The Stuff Weekends Are Made Of (Part 1 of 3); My First Bowhunting Experience

Every year for as long as I can remember my mother’s side of the family has gone to the Vermillion fair. Ever since I moved to the city I have spent less of the weekend at the fair and more of my time at the farm taking in every occasion to enjoy the outdoors. Summer 2012’s fair weekend, I think, has been one of the best to date. This story however cannot be told chronologically but rather divided by subject.
Throughout the winters my imagination is often filled with many things, one of the main ones in 2012 being my recent discovery of archery. My original intention was to use my bow to take a bear in the spring, that plan sadly fell through and I instead used my trusted 30-30 for the occasion. So for this weekend, I treated myself to some small game heads and set my sights on some local gophers at my mother and step-fathers farm. Thursday morning I did some work at the farm for an upcoming shoot, we’ll touch on this later, followed by sighting in my bow’s top pin for twenty meters, the remaining two pins were intended for thirty and forty meters however that’s farther than my bow skills will allow, so they were not sighted for this event. My brother Kyle and I were given a tip that there were some gophers setting up shop in a field east of the house. Just as fast as we had heard, we were off. Me with my bow and my brother with a beautiful German made .22 magnum, he’s not one to do something halfheartedly.

We came to the field and found a lot of gopher holes as well as evidence that a badger had been doing some real-estate development, it is at this point I’m starting to really appreciate Kyle being there, well more accurately I appreciated the .22 magnum and Kyle’s proven marksmanship. The gopher patch was split in two by a patch of trees so, Kyle and I first walked along the southern patch and saw a bit, but nothing we could take a shot at. I then began to walk the northern patch while Kyle retired himself to keep an eye on his south patch from the comfort of his trucks seat with the radio on. I learned early in my walk that twenty meters is pretty close for a guy like me to be able to get to a skittish gopher. I learned quickly that soft, slow steps and smooth slow movement would help get me closer. Finally! I see a gopher in range… I take aim… Thwunk! And a miss… I walk slowly to my arrow, I was close, and that makes me feel a bit better. I stand quietly watching and sure enough a second appears. I shoot again and miss again, I am thinking more practice is in order. I walk sadly over to my arrow in the dirt only to find I broke my game head. I stick it in the dirt fletching up… no sense carrying it around if it’s broken.

 I should mention, at this point in life I was too broke to afford at quiver. A few more minutes pass and I see another gopher, this one I’m not missing, it’s standing looking around, probably wondering what the noise is. I take aim I take a deep breath… I squeeze my release… thwunk and whack… I got him. My feeling of accomplishment rapidly shrinks when I see it’s still barely alive, and crawling down a hole with my arrow. I watch in amazement and disbelief as I witness a 30 inch arrow sink and disappear, like a battleship going down. I walk up slowly only to realize that with its

The Gopher’s Trap For Me

dying breath this gopher set a trap for me. It pulled my arrow down a badger hole! I look inside from a distance, about a foot down the tunnel makes a hard turn that I can’t see past. I can, however, see the last few inches of my arrow sitting there. That red and white fletching taunting and tempting me. I run back and grab my broken arrow out of the dirt and use it to try and fish the arrow out of the hole… its stuck and I can feel it vibrating. I can’t help but wonder if my prey is wounded or being eaten. I don’t like the thought of either. With a firm thrust I stick my broken arrow into the ground to mark the hole… I will get this arrow back. I run back to the truck where Kyle is sitting and enjoying the radio. I, with a bit of laughter, explain the situation.

Luckily for me he at least has a single leather glove in his truck for me to borrow, I would however prefer something along the lines of a pair of falconing gloves and some large tongs. I don’t know much about badgers other than they dig big holes, eat gophers, have sharp teeth and claws, and are not generally known for being friendly. Kyle and I walk back to my broken arrow. Me with my bow him with that 22 magnum, he jabs the barrel down the hole and I take a few deep breaths and reach in, I grab the arrow and it shakes violently, as I pull it out I see the gopher is alive barely he slides and falls off the arrow to his death, I don’t feel too good about that. A quick death is always the goal when hunting anything and gophers are no exception. 

