Ready for 2019

August 27, 2018

Until last year, I always made my own yearly junk journal/smash book, usually in the late summer or fall, so it was long ready to go by the time the new year rolled around.

Last year, for whatever reason, I fell down on the job! While shopping at Tuesday Morning late in December, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t even thought about, much less plan and make, a journal for 2018. At that moment, my eye fell on a 9″x12″ spiral bound sketchbook with covers depicting several tubes of paint and a well-used palette. Serendipity! I’ve been filling it up all year with photos, ticket stubs, labels, hang tags, greeting cards, notes, stickers, copies of magazine pages, etc., plus lots of writing about the various events in my life.

I was doing some straightening up in my extremely cluttered studio yesterday and ran across a set of book covers and book rings I’d bought at Michael’s a few years ago. The covers are about 1/8″ thick, made of a dense foamy substance with a solid layer on each side. Printed on the white covers were two different floral patterns that were designed to resist ink, the idea being that you can spray them whatever color you desire. Since I dislike spray ink or dye (huge mess, hard to control), I opted to rub the colors on directly from my Tim Holtz ink pads and blend the colors with a wet wipe. The front cover was colored with Cracked Pistachio, Shabby Shutters and Peeled Paint; the back is Victorian Velvet, Worn Lipstick and Picked Raspberry. I ran a thick black Sharpie along the edges to add definition (as I do with pretty much everything).

2019 journal open

I quickly decorated the front cover with a few things that were lying within arm’s reach. (Have I mentioned my studio is extremely cluttered?) The bird image is a Cavallini & Company glittered postcard; the Paris sticker is also by Cavallini, and the clear plastic number circles are from a collection of Maya Road calendar embellishments. A few buttons from my stash and recycled sari silk ribbon were the perfect finishing touches.

2019 journal front

The pages are a mix of solid cardstock and patterned papers from Webster’s Pages “Color Crush” collection, which I cut down to size. This collection really spoke to me with its fun patterns and favorite colors of pink, aqua and chartreuse.

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Unlike previous years’ books, which were handbound, I can rearrange and add pages as I go along, which will be very convenient. Looking forward to 2019!

Creepy Cool!

August 9, 2018

So I got back a couple of days ago from Art Unraveled, a fun and fabulous art retreat held every August in Phoenix, Arizona. I have wanted to go for literally years! Last year, while perusing the classes and wishing and dreaming (fairly uselessly), as I always do, I decided 2018 was the year it was going to actually happen! From that day on, I started putting aside any extra $$ that came my way. Sources included: working overtime on holidays, an annual longevity bonus, selling items in my Etsy shop, completing surveys about medications from pharmaceutical companies, and even a surprise check from a single share of Disney stock I’d purchased 30 years ago and forgotten I owned, which I discovered on the Missing Money website. (Check it out; maybe you have unclaimed funds, too!)

I saved on the airline ticket by applying for a Priceline credit card, saved on the hotel by applying for a Hilton Honors card, and saved the checked baggage fee at the airport by applying for the American Airlines credit card. I decided to forego the cost of a rental car since the hotel is located within walking distance of many shops and restaurants, and chose to check out late the last day so I wouldn’t have to pay for another hotel night.

With all this “planned scrimping” and saving, I was happy to reach my funding goal after only six months!

While the past week at Art Unraveled has been a whirlwind of overwhelming experiences that can’t possibly be covered in a single blog post, I thought I’d share one of my favorite classes, “Dollies de las Muertos,” with Thomas Ashman of Black Sheep Artist Studio. He is a wonderful instructor, with many interesting stories to tell! Our goal was to create amazing Day of the Dead figurines, and I couldn’t wait!

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We started our journey with an unloved porcelain doll from the thrift store. I was happy to find a very large, very lovely specimen in great shape, and paid only four dollars because one of her thumbs had broken off. (Dude made her a new one out of Paperclay!)  Standing 22″ tall, “Gloria” (according to the name on her handbag) wore a magnificent champagne colored satin dress and featured a rosy complexion, sweet expression, darling ringlets and lovely bright blue eyes. (Awwwww!)

creepy before

All this was definitely going to change. (For the better, in my opinion!)

The first thing we did was remove our dolls’ hair and clothes, rip off any pretty, frilly things (like the roses on Gloria’s dress) and shred the sleeves and bottom hemline into tatters, a la the fashion style of Morticia Addams. After immersing the dress into a bath of black fabric dye, the transformation had begun!

