. I really struggle with the concept that an overflowing recycling bin is a badge of honour – I’d much rather we just didn’t buy so much stuff in the first place. I worry about how many clothes we own and fantasise about building a capsule wardrobe, filled with eco friendly cotton, linen and wool. Yet most of my clothes come from charity shops and surely that has merit in a greenish life?

I struggle to know what’s best. I have a penchant for sparkling water. Is it better to buy in huge plastic bottles, smaller glass ones or invest in a soda stream and make my own?  My instinct tells me glass recycling is “better” than plastic, but I don’t know enough to be sure. A soda stream is made of hard plastic, needs refills of gas cyclinders and would involve a trip into town when I need a new one. I am confused.

If I’m confused, with my background in environmental education, community organising and low carbon consultancy what hope does anyone else have? For the time being I’ve settled on buying glass bottles and trying to reduce my overall consumption (on the basis that glass can be recycled over again, while plastic is much harder to process and recycled plastic has a limited market). If I’m wrong on that, please let me know where I can find out for sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion we can spend too much time worrying about “doing the right thing”, and that even in this internet age, getting accurate and useful information is a tricky business. I’m reaching the conclusion that simply buying less “stuff” might be the answer for us. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that buying single use  or “disposable” products makes me uneasy. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share my journey to less stuff. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into our house, reducing our plastic addiction and finding solutions to all those “disposable” products that make our lives “simpler”.

If you’re struggling with the same dilemmas, or have solutions to these “eco worries”, do let me know. Perhaps this is a journey we can take together?

A Few Thoughts on Freebies

gxd8hcmi0iq-parker-byrdWe all love a freebie. It’s no secret that for lots of bloggers, Instagrammers etc the odd freebie or gift from a company is considered a perk of “the job”, while for others it’s a major source of income. If you post pictures of “free stuff”, you might want to take a look at this piece from BBC news on the subject of making money from Instagram. OK, so it refers particularly to the US, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to the UK. US consumer regulators are clamping down on celebrities and influencers who regularly post sponsored content without declaring their relationships with the brand. Marketing companies, individuals and celebrities have all been affected and I’m pretty sure that UK advertising standards authorities won’t be far behind in requiring users to be more transparent about the origin of products in their photos and blog posts.

There’s nothing wrong with sponsored content, just be sure your readers and followers know what you’re doing. Make sure you state early on that a post is sponsored (in the subject line or at the top of a post). Don’t hide disclosure among the hashtags, you might think that adding #sp or #ad to that long list of hashtags is OK, but many of your followers won’t see or read that far.

I’ve said before, that when it comes to monetising your blog or social media platform it pays to be open and honest. Readers aren’t averse to reading sponsored posts (in fact they appreciate you sign posting them to great products).  I have a whole page (see above) devoted to disclosure about how and where content is sponsored. Using words like “review” or just saying “XXX sent me this great product to try and I loved it” is usually enough to alert readers to the origin of a product.

Making money from social media is nothing to be ashamed of. Just be open, honest and write interesting content. Follow that advice and you can’t really go wrong!

 

Sorry / Not Sorry

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Romantic notion of me sitting at my desk composing erudite blog posts

Thank you to everyone who responded to my post on living with Lupus, especially those of you who shared their stories with honesty,  I swear, if we were “firing on all cylinders” we could conquer the world! It appears that when you write candidly about what life throws at you,  it has a noticeable affect on your “stats”. My Instagram follower count plummeted, which is fine, I follow / unfollow all the time. Interestingly, the number of subscribers to my blog went up. When I asked a few friends why they thought this had happened their answers surprised me. It seems some people don’t “get” that social media in general can represent a skewed version of reality. My willingness to be open about my life behind the photo wasn’t the reason they followed me in the first place. Most people wanted pretty photos of yarn or perhaps the garden. Instagram is our escape from the mundane maybe?

 

The fact is, Instagram is not most people’s reality. It’s the version of ourselves we want to project to the world. And if it’s heavily curated, edited and planned weeks in advance that’s OK. No-one’s life is perfect. That Instagram Influencer you follow (along with 500,000 others) with the sigh inducing feed full of immaculate flat lays and beautifully shot light casting shadows on her impossibly  white kitchen probably spent her morning wiping baby sick off her iphone, persuading a reluctant toddler to put on his shoes and go to playgroup. Or maybe, just maybe she managed to put on eyeliner and mascara while a nine year old screamed how life is unfair because both parents are united in their refusal to buy him a pet chinchilla (that one happened to a friend of mine very recently). You’re too busy drooling over that photo she just posted of a sheepskin draped chair in which she sits drinking coffee from a hand thrown mug, wearing head to toe Boden to care.