I did however get my first animal with my bow, it was just a little more difficult than I had hoped. After this I went back to the farm to practice on my target more and on Sunday I went out with my bow and some friends and of five of the gophers I shot my bow at, I killed four quickly and humanely, and missed one by mere inches. I learned with a bow that practice is key and so is slow and quiet movement which, I’m sure, will help me practice for deer season.

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Last Chance Buck


Last Chance Buck

Last Chance Buck

It had been a hard couple of years for me on the deer hunting front. There had been a few long cold years, four I think, since I had shot a deer, and I go every year. Last season I had seen only a single eligible deer for my tags. A small doe that my brother had pushed out of the bush for me during a hunting trip near Rocky Mountain House. To this day I am unsure if I cleanly missed the shot or if my .243 Winchester had been slowed down and stopped by the long thick grass in between. All I know is that that little doe haunted me, I hate failure, especially when it related to firearms or hunting. This season I was a little more prepared. I had my new binoculars and a new scope on my gun, if I missed this year I knew it would be my fault. So far I had gone out every chance I got. Including driving an hour and a half each way in the afternoons after my classes at university. Keep in mind I was done school at noon and it was dark out by 4:30pm. I managed to see a whole lot of nothing at all, until the long dark drives home. In my head lights I would see deer crossing the dark snowy roads in herds.
             It was finally coming down to the wire, I had one weekend left. On the Friday morning I drove out to my mother and step-fathers house, where I met up with my brother and hunting we went, and I did not see a thing. He however, managed to shoot a running coyote, I guess he wouldn’t starve if it ever came down to it. Throughout the next two days I put on a lot of miles walking, and got some pretty cold appendages sitting on bales and waiting at the edge of various fields, again, to no avail. I did however manage to spot several coyotes, take and miss a shot at one, not the best for a person’s confidence I must say. On Saturday afternoon I went to Troy’s house where I had shot my bear and my last deer. His land is rumored to be littered with deer and I had no reason to doubt his word. He dropped me off on a nice wide cut-line and told me to walk to the end and guaranteed I would see something, I saw a whole lot of snow. That evening after legal light, of course, we saw quite a few deer, not that that gains us a whole lot but, sometimes it’s just nice to know they still exist. That evening I drove back to my mother’s house to be ready for another hunt in the morning, I may have been rattled but I wasn’t giving up that easy.
            Sunday morning came and I was that lovely special kind of tired that you only get from sleeping in someone else’s spare room in an unfamiliar bed, no matter, I had some breakfast, suited up, and headed out. I walked along a large familiar loop around the property, at the farthest point from the house, the north end, I went a little further north across a frozen swamp and up a bank to a plateau where my brother and I had spotted deer tracks on Friday. I slowly crept up the bank and across the small plateau at the top. Suddenly a coyote about 50 yards away took off trotting away from me at an angle, I took aim, squeezed the trigger and missed, it slightly changed directions, I ran the bolt on instinct and muscle memory, I lined up another shot and was able to miss again. This clearly wasn’t my weekend… or the coyotes here are special. It was at this point I decided to walk back to the house and double check that my rifle was sighted in. As I wandered into the yard with what I’m sure was a disheartened look on my face that resembled a pouting toddler. I ran into my step-dad who was in his garage doing… I’m not sure what he does in there most of the time. Naturally I regaled him with my tale of the day and ended on the note of “maybe this hunting just isn’t my thing.” To which he replied “no, I miss those coyotes all the time too and I have no idea why. You’re not doing anything wrong that’s just how hunting is sometimes.” The more I think about it the more he had a point, that’s the point of hunting, no guarantees just luck that can be swayed with a bit of skill and hard work. That being said I still opted to fire a few rounds at our 100 yard target just to be sure. Sure enough it was bang on, I’m still not sure how I feel about that. It’s nice to know your equipment works but it hurts to learn that you don’t.