The next step was to remove the eyes. (Eeeeeek!) Thomas came around with an effectively deadly spring tool, and – POP! POP! – out came Gloria’s pretty blue peepers! We then painted our dolls’ faces and arms with bone-colored paint, creating the “skeleton” base for traditional Day of the Dead embellishments. Here’s Gloria awaiting her makeup!

gloria in progress

Hours of painstaking painting with tiny brushes later, the face was done and it was time to embellish the dress. I added some metal and rhinestone jewelry components from the bead aisle at Michael’s and glued black feathers onto a plastic toy butterfly to make wing-like extensions for the bodice. Thomas provided marabou clusters from which we made feathery wigs.

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Ta-daaaaa! Isn’t she awesome?!!

We made doll stands from wood blocks and dowels, painted them black, and then it was time to display our beautiful creations! I arranged Gloria’s right hand to hold up her dress and glued a “cactus skeleton” into her left hand as a kind of magical staff or wand. A very kind local lady at Art Unraveled was handing out these fascinating bits of long-dead, dessicated cacti, and it made the perfect souvenir of my first visit to Arizona.

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Thank you, Thomas, for this fun and fabulous class! I had an amazing time and I’ll always treasure my Day of the Dead dolly, whose name is now “GORE-IA!” (Right?!!)

They’re Not Just for Guacamole

July 16, 2018

So my BFF, Terri, recently pointed me to an article about using avocado pits to dye fabric, paper, yarn, etc. Whaaaat, really? It looked easy enough, but often the techniques that look easiest turn out to be the biggest failures. (Don’t ever ask me about Gelli plate transfers, thank you very much.)

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to try it anyway. And, wonder of wonders, it not only worked, but was super easy, practically foolproof, and the results were awesome!

This is how easy:

Step 1: Buy avocados.

Step 2: Open avocados, remove pits.

Step 3: Rinse slimy goo off pits, place in large saucepan with a good amount of water.

Step 4: Put saucepan on stove over medium heat, walk away and forget about it. Literally.

Step 5: Run across saucepan while getting a snack a few hours later and notice, with some surprise, that the water has turned a beautiful shade of deep pink.

Step 6: Proceed to gather pretty much every white material in the house (fabric, lace, seam binding, Bristol paper, book pages, etc.) and dump it in the water.

Step 7: Stop short of dunking white cat.

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“Whew!”

Step 8: Success!

One caveat: Anything that starts out white will turn a beautiful shade of blush pink. Things that are ivory, off-white, etc. will not be quite as lovely. Some ecru lace I had turned a rather unpleasant 80’s shade of mauve, and a length of unbleached muslin came out considerably less bright and pretty than a white cotton.

I was so happy with the results that I immediately sat down and started to work on a romantic, shabby-chic, girly, frou-frou, fussy, fluffy book. Using scrapbook paper that resembles old ledger pages as the base, I created nine 9″x18″ spreads, which resulted in a fat little 6″x9″ book. Each page features at least one element that has been avocado dyed. I’m still stoked that this worked so well, and the best part is, you don’t have to worry about caustic chemicals!

The cover is heavy chipboard wrapped in the avocado-dyed cotton fabric, and I’ve added ribbons to the binding threads, made from avocado-dyed seam binding. The seam binding is polyester, so it didn’t take on the dye as easily as natural materials do, but I think the subtle pink is quite lovely!

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I tend to throw everything plus the kitchen sink on my pages. Every time I came back to a spread that I thought was “done,” I would  reconsider and then add yet another element. (Sometimes it got out of hand.)

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Everything was “grunged up” with Tim Holtz Distress Ink to add to the vintage flair.

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Many of the pages have scraps of tissue printed with sheet music, which is also a Tim Holtz product. I usually create with whatever is close at hand, and I had a lot of this stuff close at hand.

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When I showed this spread to Dude, he didn’t even notice at first that the woman on the left is holding a fluffy white cat. I told him the “story” I made up for this page was that the woman had commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of her cat, which is depicted on the right. Dude said, “Those two cats look nothing alike.” I said, “Of course they do; they’re both white fluffy cats!” After considering for a few moments, he said, “The one on the left isn’t as fluffy.”

blush p 9

Tea-Riffic!

June 27, 2018

Somerset Studio magazine recently asked for submissions of projects made using tea bags. I got the July/August issue in the mail yesterday and was happy to see my canvas titled “Tea with Anna” in their Expressions section!

