30 Days Wild: Day 27-Butterflies and wild art

Yesterday was an exciting day for deliveries. First, we had the delivery of a new sunhat from my aunty for Alice. A reversible hat with bees on one side and ladybirds on the other.

The second delivery was from insect lore. I’d ordered in one of the butterfly kits. However, due to Corona, they didn’t have the one we ordered so we got an upgrade and got a few extras in our set.

We’ve got two insect feeding stations to try. These are just dishes essentially with sponges to put the butterfly food on. Sugar water will attract butterflies and other insects if you fancy trying it, just like our bee dish.

In previous years I’ve seen people criticize these kits as cruel and reducing a live animal to the level of a toy. I think this is an unfair claim. It is only reduced to the level of a toy that the children look at and then move on if you treat it as such. This was very much an exciting event the caterpillars arriving. She watched them carefully and they’ve been handled carefully. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that most of my nations favourite naturalists, people like David Attenborough and Chris Packham, will have been egg collectors or used the killing jar to collect butterflies. While these aren’t practises we would do anymore it was this hands-on experience that gave these people their knowledge of the natural world. And from there they have helped countless species. The caterpillars included are painted ladies. These migrate north and south. When I’ve bought these sets I’ve tried to time it so they will be released as the butterflies would be migrating through our country so they aren’t just released into the cold to die. Last year was a bumper year for them so we’ll see how many come through this year.

It also came with a mechanical toy butterfly. You wind it up with the elastic band and then release it to flap. Alice was fascinated by it. That was probably an hours worth of entertainment her working out the mechanism and seeing how to make it fly best.

And that was enough time inside. Thunderstorms had been predicted on the weather forecast so I wanted to get her out for a bit in case we were stuck in. The National Children’s Gardening Week Facebook account had set a competition to create wild art. I gave Alice the brief and left a few bits out and then left her to it.

Lots of grass for hair.

She made a face complete with a bow made from the red leaves, a hair clip from the petals and lipstick made with rose petals.

Then we tried the first of our long-awaited strawberries. Alice has been checking on these daily to see how they’ve been coming on. They’ve been getting redder over the week and I thought it was time to try before the birds take a fancy to them. We haven’t got many but they were very nice. All the better for having been grown by her.

A bit of a lazy day staying at home but we’ve had quite a few good walks out this week. We’re almost at the end of this years 30 days so I’ll be trying to make them exciting ones before we slow the pace down to our normal nature involvement.

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Six on Saturday: 27.6.20-Joys of Summer

A week of rain followed by a week of the sun has led to lots of plants opening their first blooms of the year.  So much so that it was hard to choose just six, but six is the rules. So let’s get on with these absolute delights.

1. Dutch iris

The first of the Dutch irises are out. So far they’ve come out blue and white. I loved my Reticulata is spring so I’ve been looking to expand my irises. These were a cheap Tesco purchase and they seem happy in the border growing out of ferns and hardy geraniums.

2. Early potatoes

We had our first harvest of early potatoes. These were Duke of York. They’ve grown to a reasonable size. We used the small ones to go with a chicken pie and got some larger ones left for another meal. There are two more bags still growing so we’ll have some more in a few weeks. They were quite a tasty variety. I’d grow them again. This pot I earthed up as we went. One of the others I filled completely at the start to see if it makes a difference.

3. Container pond

I bought a little container pond set from Thompson & Morgan when they were on offer. The kit came with a plastic bowl, planting basket, aquatic compost, and gravel to go on the top. It has come with 3 bare root pond plants. Acorus calamus ‘Argenteostriatus’, Iris pseudacorus, and Pontederia cordata. The bulbs are starting to poke through. I’m not sure how healthy the bulbs were so I’m not sure they will all come up. The hope is to get some dragonflies in. The water is getting a bit of algal growth so I’m having to scoop it off while it sorts its equilibrium.

I’ve used driftwood around the outside to cover part of the plastic and form a slope up to it.

4. Cornflowers ‘black ball’

At the start of lockdown, I gave Alice lots of the seed packets that had come free with magazines that could be sown direct. She scattered them all over leading to a mass of marigolds this year. These were a cornflower that I think wablack ball. The flowers are quite pretty little black fluffy things.