In the same way  we dress, apply make up and put on a public face for the world, our social media (and especially the image driven Instagram) performs the same function. If we’re honest, we know it’s all smoke and mirrors. Few of us “just happen” to catch that perfect photo of our toddler walking towards the morning light.

 

Looking at my own instagram feed I’ve noticed I created my own, slightly skewed version of reality and slowly I want to change that. In the Instagram world I am constantly creative, I bake cakes, visit interesting places and come up with fabulous new designs on a regular basis. Until now, I have rarely opened up about the personal stuff. Perhaps I was worried people would think I was weak or boring? In my usual roundabout way, I’m trying to say I’m sorry if my candour about living with chronic illness made some of you feel uncomfortable or left you wanting to send me a “virtual hug”.

I’m not sorry for admitting life can be crappy. Most off all I’m not sorry that you’ll still be subjected to slightly out of focus pictures on Instagram on an almost daily basis. In my imperfect world they’re sharply in focus, beautifully composed images of life in leafy Cheshire.

Whatever your reality, embrace it. Own it.

Be “not sorry” for your imperfections…

 

 

Capturing nature

20160723_171515For most of last year I had a personal project to try and capture the colour and textures of my garden. It was a lovely change from the challenges of commercial design work and it made the contrast between my personal designs and my commission work even more obvious.

It’s been a difficult struggle, to reconcile my beliefs in sustainable textiles and natural processes with the commercial demand for “budget” makes that many of my clients have been asking for. Acrylic yarns in particular are not “environmentally friendly”, they aren’t biodegradeable, the process of making is energy intensive and the brightly coloured dyes are often harmful, chemical based products. So,  I’ve tried to separate my commercial design work from my personal projects.

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Dyeing yarn using plant materials (not extracts or commercial dye stuff) has been a challenge and a steep learning curve. But I am loving the results and the colours I’ve achieved. Inevitably this has led on to exploring other natural processes and rediscovering some of the techniques I used in my teaching days.

three plants fern box and tree

This year I’m exploring ways to capture different landscapes and locations that have a personal connection for me. It’s been good for me to learn new techniques and to spend time with other artists and practitioners who are willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for natural processes.

herdwick bag

Of course I’ll still be publishing knitting and crochet designs (which you can find over at Granny Cool) and in future issues of Inside crochet magazine I have some fantastic designs which make the best of British Wool including (finally!) the  pattern for this gorgeous crochet bag pictured here in my favourite Herdwick wool.

An Indulgent Weekend

16864106_1186849991433338_4226166083667145784_nI spent the weekend in Saltaire at textile artist Hannah Lamb’s studio. The workshop title intrigued me, “Patchwork and Place” seemed to fit so well with my own current work in progress, which aims to record places and events through stitch and textiles. My Garden Remembered (working title) project to record our own garden now continues into year two and the techniques and ideas sparked by my weekend with Hannah have moved my plans in a different direction.

16939544_1186850018100002_2624248069481218477_nOn day one, Hannah introduced us to the technique of cyanotype printing and immediately it was obvious to me that this could be the ideal way to record the flora and fauna of the garden in a way that complements last year’s experiments with solar dyes. I came home and searched through my old “teacher box” until I found some sun print paper. Using the leaves I pressed last summer along with bird feathers collected from the garden I managed some very pretty first efforts. I am now planning a whole series of pieces – once again  harnessing the power of the sun seems to be the theme of this years “garden captures”. Hannah is running an introduction to cyanotype course at her studio in May, if this is a technique that intrigues you I would definitely recommend Hannah – she is generous with her knowledge – and encouragement.16996267_1186849834766687_4976128420989220223_nThe second day was spent constructing patchwork and stitched pieces using the fabrics we had prepared on Saturday. This was tricky for me as I have never done any patchwork. I watched, asked questions and after some perseverance I did manage to finish my sample at home on Monday. I’m not sure that formal / traditional patchwork comes naturally to me. It requires patience, straight lines and a degree of accuracy that doesn’t come easily.  Like all hand stitching, the slow, meditative process of joining one piece to another was a joy. I shall definitely be working on my English paper piecing skills this year.