“Tea with Anna” is one of my favorite pieces I’ve made this year. It looks simple, though it took some planning to work out. The image of a beautiful Victorian lady was printed in parts onto the tea bags, then the bags were pieced together like a puzzle and lightly glued to a piece of padded muslin to form the entire image. I like the effect of the overlapping tea bags and the various colors they produce. It looks like a long-lost family portrait that is starting to fall apart! I sewed some beads that resemble pearls onto several of the bags to mimic hat pins, and mounted the muslin piece onto an 8″x10″ canvas board. The final touch was some delicate coloring with chalks, then it was sprayed with Krylon Matte Finish to set the colors.

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It was difficult to photograph this to accurately portray its beauty in real life, but as usual, the folks at Stampington did a great job! They also published “Afternoon Tea Sachets” I made by ironing tea bags flat, printing images on them and coloring with chalk, much like the process for this project, with the addition of sewing up the sides and adding cotton rounds with scented oil on them. I keep some of the sachets in my desk drawer at work; it’s always a pleasure to get a whiff of pretty scent when I’m reaching for a paper clip or a highlighter!

It’s Official

May 5, 2018

Despite what the calendar says, I never feel like it’s “officially” spring until our Magnolias start to bloom and wildflowers are growing in the ditches. They are abundant this week, and on my drive home from work, the morning sun makes them practically glow.

There are two main kinds of wildflowers in sight at the moment; the first is a light purple honeysuckle type of flower. While pressing a few into a heavy book, I was taken back to my childhood, when we used to pluck honeysuckle blooms from their stems and put the tube end on our tongues for a tiny taste of nectar. (Sorry, bees! We did this a lot.)

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The second kind of flower is bright, bright yellow with a red center, and it’s everywhere, in giant masses. These are in the ditch across a road from our house.

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When we moved to Florida almost 30 years ago, ours was the only house for some distance. Throughout those years, we’ve acquired neighbors to the left, to the right and behind, but one thing has never changed: the large empty field across the street. Their house is set about half a mile from the road, and while several different crops have been planted there at one time or another (I mostly remember corn, hay, watermelon and sunflowers), it has also spent long stretches of time growing only grass. I’m always happy to look out across the yard past the road and the fence, and see nothing but nature.

fenced field

Thank You, Somerset Studio!

April 22, 2018

For the past few months, I’ve been submitting art to various magazines as a way to spark my creativity. I like having an “assignment” – a particular technique or a particular theme; it gives me a starting point and a sense of purpose. The lovely photographers at Stampington have a deft hand at making any artwork look its best, and I’m so grateful they opted to publish all seven of the pieces I submitted for their May/June issue, which is about the classic technique of image transfers.

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I learned how to do image transfers in a Leslie Riley class more than 15 years ago, and I was so smitten I sat right through the lunch break in order to keep making more transfers! (You’d be more impressed if you knew how much I love a good lunch.)

The construction of this little book was inspired by Carla Sonheim’s online class, Rags to Stitches: A Journal and a Purse. The transfer was created with the gel medium method on canvas cloth. I sanded the image here and there to add to the aged look, then added a little color with chalks. The buttons are enhanced with some gold Rub ‘n Buff, as is the chipboard crown. The ribbon tie is hand-dyed seam binding and I rubbed a little paint onto a Tim Holtz metal word band.

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This is a painted canvas board with nature-themed contact paper transfers. It’s one of my favorite transfer techniques, being almost foolproof. (I did say almost.) Black and white images always transfer better than colored ones, for some reason. But I like that “distressed” look, so it’s all good.

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Thank you, Stampington, for publishing the best of the best art magazines and for always encouraging and inspiring creativity in so many ways!

Purrfect Painted Paper Pet Portraits!

February 13, 2018

At the end of January, I was fortunate enough to take a class with the amazing Elizabeth St. Hilaire, the author of Painted Paper Art Workshop. The class was held in beautiful Mt. Dora, Florida, and lasted three days. Elizabeth creates amazing mixed-media works by tearing painted papers to use as “brush strokes” on canvas and the results are stunning.

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Elizabeth is just as talented a teacher as she is an artist. I was mesmerized by the breadth of her work and her friendly, encouraging style. She’s quirky and adorable!

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This class focused on memorializing our favorite pets – or, any animal we liked, actually. I was surprised to learn that, out of 17 students, I was the only one who brought a cat to paint! There were lots of dogs, but also a fox, a llama, a cow, a horse and other creatures you wouldn’t normally think of as pets.

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This is my dad’s cat, Chloe, adopted from an animal shelter a couple of years ago. My dad is quite smitten and loves to take photos of her!