The stems are pretty ugly with a wispy white look that looks pretty diseased. Alice must have emptied these into quite a small space as they are all coming up together, so I’ve rigged up a support of driftwood, again, along the edge of the border with string to tidy it up a bit.

Despite the ruffles the bees still seem interested.

5. Passionflowers

The passionflowers have all clumped together on one bit of fence. I’ve spread the growth out a bit so it can gradually turn the whole section green. We have the first flowers which are a lot earlier than last year.

6. Hosta Bressingham Blue

This is one of my largest hostas grown in a very large pot. It has large blue leaves making it slightly less appealing to slugs. It is coming into flower with its large white blooms.

Some people cut the flower stalks off as they want the plant purely for foliage, but I think they are rather nice.

The garden is looking lovely right now but we’ve had the news that we are going to have to have more building work as the render was applied wrong. This means I’m going to have to clear the patio again at some point in the future. With this in mind, I’m going to be looking at whether any of the patio plants can be potted into the border. A lot of the current pots are temporary like the veg pots and the dahlias but have to see if I can find spots for some of the hostas and heucheras as I don’t fancy them all sat on the lawn again. I’m also adding a second shed so I’ve got the dumping area to clear ready.

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30 Days Wild: Day 16-Drawing outside

Today we took our phonics outside and practised the letters we have covered so far using chalk to practise writing.

And some wild drawing.

Followed by a butterfly.

Our bumpy concrete isn’t the easiest for drawing on. I maybe need to get some jumbo chalks to make it a bit easier.

After dinner, we headed out for our walk.

Plenty of wildlife to be found.

And a walk through the secret passage.

We found a few woodlice in the den and Alice was fascinated and watched for a good few minutes.

Whereas I was more interested in this little beetle.

And a couple of bees back in the gardens. The hardy geraniums still bringing them all in. You can see the proboscis in action here.

And another getting stuck in.

Alice was a good little helper we planted some fresh lettuce and sprouts and netted so it doesn’t all get chomped by the birds this time.

And Alice helped with wheeling round brown waste to the compost. I’m taking out lots of forget-me-nots and aquilegia now they are spent to give the plants more space and airflow around them.

A good bit of work achieved in the garden together. Lots shooting up now we’ve had some rain and sun. A few areas too congested and in need of thining more. I’ll need to look at getting out with Alice to get it ready for our dahlias from seed which are shooting up now.

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30 Days Wild: Day 10-Dandelion rainbow, bee buns, lettuce soup, flower crowns

Already a third of the way through and done an awful lot already with more to come. If you want to check back on what we’ve been up to check the contents page. I realised looking at the blog stats that I have been referred by two schools for their homeschooling recommendations during the lockdown. I think that’s one of the nicest compliments the blog has ever received. So if you are one of the parents directed here by your child’s school I’d love to know how you get on with any of the activities if you give them a go.

Today’s idea I’d seen on the 30 Days Wild Facebook page. There are lots of people sharing wonderful activities they’ve done as well as photos and chat. I saw this idea of a fingerprint dandelion. I thought it would be a nice easy one for a canvas as we had one spare.

Alice wanted to go right round the edge of the stem and I didn’t want to stiffle her creativity.

We worked through a few colours with wet-wipes on hand. She wasn’t that keen on this activity as didn’t like the paint on her fingers so if we try another like this might have to try a sponge printer instead.

Not quite what I envisioned but it looks quite pretty and it is her work.

Then I felt we should do a bit of wild baking as I’ve neglected to any with Alice. Amy is good about doing baking with her but I don’t tend to do as much. So settled on as basic bee bun.

Bright yellow icing.

Not the best decoration. No bake off for me yet. But we had fun doing it together The buns were tasty. The icing was disgusting. Cutting the top of them as we eat them.

We carried on with the cooking making use of some of our own veg. I’ve read and seen people, particularly Aaron Bertelsen of Great Dixter praising lettuce soup. Now Alice has been picking off lettuce from the patch as they grow. She tries to sneak them out when she thinks I’m not looking.