16998031_1186849881433349_3778062752372984237_n.jpgMr T kindly paid for my workshop as part of my Christmas present. Secretly I think he was glad of a weekend to himself, to watch the rugby uninterrupted and not be nagged to do weekend chores. For me, it was a lovely chance to observe another artist at work, to learn new skills and spend time with a lovely group of sewing enthusiasts. A weekend away might seem like an indulgence, but I think that time away has “recharged my batteries”, given me permission to be creative without the pressure of making a commercial design or a product to sell. Today I’ve been hard at work researching a new textile project that won’t involve crochet or knitting, it’s early days and so I have nothing to share yet (just scribbled notes in my sketch book , a rapidly filling Pinterest board and a shopping list that reads like a chemistry lesson). I’ve also been researching the mills of Cockermouth and discovering what a huge part linen cloth and thread played in the development of the town. There are exciting times ahead, and they definitely involve stitching…

Can Your Blog Make You Money?

laptop.jpgA few years ago I was on a training course run by the NUJ for freelance writers. One of the subjects covered was how to make money from your blog, it was really popular among the freelancers, and for very good reasons. In this digital age it’s harder and harder to get work unless you have a great online showcase. So, the theory goes, if you’re spending all this time investing in your blog / website or social media it should earn its keep. So, how do you earn money from your blog? I stopped to think about the ways my blog makes me money and here’s just a few of the strategies I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success.

  1. Sponsored content.If a company sends you stuff for free and you write about it on your blog, that’s sponsored content. This is one of the most common ways  bloggers work for free. It’s not unusual for a craft blogger to be sent yarn, crochet hooks or books. They  might be asked to design a pattern and share it on their blog (or the company’s website) –  a great way to try out new yarns and tools – and great free endorsement for the company. Keep a note of the value of “free stuff” you’re sent, it might count as income when you complete your tax return. Ask yourself how much free work you’re prepared to undertake and look carefully at ways it might lead to a paid commission. Here’s a great post from Stephanie Lau, which shows how to credit those freebies and still create fabulous content. Most of the sponsored content on this blog is product reviews. Often I’ll approach a publisher directly and request a review copy of a new book I think my readers might like. Sometimes PR companies offer to send me stuff they think I might want to try. I’m happy with this arrangement and it works for me.
  2. Advertorial. You’ll be familiar with this if you ever read glossy magazines; when you think you’re reading a great article and suddenly realise it’s just a clever  advert. The best advertorial weaves a story  and makes you think this is a product (or products you can’t do without). If you are interested in how to write “killer” advertorial, this post is a great example of how it can be done well*. You are more likely to be paid for advertorial if you have a measurable following or can demonstrate the extent of your readership. It’s good practice to let readers know you’re being paid to write content, don’t try and pretend you just “went out and bought” that top of the range model or latest “must have” handbag, be honest and your readers will respect you more.
  3. Sidebar advertising. If there is an online shop or company you think your readers might like then a sidebar advert can be a great way to let them know about it. Decide how much you think space on your blog is worth and approach a short list of companies with your proposal. I also use the side bar to show case companies I work with as a thank you for their support. I currently have a few sidebar adverts and affiliate links (see below), I use analytics to measure how many readers click on them. I can use this to decide what kind of adverts and links are most relevant for readers of my blog and tailor content to suit.
  4. Affiliate links. There are plenty of online stores that run affiliate schemes and these can be a great way to earn extra income if you’re prepared to put in a little effort. Here’s another post by Stephanie Lau which shows just how to make affiliate links relevant to your content. Sidebar links and affiliate links can be an easy way to earn passive income (or money for doing nothing!) Once you’ve set up your links and adverts you’ll earn money every time a reader clicks through and buys. This only works successfully if you choose links and ads that are relevant to your readers. By analysing who clicks where on my website  I’ve discovered my readers are far more likely to click through to small independent shops than the “big boys” like Amazon or Love Knitting. This has helped me plan a marketing strategy for the year ahead which is more likely to bring me income.
  5. Paid Content. Unlike most  “guest blogging”, where you might be invited to write content for another  blog for free (or in return for “exposure bucks”**). Paid content actually rewards you for the work you do. There are lots of online journals and websites which pay writers. You can find lists online or get yourself a listing in online directories such as the NUJ Freelance Directory (for members only). If you are approached to write blog posts, contribute free patterns or tutorials think about how much time you spend creating that content and ask yourself how much you are prepared to give away for free.