            I then walked off into the fields my ambitions now set a touch lower. I just wanted to see a deer, some validation that they exist and move during the day. I walked far across a field east of the house hugging the tree line and trudging through snow the whole way and curved back north and followed a path someone had plowed with a tractor. The weather had been chilly with wind but it died down once I exited the field and entered a beautiful wooded pathway. The snow was falling now, nice heavy flakes, it was picturesque which reminded me… I didn’t bring my camera. As I wandered back along the path I heard a commotion in the trees and saw a familiar flash headed away, a white tail deer and it was gone, but I did see it so mission accomplished… I guess. Visibility was poor but the weather was warm so the walk didn’t seem so bad. Suddenly off in the distance just beyond clear vision I saw something. It was low, sleek and black. I could barely make it out but it was big, about the size of a Rottweiler with a long bushy tail and walked like a cat crouched and stalking. Having a cougar tag in my pack I immediately thought that’s what I saw. My heart pounded as I watched this creature walk three quarters of the way across the trail then half way back it looked like a house cat sniffing around then it disappeared. This sighting lasted maybe a few seconds, not even time enough to get my binoculars up. The safety of my rifle immediately and instinctively turned off. I walked slowly with the rifle shouldered and all my senses in overdrive. I slowly walked towards where it crossed with my eyes firmly fixed on the trees where it had disappeared. As I got to where it crossed I could not find any tracks in the snow. To this day I do not know what I saw, it was too big to be a marten or a fisher, too dark to be a cougar, and it was too cold out to be a small bear, plus it had a tail, and since I did not find tracks I cannot discount the possibility of me going insane. But I suppose some things are just mysteries. I continued travelling west and passed north of the farm house. As I walked from one field to the next I froze in the gate way, there it was, a beautiful buck but he was far away. I guessed he was close to 400 yards out, not a shot I’m willing to take, especially with my shooting lately. I pull up my binoculars and watch him, he looked big, but they all do when you’re excited. He looked away and I start walking towards him hoping to move in closer, he turned back looked at me and casually strolled, as though he did not have a care in the world, into the nearby trees at the edge of a swamp. I anxiously walked over to his tracks and followed where he went into the bushes, it’s a maze of deer tracks in there and I quickly lost his trail, he was long gone in who knows what direction. I slowly walked the rest of the way to the house watching in case he doubled back. I get to the house and grab a quick snack and quickly devise a plan for the remaining daylight. I grabbed an old blanket, for insulation, and walked back out to the field where I had seen that buck. I sat atop the blanket leaning against a lone tree in the field along a hillside that overlooks the trees and the pond the deer had run into only a few hours earlier, my hope was he would return. I sat under the tree staring at the steep hillside on the opposite side of the pond hoping for excitement and waiting for sunset. When suddenly I saw movement along the hillside. I could barely make it out with all the brown brush growing on the hill but through my binoculars I could see it was a buck! That’s it, this is the one, he’s coming home with me the catch is he’s pretty far away my guess was between 300 and 400 yards away. I get up and move toward him, my hope is to get through the trees and make the shot from on the frozen pond. I barely made it to the edge of the field and realized I would not make it in time, I have got to try from here. I sat flat on my behind and propped my elbows on my knees for stability, I can still feel the cold wet snow working its way into the back of my hunting clothes. I take aim, just behind the shoulder, I’m sure he’s 300 yards out so I aim just slightly high of center, I take a deep breath to steady myself and squeeze the trigger. With a loud bang the buck breaks into a full sprint, I’m sure that I missed but I keep watching him through my scope, to the day I die I will never forget this sight. He ran to the top of the hill behind a patch of trees and out the other side I thought he was gone but then he collapsed, got back up just as fast, only to fall again, to get back up, and fall again, this time down the hill with three perfect cart wheels and landing into a fence.  I immediately called the house and ask Darrell to come out with his truck and help me get the deer to the house, luckily for me he said yes. I then walked around the pond, despite being frozen I was not about to trust walking on it. I get to the deer to find it had fallen into the fence post antlers first and it had a broken tine, I assume these two incidents are related but I searched and failed find the broken tine anywhere.