And the birds and possibly next doors cat have been nibbling so the lettuce is a bit patchy. I need to net it again. So the lettuce soup seemed like a good plan to use it up as the family wouldn’t see how patchy it was.

I managed to get enough lettuce out of the patch. Then a potato, 3 cups of water, salt, black pepper, onion, garlic and corriander went in the soup maker.

This was apparently popular with the French aristocracy and it may have been suited to a banquet as a starter that leaves you unsatisfied but I don’t think I’d use the recipe I tried today again. Alice ate it but it took a bit of persuasion. Mainly bribery with one of the buns we’d made earlier.

Having had failures at cooking I thought we’d try for an easy craft activity making a flower crown. Having made a mess of tape and wire Amy sorted it out.

I’ll stick to growing the flowers and leave arranging to others. Alice was happy with her crown once Amy had corrected it.

Now she was ready for being a flower fairy we headed to the park. The den we found earlier in the week had been knocked down. We’re not sure if it has been knocked down by other kids or by the council for safety. We propped it back up into a seating area and left the roof off.

I spotted what I think was a treecreeper. They are common enough birds but I’ve never noticed them there before. Since I started in 30 days 4 years ago I do find I notice much more of what is around me to appreciate.

And Alice wanted a bit of time to dance in the park. She is at the age of lots of twirling and dramatic arms for dancing.

A fully packed day. It left her totally zombified after her walk. Maybe a slower pace needed tomorrow.

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30 Days Wild: Day 5-Grow your own for wellbeing week

A little bit of exciting news for the blog first. The Wildlife Trust got in touch to ask if they could use one of my blogs to feature on their 30 days of wild bloggers. So one of the blogs from earlier in the week was featured on their site. Nice to be asked as I’ve taken part for 4 years now and I’m happy to carry on supporting the campaign for lives more engaged with nature.


Yesterday I decided we’d have a go at a handful of the activities from National Grow Your Own for Welfare Week. Not the snappiest of titles for a national week but a good cause. This initiative has come from Life at number 27, a social enterprise that pushes the mental health benefits of gardening and particularly of grow your own. With many mental health services pushed to the limits through government cuts the last few years the need for organisations like this has gone up. They have put together a nice little booklet of activities to do perfectly suited to kids and fun for the adults as well. Growing your own fits in perfectly with anyone taking part in 30 days wild. It gives you a chance to help create a more sustainable lifestyle, cut your food miles and it’s good fun. Allotment holders are always experts at the sustainable lifestyle side with lots of ideas for creating their plots on a shoestring budget, reusing materials, composting, water collection and all the rest. Whether you grow your own on an allotment, in your garden, a community space or on your windowsill eating your own produce gives a burst of happiness making it well worth the effort.

We started Wednesday evening with some rock labels for the veg pots. Amy and Alice employing their superior artistic talents.

A few made by drawing and some with decoupage using paper tissues Amy bought with bees and butterflies on. I wonder if you can guess some of the things Alice is excited to grow?

Then we carried on with learning a bit more about butterflies reading “what’s the difference between a butterfly and a moth?” This unimaginatively named book gives children lots of key facts to help identify between the two. Sadly out of print currently so a bit expensive for a book I used a lot for teaching.

Then on Thursday, I decided Alice would buy into these activities more as a list. She then got the satisfaction of ticking each activity off as we did them. No pressure was put on to finish them all but it lays out what the options are.

We started with the cress caterpillars and had a bit previously grown to eat along the way.

Then the two have been placed ready to grow.

We had made a few seed bombs during National Children’s Gardening Week so rather than repeating the activity we just went to do a bit of bombing on some of the unkept grass behind the garden.

We headed back in to have a go with the paper pot maker. The sooner Alice masters this skill the less I’ll need to make. These give use a biodegradable pot and a use for newspaper and excess paper packaging with deliveries.

Back outside we got them potted up with some red marigolds (Alice’s current favourite colour).

Then we got some cut and come again lettuce sown in a pot. I prefer growing the salad leaves in batches in small pots as it means we have salad at various stages so we don’t get a glut all at once.

Another task ticked off, we moved onto lip scrub. Olive oil, sugar and fresh-picked mint and a little lemon were mixed together in a bowl and spooned into some tins I had spare.