Our “homework” consisted of tracing a photo of our animal onto an 11″x14″ canvas, then roughly painting it in to use as a template for the next step: tearing painted papers and gluing them to the canvas. We spent the first day learning about the process and getting started on painting our papers, using Elizabeth’s tips and techniques. She provided lots of supplies for us to use, including gel printing plates, stencils, stamps, etc. On the second day, we started ripping and gluing. It was messy and fun! Inspired by this cat painting of Elizabeth’s, I put flowers on Chloe’s head to bring in some bright color.

floral cat

Here is the finished work. Can you believe this is ALL torn paper? Even the tiniest bits, like the highlights in her eyes and the stripes on the pillow. We weren’t allowed to use scissors, so it was a challenge. I enjoyed the process immensely!

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I used papers from an atlas, a children’s large print storybook, a collection of essays about finding joy in life, a novel from the 60’s, sheet music and a bible written in Chinese, all of which came from the thrift store; plus rice paper and mulberry paper. It was fun to pick out words that fit the subject, like tiger, velvet, baby, and pixie. (I sincerely hope the Chinese words are “nice” ones, too!)

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Elizabeth makes whiskers on her animals from torn, twisted paper, but I just didn’t have the patience for that (nor was I confident it would look good), so I drew on Chloe’s whiskers with a black Pitt pen. Yes, I did “cheat” a little bit…but I never pulled out the scissors, so I think I’m still good! 🙂

New Year and New Priorities

January 1, 2018

Here we are, already well into a new year, but my celebration began a few days earlier, when I got word from the editor of Art Doll Quarterly magazine that my submission was accepted for publication in their first issue of 2018! The theme for the Spring issue is the horoscope sign of Aquarius. When I saw the call for submissions, I immediately wanted to participate, as Aquarius is my star sign and I have loved the 5th Dimension song Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In since childhood.

I’ll admit I am quite intimidated by the amazing artistry showcased in Art Doll Quarterly because I am by no means a doll sculptor, not even a mediocre one! But – glimmer of hope! – they publish one “paper persona” in each issue. Paper I can do!

I covered an 8″x10″ canvas with painted paper made on a Gelli plate, then cut a silhouette from black cardstock to serve as the body of the “water bearer.” I dressed her in a gown of tracing paper that had been painted lightly to retain its translucence and then outlined everything with black ink and used charcoal to create shadows and depth. The Aquarius constellation is depicted on her watery gown in black ink and rhinestones.

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The fine folks at Stampington did a much better job photographing her than I did, though their version is a bit paler than the original.

Mallette_ADQ0218-page-001One of my resolutions for 2018 is to submit more work for publication, and to attend more classes and art retreats. Usually I don’t have the time and/or finances for these activities, but this year I will make them a priority as they bring me the most joy. Life’s short and time stops for no one, so why not make the most of it?

Holiday Time in the Studio

November 14, 2017

I’ve been making Christmas coupon books, and since I had to start before it was even Halloween, forced myself into the mood by loudly singing Christmas carols while cutting, gluing, sewing and bedazzling. (Rather, I should say “carol,” singular, because Sleigh Ride got stuck in my brain and was sung on repeat for about 20 minutes. And technically it’s not even a Christmas song!)

These little books are made with shipping tags for the covers. I color them by smooshing with Distress Inks and a little spritz of water to add some mottled texture. I love using vintage and retro holiday images; so nostalgic and fun!

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Most also get a little tag (I love my tag punch!), some washi tape, a flower, and ribbon threaded through the hole. (My BFF taught me to thread ribbon back in 2002. I was clueless before then!)

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Of course, there has to be at least one that will appeal to the menfolk. (Do people still use that word, menfolk?) This Santa with his new-fangled automobile and goggles is so manly – and Steampunk is very popular!

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But my first love will always be the kitties! I would do all cats, if I could. Dude suggested I make one with a dog, because “people like dogs, too.” (Really? Okay…didn’t know that.)

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Just before Christmas, I’ll have to loudly sing romantic songs to get me in the mood to make Valentine’s coupon books. What do you get that special someone who has everything? Promises of dinners out, trips to the theater and foot massages, of course!

valentines

I sound like Darth Vadar now…but it’s cool

November 3, 2017

One night early in January of this year, I woke up and went to the bathroom. When I got back to bed, my husband said, “What have you been doing?” I told him I’d just been to the bathroom. He said, “You’re breathing hard, like you just walked around the block!”

While I knew I’d been feeling fairly crappy, I hadn’t realized the extent of it until that moment. It had crept up so gradually that I was like the proverbial frog in the pot of water that gets hotter over time; adjusting to the discomfort until the boiling point is reached. I had attributed my lack of stamina to working a 12-hour night shift and being far too often sleep-deprived.