Taken on the hillside (note how big bodied he is, photo taken with a cell phone)

The truck arrived and we drug that big bodied buck about 30 yards up a steep hill and into the box of the truck and back to the house to be skinned. I was later told, by Darrell who had previously ranged all the fields that my shot was around 220 yards. While skinning I discovered that my shot, possibly more luck than skill, but I’ll never admit that, had passed through the top two ventricles of the heart, about as good of a shot as I could hope for. To myself I refer to this deer as “the last chance buck” because well, not only did I get it on the last day of my last weekend for hunting that year, but before I had got it, it was a hard couple of years as far as deer hunting goes and I was starting to doubt if I could or should continue doing it. This buck appeared exactly when I needed it to, to preserve my love of hunting, lucky for me and thanks to this buck my hunting addiction still remains and is probably stronger than ever.

A final photo of the antlers showing the broken tine on its right (our left)

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Fiji Time

            Following a chain of interesting and obscure events that I still don’t fully understand, my girlfriend and I found ourselves backpacking across Fiji in June of 2011. It’s a delightful little country filled with friendly people, all of whom can spot two tall white tourists a mile away and are often willing to try and sell them something. We spent most of our time on the main island traveling from town to town via the local bus system and taxis, both of which made me question whether or not Fiji has any form of automotive inspection standards before deeming them “road worthy” the only indication I had of which side of the road is the proper side to drive on was that the steering wheels are located on the right hand side.
            In the capital city of Suva we wandered the streets to the local markets and to the mall and along the way I saw inspiration. We passed a run down but well stocked fishing shop. I immediately went inside the store was poorly lit with flickering fluorescent bulbs and all the plastic packages had a healthy coating of dust on them. The whole store reminded me of that back corner of gas stations or hardware stores in small towns that have those few basic hooks displayed on cheap peg board and thoroughly coated in dust waiting for a passerby who has forgotten his lures at home or a small child who sees one he thinks will work, I vividly remember being such a child and suddenly felt like one again. I was surprised that most of the hooks on the shelves were the same as the ones I would use for freshwater at home. I guess I expected them to be a little more… exotic or something, but then again why mess with a classic? It was at this time that I decided I wanted to try fishing while I was there, however the workers in the shop were not able to guide me towards someone to take me. Perhaps that’s not a common request or it may have just been too great of a language barrier but, oh well, I was there for a few more weeks I was sure an opportunity would present itself eventually… hopefully… I would hate to come all this way and not go fishing while I was there. We then left the shop and found a movie theater and decided it had been a while since we had sat down and watched a movie especially on in a theater and it had air conditioning so it was not a hard sell. After the movie had ended I thought we were being kidnapped… Maybe I should explain… Allow me to explain…
            We went into the theater at about five pm and the movie ended around seven pm and Fiji being so close to the equator it gets dark at about six pm. Despite all the locals so far being friendly we were clearly out of place foreigners in a strange city, at night, so we opted to take a taxi back to our hostel, it was only about eight blocks away: four east and four north. We flagged down a taxi and jumped in, this particular cab was in some serious disrepair, I have driven some horrible cars in my life, I was a student for many years, but this one was making noises I had never heard before. We told him to take us to our hotel called “Coral Coast Hotels” or something along those lines, my memory of the name eludes me. The taxi took off with a broken exhaust rumble and screeched a u-turn now taking us west on the main road, I immediately start to panic but did not want to say anything because I was not fully sure what was going on, Erin at this time had not noticed we were going the wrong direction. Suddenly we were taken down a series of confusing back roads at high speeds while to driver talked furiously fast on his blue tooth head set in a language we don’t understand. It is at this point I started to look for a soft piece of ditch to bail out onto and pull Erin with me but sadly it seems the whole city was paved. Eventually the car slammed to a halt as my nervous perspiration soaked the seat below me and thinking of it now that seat was kind of gross to begin with… The dust settled in the glow of the headlights and the driver turned around to see a terrified look on my face for a split second before I saw the sign reading “Coral Coast Apartments” I was quite relieved to say the least. I explained the confusion. The driver then laughed and drove off like a madman to our hostel, I guess that’s just how he drives and I’m just a little paranoid.            Later in our trip we decided to spend some time on a small hostel on the island of Nananu-I-Ra. To get there we were dropped off on the main road to walk a few kilometers with all our gear down a scenic gravel road lined with sugar cane fields. Naturally I “enthused” Erin with my “impressive” knowledge of sugar farming’s impact on history. We eventually arrived at the end of a road at a little marina, where no one knew who we were or why we were there, but many people offered to drive us out to the island, we opted to wait for the hostels boat to come to us just to be slightly safer. Eventually they got there to pick us up. I feel it is important to mention that in Fiji they have an expression “Fiji time.” And it seems it can only be said with a smile, and it refers to the idea that no one in Fiji really takes the concept of time too seriously, it was both refreshing and a little frustrating. Our mode of transportation arrived in the form a small and questionable boat to take us 1.5kms across what I would consider open ocean, although an experience sea farer might not consider it that. We arrived at one of only two resorts on the island and were greeted by a few staff members who informed us that there weren’t enough guests to justify opening the kitchen. In fact we were