I think this may have been Alice’s favourite activity of the day but that may have something to do with the size of her scoops of sugar. While she did count out the 6 spoons of sugar she put more effort into getting six large scoops of sugar than 2 of olive oil. She was very excited to show her mum her tin.

After a decent sugar dose, we went out to let off some of that excess energy with the scavenger hunt included in the booklet.

She had good fun dashing about. Here she is finding water.

Another activity in the booklet was to make your own bug hotel. We built a fairly substantial one a few years ago with old bricks and decking panels and tile offcuts.

So we added some of our stones to the top to add some extra decoration.

I think Alice enjoyed herself. She asked to make some more lip scrub, so we tried the lemon recipe as well. And she’s now waiting for our lettuce to grow. She’ll eat it from the veg patch but she isn’t convinced by the shop stuff. She’s also taken a liking to the mint, so I’m not sure I’m going to have any left for my intended mojito but nevermind. But nice that she’s trying new food. The activities today all came from the growing for welfare pack, so if you fancy any of them check it out and there a few competitions to try.

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Six on Saturday: 30.5.20 National Children’s Gardening Week

This week is National Children’s Gardening Week. The Horticultural Trade Association has set challenges each day. We’ve taken part in each of these along with doing some of our own. Like many of you, we’ve been homeschooling so I’ve been taking part in lots of different national weeks and days for some inspiration for activities. Today I’m covering six of her favorites from the last week but we’ve done lots more besides this. Lots of seed sowing and grow your own. Alice has carried on helping to stock our charity sales. She has got used to doing one lesson each day and it has now got to the point where I’m getting pestered for one before I’ve finished my morning cup of tea. She also has no concept of weekends so I still have to do lessons at the weekend. Shouldn’t have done such exciting lessons.

1. Garden collage

We found a challenge set by the publishers of the lovely children’s book Mrs. Noah’s garden to make a garden picture out of recycled material. The book’s pictures were created by collage so we thought we’d give it a go. We started by cutting a sheet of card and painting it for the background.

Old gardening magazines came in use for some flower material.

She then assembled the parts she’d cut and made. It was interesting seeing the story she developed as she glued it together. The felt flower was there for the ladybird. The strawberries were there if the butterfly got hungry.

2. Allotment plan

One of the National Children’s Gardening Week challenges was to draw your ideal veg plot.

She drew what she wanted and then asked me to label. I was impressed with how many ideas she came up with. She didn’t need any prompting for choices. I was also glad to see she picked many things that we are growing in our own garden. With the exception of the lemons. But I don’t think she’ll mind us not having them as she said they were for mummy’s drinks.

3. Seed bombs

We had a go at making a seed bomb mix for grassland. Several seeds for short flowers went in that can escape mowers. Red clover and yellow rattle in. Yellow rattle works as a parasite on grass reducing its vigor. Essential if looking at establishing a meadow area on grassland as the grass will win against many wildflowers. Then a few poppies we had spare went in. These were mixed with clay, water, and soil. Then we put in a bit of chili powder. This is to put animals like squirrels off eating them.

The mix was then sculpted into balls and then left to dry.

4. Bee rocks

Another challenge set by the HTA for National Children’s gardening week was to paint rocks for the garden. We went with a simple bee design. Alice worked on a queen bee and several workers.

She then found a spot in the garden for them.

5. Fairy pots

On Wednesday the fairies left Alice a message outside the back door.

She spent a bit of time inside drawing onto the pot. She wanted a rainbow door and butterflies around hers. Then we got them planted up. She choose one of the mini-dahlietta.

She then wanted to arrange a fairy garden and pond around her pot house.

6. Mini-beast hunting

Armed with a clipboard, magnifying glass and, cameras we headed out for a mini-beast hunt.

We found just about everything on the list with the exception of the dragonflies and ladybirds. We’re just starting to get the damselflies in again and the dragonflies will follow.

It’s good to see that between the plants we grow and the habitat creation we have done we are finding a rich variety of life.