What that didn’t explain was my brain fog, occasional heart palpitations, and shortness of breath upon attempting even the most mild activity. At my annual exam in March, the GP listened to my symptoms, made some notes and said, “You know, you’ve gained 16 pounds in the last year.” I said, “No, I’ve actually gained 16 pounds in the last few months. It’s weird, because my eating habits haven’t changed.” He scheduled me for heart and lung tests, and when I returned with a clean bill of health in those areas, told me I should lose weight. That didn’t sound like it would help much, because I’d been even heavier a couple years earlier (before losing about 45 lbs) and had a lot more energy and felt a lot better even then.

Luckily I had also mentioned that my lower back had started to seize up occasionally, for no apparent reason, which prompted my GP to refer me to a rheumatologist. She turned out to be my hero! She listened to my symptoms, sent me for tests and determined I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is a disease in which your immune system attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears. The heart palpitations were caused by esophagitis (the esophagus was inflamed and pushing against my heart), which was caused by my throat being too dry to properly “lubricate” the food’s journey to my stomach.

The rheumatologist started medication for the Sjogren’s and got the esophagitis cleared up. With the medication, judicious use of eye drops, Xylitol lozenges and frequent hydration, I’m managing the disease pretty well.

But the shortness of breath and constant fatigue were still a thing, which the rheumatologist said could not be explained by Sjogren’s. Then she asked me what I thought was a strange question. “Do you snore?” I said, “Let me put it this way; my husband wears ear plugs.”

The next thing I knew, I was being sent for a sleep study. You literally go to sleep in a medical clinic, monitored by a technician who can see you on a camera, hear you over a microphone, and track your brain activity, heartbeat and movements via electrodes. This is what you look like after being, as I called it, “trussed up like a turkey” before going to sleep.

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The best part? Those 20-something electrodes are all attached with a gooey substance that is a real pain to wash out of your hair! Also, I got a rash from the adhesive on my face. But despite the weirdness of all the wires, being in a strange bed and knowing I was being closely watched, I did manage to fall into a restless sleep for a few hours.

Two days later, a nurse called me. “You have sleep apnea,” she said, and scheduled me for another sleep study a few days later. This time I was not only wired, but had to wear a mask attached to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The technician explained that there are several stages of sleep. During “normal” sleep, your body is detoxifying and healing. During REM (dream) sleep, your brain is detoxifying and healing. When you have sleep apnea, you literally stop breathing, often multiple times per hour. Instead of resting and healing, your brain sends a surge of adrenalin to start you breathing again. This constant influx of adrenalin puts you in “flight or fight” mode and thus, your sleep is not restful or healing and as a result, you’re always tired and have difficulty concentrating.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause weight gain, diabetes, cognitive issues, coronary issues, stroke, even death! I said, “I had no idea this was so serious.” The technician said, “I don’t want to scare you with all this gloom and doom.” I said, “I’m not scared, because you guys are gonna fix this!”

A couple of weeks later, I had my own personal CPAP machine. You wear a mask covering your nose, through which high-pressure air blows through a hose, forcing your airway open so you keep breathing as you sleep. It does take some getting used to! At first, I was like…

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“This is not comfortable.”

But, as the tech who demonstrated the machine said, “It’s like getting used to wearing glasses. They may not be comfortable at first, but you get used to them, and if you can experience a benefit from the glasses, you’ll be more motivated to adjust.” I said, “Well, I’ve gotten used to glasses, a sonic toothbrush, a bidet, and a car with automatic headlights. I didn’t like any of those things at first, and now I love them. So I’m hopeful.”

So yesterday was Day 6 of the CPAP therapy, and I have noticed an amazing difference already! Earlier this year, I remember walking from my office to the office of my boss’s boss, which is probably about 100 steps. By the time I got there, I felt so exhausted that I rudely plopped down into a chair before he even offered it to me, and I was literally panting. He said, “Uh…did you run here?” It was embarrassing!

At work last night, I left the office, went to the bathroom, then to the break room, then into another building to get ice from the machine, back to the break room where I stood in front of the microwave for about a minute, then back to my office. As I sat down, I realized that, while I was breathing a little heavier than a person in great health would have, I felt fine and not like I’d just run a marathon! And unlike before, when I’d wake up every couple of hours, unable to get a decent sleep and then have to down energy drinks (or just give in and take a 2-hour nap), I’ve had no trouble at all staying awake and alert the past few days. It’s amazing!

So, yeah, the machine isn’t easy to get used to, but it’s going to be well worth it. I’ve learned to shift my thinking from “OMG, alien face-hugger!” to “Hey, awesome jet fighter pilot hero!” (It helps a little…)

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