I wonder what it’s story is

the only guests at the aged hotel and to my knowledge that was the last we really saw of the staff. Believe me when I tell you very few things feel as creepy and haunted as being seemingly the only people at an island hotel. Luckily we brought our own food with us for just such an instance. On our way to the room I noticed a large amount of what my prairie eyes recognized as gopher holes, I immediately realized how unrealistic it was that there would be gophers on a secluded Fijian island. The next morning after an evening of tourists vs. a rather large cockroach, I found myself awake before Erin. I stood quietly looking out the window in amazement, there were dozens of ghostly white crabs coming out of the holes in the ground, and they were skittish, as soon as I would make the slightest noise they were gone. We then went about walking and exploring on the island, mainly to look for other people or signs of life on the island. We made our way to the other hotel and found there was a group of about five Germans and that’s about it. We then got down to the reason we came there, the guide book had told us of great scuba diving and only one scuba guide named Papoo. We gave him a call and he agreed to meet us the next day at 8 am at our hotels dock, we promptly spent the rest of the day basking in the warm sun and further exploring the nearly deserted island.

            Papoo arrived the promptly at 8:47am the next morning. He arrived in an aged white boat with a sporty red stripe down the side. Papoo was a large man not as tall as me but certainly tall for a Fijian and appeared quite well fed compared to the other locals I had seen so far, he had a broad friendly smile
Waiting for the boat

boasting bright white teeth and long frizzy hair in a bit of a natural afro, and he certainly was talkative, loud, and friendly, I liked him immediately. He was accompanied by his wife and young son. The plan was simple, he was going to teach me to scuba dive briefly and give Erin a refresher course at the same time as it had been a while since her scuba certification. He took us to a nice sloped beach with a short stone retaining wall holding back lush green grass, atop this grass were various huts clearly modern and a bit of a hotel gimmick which is often seen in this part of the world. The resort in front of us had been shut down for a few years according to Papoo. He explained the basic in and outs of scuba and had us suited up and swimming in no time. We swam for maybe 15 or 20 minutes but it was amazing to see such a colourful array of fish around the seaweed and across the clean sand. We were

Erin beside Papoo’s boat

then give snacks, the food around Fiji I found was not particularly good but, this was amazing and just what I needed; digestive cookies and a cool chocolate flavored drink, it reminded me almost of a chocolate version of iced tea, it was far better tasting that what you are imagining right now trust me, and it was just what I needed at the time. He drove us slowly back towards our resort while we discussed to possibility of a longer deeper dive the following day. It was during this time that I noticed a large classic red and white Rapala in the cup holder of his boat, Papoo just went up another notch in my book. I immediately asked him if the fishing was good and if he would be willing to take us out. He naturally jumped at the idea, as did I. He offered us a reasonably priced package deal for a dive and an afternoon of fishing for the following day. We accepted and he dropped us off at our dock and said he would be back at eight am the following day to take us out for our adventure. Much like a child on Christmas Eve, I did not sleep much that night.

            The next morning Papoo arrived at 8:25am and our day began. He drove the boat to the edge of the reef where his son jumped out and after some searching tethered the boat to a hook sunk in the reef, I didn’t see much for landmarks or GPS on the boat so I’m not really sure how he found that spot. We then got suited up and he explained that I would fall backwards off the side of the boat and he and Erin would meet me in the water, I really didn’t want to go first but I wasn’t about to look like a sissy in front of him or Erin so I rolled in what can only be described as poor form and waited for what felt like a long time. Naturally in my youth I had seen the film JAWS far too many times and was not super comfortable with swimming in the ocean but I did my best to remain calm. Eventually Erin and Papoo were in the water too. He signaled and we began our descent along the edge of the reef. I don’t know how far down we went but it felt like it took a long time. This moment marks one of the most terrifying and surreal moments of my life, the three of us were spaced far enough apart that I couldn’t see them, as I did not have my glasses on. As I slowly descended, there was a solid cliff wall behind me and it stretched as far as I could see in every direction, including up. Ahead of me was the open ocean, a seemingly endless abyss of empty blue space it’s hard to put into words but I felt trapped in a sense that I could go as far as I want in any direction and not go anywhere almost like purgatory. Eventually we reached a nice sandy bottom I never thought I would be relieved to be at the bottom of an ocean but it happened. We then swam through an opening in the reef and found ourselves in a beautiful abyss of sea life comprised of plants and fish of the most beautiful colours. We made our way around the reef in what I hope and assume was a route planned by Papoo that led us through some long, dark, and what I found to be frightening caves that you would have a hard time fitting a modern television through. Along the way Papoo would point out fish and make gestures to us to ensure we were ok and not running out of air, I kept a very close eye on my air pressure gauge. As all was well with our gear we gave him the thumbs up. Papoo replied with a slow broad clapping of his hands with his fingers wide apart, he
Me with a barracuda