There are literally hundreds more ways you can make money from your blog and there are lots of websites that can give you tips and ideas. You might want to head over to Kat Goldin’s blog and read this piece on passive income streams which was written with designers in mind. Also worth reading, this article from Standard Issue magazine talks about the role of “the influencer” and is well worth a read for anyone thinking of ways to make money from their online presence.

Will you lose readers if you start placing adverts, accepting sponsored content and using affiliate links? Not if you are honest about it and keep your readers entertained. Telling them about a great product and then giving them a link to where they can buy it is really helpful, and if it earns you a few pennies along the way then it’s a “win win”. Take a fresh look at your favourite blogs and podcasts, take note of how they use sponsored content, ads and affiliate links. Perhaps start with a product review or  include a recommendation in your newsletter. Try to avoid the “Yes, I’m being paid to tell you about this, but honestly,  I’d tell you anyway because I love it” trap. Instead tell your readers why you think they’d  like it and how it helped you.

Do you make money from your blog? I’d love to know what works (and what doesn’t) for you.

Photo credit: Dai KE for Unsplash

*I’ve no idea if this is a genuine post or if it’s sponsored / paid for content. But it’s  perfect example of how to weave product descriptions into your blog in an engaging way.

** Exposure bucks – a fantasy currency paid by big companies in return for your time, skills and effort. Sadly banks and supermarkets don’t accept this as legal tender so be careful how much work  you undertake for “free publicity”, links to your website or shout outs on  social media. 

 

A Weekend in Pictures

Weekends are for sitting by the fire, reading books, drinking coffee and indulgence. At least that’s the plan. It rarely happens in this house! I’ve been indulging in a lazy weekend, relishing time alone with just box sets and chick lit for company.

boots-and-books

I cleaned my boots – oh that colour! These boots make me smile every time I wear them. . It’s just a bonus that my scarf is all matchy matchy! Note to self, if you decide to walk over the fields to buy the weekend papers, don’t wear suede boots!

coffee-fireside

I made a pot of coffee and sat by the fire. I read trashy chick lit on my  Kindle and I watched  Greys Anatomy (again).

fire-and-wine

I did some weeding, and when it got dark I came inside. I opened a bottle of wine and sat by the fire. I read the  papers and I watched Greys Anatomy (again).

rice-pud

I ate left overs for breakfast. I did as I pleased. I gave myself permission to step off the work / design / housework treadmill. I had the best weekend. If this is slow living I am definitely happy in the slow lane. I hope your weekend was happy too.

Here’s to Monday x

Always and Forever

mr-and-mrsThirty years ago I met this man, fell in love, built a home and made a family. We’re still together, living in harmony, wedded bliss, whatever you want to call it. As soon as I met him I knew he was “the one”. Mr T’s version might be slightly different, a beer fuelled weekend in which I snared him with my cheeky grin and my excellent aim with a snowball. It’s been hard work, how he puts up with me I’ll never know – and me – well I must have the patience of a saint!

University friends persuaded me to tag along on a weekend to Yorkshire, we stayed at the Crown. Mr T turned up (an ex student keen to catch up with friends). Something clicked and we’ve been a couple ever since. It’s a proper old fashioned love story. The photo above was taken a couple of years later when we returned for a trip down “memory lane”. I’ve watched friends fall in love, fall out of love and if I knew the “secret” to a happy marriage I’d bottle it. We fight, we make up, we disagree. I nag, he’s lazy. I can’t bear injustice, he likes to watch Dave. I can’t resist a “house” programme, he hates bullies (and wives who interrupt when the 6 Nations is on).

holding-hands

But some how it’s worked for us. We laugh ( a lot), we love (frequently) and he’s still my best friend. So this post is for Mr T. Thank you for being the most amazing, generous, kind, wickedly funny friend I could wish for.