It’s been a busy week for gardening and craft activities. But it will be continuing as we head into the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild. Each day through June we do one activity to engage in nature. I’ve taken part in it the last few years and many of my previous ideas can be found here. Enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 9.5.20

Well, we started the week with lots of glorious rain refreshing the garden no end. Then back to glorious sunshine mid-week before dropping in temperature again. We’ve had a good bit of time in the garden though. I’ve dug out lots of self-seeders for plant sales and divided a few perennials. The garden is getting to a nice point of filling up and I’m selecting what remains.

1. Radish-cherry belle

We harvested our first crop form the raised bed. Still, a few more of these that have some more growing to go and a second variety coming through. I’ve planted a few of the little gem lettuces and the broad beans have gone in. Alice has been enjoying eating these over the week knowing she helped grow them.

2. Red Riding Hood tulips

These were Alice’s choice. They are dotted around the border. They are normally a pretty reliable choice but have been a bit weak this year. But never mind I’ve had plenty of other spectacular tulips over the last month.

3. Azalea japonica-Agadir

The Azalea is going through its first proper year of flowering. There are a mass number of flowers and they are lovely but the foliage is a bit sparse. Not quite the tightly clipped Japanese ‘Kokarikomi’ I had in mind. So after these have flowered I’m going to be looking to try to prune it. The advice from Jake Hobson in his book Niwaki was to treat like box and start by pruning little and often. So I’ll start with pruning some of the dead growth back hard and pruning the rest back behind the flowers.

4. Clematis Montana

Last week my neighbours Montana featured. My own Montana is on the opposite fence. It isn’t as showy a flower. These are smaller, more delicate flowers. I forget the variety but it is doing well, interlinking with the climbing rose nicely.

And I’m going to sneak last weeks Montana back in. This time as a silhouette by the light of the moon.

5. Brick spires

Last week I’d shown my seagull defense spires. I’ve managed to find enough bricks to fill each of the spires most of the way up. I could do with one or two more for each to fill them completely. I’ve then added some rope between to block the seagulls and act as if it’s a handrail. Looking at the positioning of the plants the hydrangea limelight could probably do with moving slightly so that it is in the middle of the space between the two-stepping stone paths but that can be left till it’s dormant. So far it seems to be working as no more plants have been dug out.

6. Lilac

The lilac has got a great spread of flowers this year. Every so often I contemplate removing it as it takes up a lot of space but when it’s in flower it is tremendous. While it might not have the most exciting foliage or nices growth for the rest of the year it does seem to be tolerant of our sea breezes at least.

The garden is starting to look really nice now, if I do say so myself, with lots of foliage looking lush and many plants coming into flower. I’m attending a Zoom lecture online with Fergus Garrett from Great Dixter on layered planting through the season. Thoroughly looking forward to this as I’d never normally be able to make it to one of his lectures. I hope you are all getting plenty of pleasure from your gardens this year. Stay safe and don’t forget to check the propagator’s blog to see more six on Saturday posts in the comments.

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Six on Saturday: 11.4.20

We’ve had a good week in the garden with some nice weather. The GYO is coming on well. The lettuce and radishes seedlings germinated well, the potatoes are planted and the broad beans are almost ready to go in the bed. I’ve found time to help sort a bit of the neighbours garden. One of my blogs is now featured on Haith’s bird food website if you didn’t catch it earlier in the week. My first assignments for the RHS level 2 in horticulture has been submitted. And I also made the press as the rubbish grower of sunflowers. The seeds are progressing well. More of the sunflower seeds saved from my parents have germinated but should have something to show eventually. Anyway on with this weeks six.

1. Plant food maker

Having seen Karen’s blog on the Bokashi composter I fancied getting back into making my own liquid feed. You can do this just in a bucket but it’s a bit pleasanter on the nose if you can have something with a better fitting lid. I found this one for just over a tenner. For the price, it feels pretty solid. It has been set up in the lesser photographed compost corner. It is hidden by the euonymus and rarely features within blogs. I have a few compost bins hidden away, though I used much of the homemade compost on next doors garden. I had a fresh delivery of Dalefoot Compost from my local peat-free nursery ‘The little green plant factory‘. I’m rationing out my compost for my GYO and my dahlias later in the month. I’ve got a good few seedlings on the go but should alright for a little while.