then interlocked his fingers and rested them on his stomach and gracefully swam powered by his feet, even with a respirator on him I could see his smirk, this was a man who was completely content at that moment in his life. In a path my mind could not grasp we eventually made our way back to the boat with what I consider to be the experience of a lifetime behind us in the reef. Now it was time to do what I wanted. Our guide pulled out two stout rods with sizable crank bait lures on them. We began trolling along the edge of the reef making full use of all 85hp the engine had. It seemed to me that we were going pretty fast for catching fish but I have never fished salt water before. Sure enough within minutes of setting out I had a fish on the line. The heavy rod bent ever so slightly and I could feel the fight on the other end of the line I reeled and reeled the fight felt like a large and angry northern pike, a species with which I am very familiar. I eventually brought in a long, thin, sleek and silver fish with long narrow crooked teeth that resembled tooth picks. The

guide then informed me of the obvious, this was a small barracuda, I was ecstatic. We then began trolling again and Erin was now on deck for the next catch, we trolled for what felt like an eternity. The whole way Papoo was laughing and yelling something along the lines of “COME ON! WE NEED A TUNA!” eventually we hooked something and I felt the boat slow down. The engines were shut off, Erin was handed the rod and we were going live! That poor girl could barely spin the reel, it was the strangest sight to me, and she’s not a weak woman by any means. After a few minutes of giving it all she

Me with foul hooked silver trevally
had Papoo started to help… and then eventually took over… and then handed the rod to me. I sat on the side of the boat and propped by feet against the back and started reeling. I would lean back as hard as I could and quickly reel in the slack as I leaned forward, this is to this day hands down the hardest fight I have ever gotten from a fish, for a few minutes I was sure I hooked the reef or was about to pull the drain plug out of the pacific ocean. Eventually I saw a small fin break the surface of the ocean. I was relieved to see that I was pulling in a fish and not an old sunken boat. I eventually brought the fish to the boat and Papoo was kind enough to lift it in for me. I saw on the end of my line a large tall-bodied fish with a hook stuck in its side. Both the shape of the fish and the foul hooking contributed to the difficulty in pulling in the fish. Papoo was kind enough to explain as I am very unfamiliar with the fish of the area, and based on how many types I had seen scuba diving, I question if anyone could know even half of them. I was told it was a silver trevally.

 Our fishing time was now over but Papoo with

Lunch being cooked

classic Fijian hospitality invited us to lunch. With great curiosity I agreed. Our guide then brought the boat back to the abandoned resort where we had our scuba lessons the day before. Papoo, his wife, and his son promptly began gathering twigs, sticks, branches. They then built a small fire and tossed the silver trevally on top.  Once it looked nice and burnt on the outside it was placed onto some large leaves and set on a conveniently left behind picnic table. Coconuts were cracked open and we were shown how to eat lunch “Fiji style” simply rip a piece of fish off the side dunk it in the coconut milk and

Best shore lunch I have ever had

enjoy, or for added fun put some fish on a piece of coconut rind and enjoy. Despite looking a little burnt the fish was cooked to perfection on the inside and I still consider this one of the best meals of my life, based on the taste, the scenery, and the company.


Posted in Fishing, Travelwith 2 comments.


Hey! My name is Tyson Sommerville. I’ve created this blog to share my love of the outdoors. I will be posting hunting, fishing, hiking, and travel photos, stories, and some videos for you all to enjoy. Please feel free to comment with suggestions and questions and if you enjoy it share it with your friends, otherwise it’ll just be my mom who follows my blog… Hi Mom!

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