Here’s to the next 30 years xxx

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So, British Hygge Is a Thing Now?

hygge-handsLast year’s obsession with all things Hygge in the UK fascinated me. Everyone it seemed was trying to find a way “do hygge”.  Knitters and crocheters were posting almost daily photos on Instagram of themselves with candles, blankets and knitting. If they could factor in a woodburning stove as well, and a glass of wine it seemed they must be in Hygge heaven. Almost  every yarn enthusiast I follow on social media got a book about “It” for Christmas, and my Danish friends (there is a quite a big middle aged Danish contingent in Cheshire – not sure why), were equally amused and aghast at the phenomenon. One friend showed me a clip of a knitting podcaster struggling to pronounce the word, trying “higgy”  and “higg yee” before settling on “higg”. “Well, she clearly hasn’t read the book she’s reviewing – there is a guide to pronunciation on page 7″ said my grumpy friend Trine.

So, why are the English (and it does seem to be a thing I’ve noticed among English friends rather than Scottish or Welsh), so obsessed with this idea? Have we fought against cold, wet winters for so long that the sudden idea of getting cosy and embracing winter is appealing? I am usually immune to trends and fashion (I still wear boot leg jeans and my phone is 8 years old) and so I have observed the growing interest in all things Scandi from a distance. I watched Borgen, but I’ve never seen the Killing or the Bridge. I’ve been to Copenhagen and loved it, but the idea of deliberately trying to”make” or “do” Hygge had never occurred to me. Then,  I posted a photo on twitter and someone commented “That is so British Hygge”. I think it was meant to be a compliment.  Here’s the offending photo.

woodburner

It seems I am the epitome of British  Hygge without even realising it.  I’m still not sure if it’s a compliment or an observation. But my immediate reaction is one of  denial. This is just what I do, I work from home, I have Reynauds, I need to be warm. The woodburner is our main source of heating, this is just our “normal”.   In an effort to discover more about this new phenomenon, I googled “British Hygge”.  Try it for yourself, you’ll be swept down a rabbit hole of blogs, articles and page upon page of advice for how to bring the H word into your life.

There is even a helpful blog, full of tips and advice on creating a cosy existence the British way.  Eager Brits have stolen the frankly, untranslatable concept of Hygge and created a version for themselves in which the deliberate act of making yourself cosy is celebrated. It seems the antithesis of what my Danish friends have tried to convey. One said “Hygge is a feeling of bliss and contentment you get when everything is just right, it is a state of mind”. The lovely Trine, a 63 year old Dane who has lived here for almost 40 years told me that “Hygge happens”, you can’t buy it or make it. “It’s a state of being” she told me, not a product you can buy or make at will.

So has Hygge been hijacked by the British media to sell us an idea. Is it the “new mindfulness”? Or just a publishing ploy  to make us buy self help books disguised as  how to be Hygge? Or is the fascination with all things Nordic part of a wider desire to find happiness and contentment in the every day? I’m still unsure.  My first encounter with the term came in 2015 when I read Helen Russell’s book “The Year of Living Danishly”. I am drawn to books about ex pats (maybe it’s my innate curiosity about other people’s lives, or maybe I’m just plain nosy), and Helen Russell’s account of trying to fit in to life in Denmark, while her husband worked for Lego is engaging and amusing.  If you really want an insight into Danish life and values, forget the “how to” books and read this instead.

gathering-wood

As for me, I shall live the life I’ve always lived. I shall remain satisfied with what I have and   enjoy the simple things.  I shall spend time with people who make me happy, who value me as I am, not for what I can do for them. Above all, you will still find me hunkering down under a blanket, warmed by the fire in a room lit by candles and soft lighting until Spring. Then I shall leap forth, weed the garden, marvel at the spring bulbs and embrace  the daylight. If that makes me the epitome of British Hygge, then so be it.

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New Post: Time to celebrate

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon for Tailormade Publishing

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon for Tailormade Publishing

Hi there, over on Granny Cool, you can read all about my latest designs for Inside Crochet magazine. Click here for the full story and while you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to my new blog for all the latest news and updates.

Tracey x

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  • When you look up from the tv and realise outside is far more interesting! Happy Bank Holiday weekend everyone. I shall mostly be harvesting onions, drinking g&t and reminding myself how lucky we are to have this view.
#slowliving #thankful #girlgardener #mygardenrightnow #cheshirelife #thewayweliveinthecountry #permaculture Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
#gardens #castlepark #parksandgardens Thanks @simplycrochetmag for featuring my crochet picnic basket :) The pattern is available  now in Simply Crochet celebrations edition. You'll need a cardboard box to upcycle & some chunky cotton yarn, I used DMC Natura XL & finished it off with leather buckles from Bag Clasps. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #upcycling #reloved #crochet #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet
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