Back to the composter. Inside is a cage to fill with green material. I will probably cut some nettles as they are high in plant nutrients. The composter is then filled with water and the green material allowed to break down. The liquid can then be drained through the tap to then be diluted as a liquid feed. It comes with a convenient storage bottle that slots underneath to keep the concentrate in. It will hopefully give me a convenient, thrifty, sustainable way of creating some extra feed for my plants.

2. Radishes

The raised bed has had its first produce planted. I’m starting with an easy grow with some Cherry Belle radishes that were bought from my work before it closed. Then I’ve sown some globe radish seed direct in the soil. They’ve shown signs of germinating. So should get a harvest of the Cherry Belle radishes followed by the globes. My broad beans are growing in paper pots and they are almost ready to go in as is my lettuce.

3. Tulip alectric

These tulips were planted a couple of years ago and didn’t do much the first year. There were a few last year and then this year they have put on a proper show.

4. Tulip tarda

These were part of a Morrison’s naturalising blend. I’ve tried to shift gradually away from too many bulbs that need replacing each year and looking at bulbs that will naturalise and spread. In part this saves money, but it’s also probably better for the environment not having the transport miles and the wastage in the industry. It’s a very short variety and is getting a bit lost amongst the daffs that are still out. It was listed as flowering late April so it’s growing up under the sealing wax daffodils currently. They may settle into a rhythm next year or they may need moving further forward in the border. They are normally used in rockeries where they will show. I bought the set more for the Muscari and Chinodoxa but these are rather lovely. I’ll be happy if they spread.

5. Toy photography

Not to be outdone by Alice’s photography, Amy is now exploring the world of toy photography. She is looking to take multiple images and stack the photos, so it looks like the tripod and ring flash will be claimed for a while. I quite fancy taking part in the plot on a plate competition from Chelsea Physics garden so that will give her something to photograph. I think Batman on the edge of Alice’s fairy garden works well with the reflection of the blue gems behind.

6. Seagull deterrent

The seagulls seem to be missing their fish and chips during lockdown so they are invading the garden more than normal. I don’t normally mind them eating from the feeders but they’ve broken one and eaten some of my salvia seedlings. So, we are trying to keep them off the patio. They can go on the lawn but don’t want them eating my seedlings before they get a chance to establish.  Alice shouting and armed with a water pistol seems to be working as a good deterrent. The plants also get a bit of water though I can’t get her out of the habit of shooting the flower heads rather than the roots.

I’ve got lots to keep me busy. With the extra time and the mini-greenhouse, a lot of extra seeds have been sown. The weather is meaning the pots all need watering and the less hardy plants still need bringing in on a night. My upcycled seat project needs finishing and still need to keep on top of the rest of the garden. I hope you’re all keeping well.

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Building a raised bed

As part of the RHS course, I need to look at veg production which is currently one of my weakest areas of knowledge. I have grown potatoes as a teacher with classes and I’ve always grown something to eat each year in pots: tomatoes, lettuce, beans, etc. But, for the course, I need to know details such as spacing for various veg. With the state of food shops, it seemed like a good idea to get cracking on growing. It’s also an excuse to remove another section of lawn. I could quite happily change the lawn into a potager but we’ll try just one raised bed for now.

I built this last week before we went on official lockdown starting with a trip out to the builder’s yard. Three boards and a few corner braces and I had the start of the frame. One board was cut in half to make the short sides and then screwed together. It’s just a small bed at about 2m by 1m. But it’s long enough to grow a few different choices. The lawn here is pretty worn so we’re not losing pristine grass.

A layer of card went at the bottom to suppress the grass.

A layer of leaves from the leaf mulch bags went down on top. It’s not as well broken down as I’d like but it should carry on breaking down and adding some nutrition to the bed.

I added the compost and a frame made from two willow trellis panels. The two panels were leant in together and opened to lock into each other in a tent shape.

I sowed dwarf broad beans last week to go up the frame and then I have radishes and lettuce to go in the space. Alongside this, I have a few tomatoes from work to grow in pots and some early potatoes chitting inside. It won’t give us a mass amount of food but the routine of tending to it and watering it will help give some routine during the lockdown and adds another activity to help engage Alice’s attention while she’s off. Wish us luck!

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