Every autumn for the past four years I’ve been on tour. We (in the biz, you know) talk about fall and spring as the best, sometimes only, times to tour – the roads are safe, people aren’t too hot or too cold to venture out of their homes and/or into a venue, and generally audiences and media aren’t on holiday.

It’s a good time to do it, for those reasons, but also, as far as Eastern Canada goes, for the views, all reds and oranges and yellows, changing as we watch it seems. My tour mates Hilary Grist and Mike Southworth were a dream to travel with. Nothing broke or got lost, we laughed a lot and I loved getting to hear Hil’s songs each night (singing along on a couple, too.)

Utopia
Hil and I, roadside, in small town Ontario.

We officially dubbed our tour “The Battle of the Ballads” as Hils and I each have numerous ballads, but unofficially it was called the “Shouting From the Backseat” tour as I, for the first time ever, was not one of the drivers and often offered my thoughts, and snacks, from my domain in the back of the Chevy Malibu.

It felt to me like the last tour for The Living Record. It’s been two years since that came out and I was able to tour it in a way I hadn’t with any previous album – tirelessly – and in a way I’d always wanted to. But now with the next album being recorded in January (yee!) I’m ready to have new conversations, to tell new stories.

I think.

I hope?

I’m at the bend in the album-cycle road where I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen next. I’m not entirely sure which combination of songs the new album will carry (note to self: decide!) or just what we’ll cook up in the studio.

Oh, by the way, I’m THRILLED to be making the album with Steve Dawson. I’ll be heading to the new Henhouse Studio in Nashville and carting John Dymond and Gary Craig down from Toronto to form the band (squee!). So whatever we DO get up to is going to sound great with these lads.

On this tour I played a couple of the new songs – Lovely Like You and Alone in This – prefacing them with an intro that this new record is set to be my country album. We WILL be recording in Nashville after all, and a number of the songs stem from separation, which is highly conducive to the genre of course. I’m still crooning over my piano like I’m spot-lit on a cabaret corner stage somewhere, so these things are relative and we’ll see how country I get.

And that’s the point – we’ll see. I learned a lot putting The Living Record out into the world and I hope this new record will continue to take me out on the road and into your ears and hearts as ever. But until it’s done, I’m going to step back from touring, get myself a sense of the big picture, and plan my next bold move.

Christa Couture Musideum Toronto
Moi at Musideum, Toronto. Photo by Susan Kendal-Urbach.

Maps. Charts. Schedules. Spreadsheets. Now’s the time for plotting and creating.

I’m so grateful I’ve been able to play as many shows as I have these past two years and this last batch seem almost dreamlike these couple weeks later. But to each of the towns, cities, we played in, let me tell you this:

  • Sudbury, you were the first feel of plastic keys and disbelieved you could ever adjust (ah, but you did!).
  • Utopia, you conjured old Friday night dances and sent us home with leftovers.
  • Chatham, you were a wiry, patchy, friendly cat and a need to buy winter gloves.
  • Ingersoll, your incredibly warm faces were a reminder of how good it can get.
  • Barrie, you landed on hard anniversaries but crossed paths with a piano man who you couldn’t help but follow.
  • Owen Sound, you were an old friend and a really good juice bar to battle a cold.
  • Peterborough, you were unexpectedly perfect with your sing-alongs and uke-instrumentals.
  • Kemptville, you were 95% familiar faces, a lucky, lucky stat.
  • Montreal, you were the best croissants and need be nothing more.
  • Ottawa, your heart couldn’t get bigger.
  • Moncton, you were dance classes down the hall and refuge from cold, dark rain.
  • St. John, you were spiral staircases and cloud-like pillows.
  • Fredericton, you almost didn’t make it but I’m so glad we all rallied to pull it off. I like you a lot.
  • Bedford, you were top notch and topped that off with cranberry liqueur (Ironworks Distillery from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia – a delightful discovery.)
  • Halifax, we laughed a little too hard but we were just so tired.
  • Toronto, you were home and I was so glad to come back to you.

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The fishy street lamp art of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, where we wandered happily on a day off.

And now back to it. Back to culling this long list of songs, finishing the ones I can, leaving behind the ones I can’t force, keeping my hands and my voice in shape, sleeping, eating, doodling and noodling.

The working title for the new album is Zookeeper. I must tend to the beasts.

xoc

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Fave new t-shirt.

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After taking a few months off from performing, recording, being Music-y, this show is getting back on the road!

It’s been six years since the delightful Hilary Grist and I first/last toured together – she and Sara Ciantar and I wove in and around BC one November – and we decided to partner up again and, this time, head East.

Hilary has just released the fantastic album Come & Go and I’m delighted to be part of her bringing that goodness to Ontario, Quebec and The Maritimes.

See you there!

TOUR DATES
Thu Oct 2: Sudbury, ON @ Fromagerie Elgin
Fri Oct 3: Utopia, ON @ Utopia Hall
Sat Oct 4: Chatham, ON @ Left Wing Gallery
Sun Oct 5: Ingersoll, ON @ Stonecroft Folk
Tue Oct 7: Barrie, ON @ Clarkson’s
Wed Oct 8: Owen Sound, ON @ Mossy Gatherings at River Café
Thu Oct 9: Peterborough, ON @ The Garnet
Fri Oct 10: Wakefield, QC @ Blacksheep Inn **just Hilary
Sat Oct 11: Kemptville, ON @ The Branch
Sun Oct 12: Montreal, QC @ Le Cagibi w/ Claire Morrison
Oct 16-19: Folk Music Ontario Conference – see y’all folkies there!
Tue Oct 21: Ottawa, ON @ Private House Concert
Thu Oct 23: Moncton, NB @ Café Aberdeen
Fri Oct 24: St John, NB @ Homeport Homestages
Sat Oct 25: Fredericton, NB @ Landsdowne House Concert
Sun Oct 26: Bedford, NS @ House Concert
Tue Oct 28: Halifax, NS @ The Company House w/Lindsay Duncan
Sat Nov 1: Port Hope, ON @ The Capitol, Songs of Johnny Cash
Tue Nov 4: Toronto, ON @ Musideum

It’s been a couple years since we recorded The Living Record at The Warehouse in Vancouver, but at the time the marvelous Kate Kroll came an filmed us recording “Sing For Me.” (Kate also directed the video for “Pirate Jenny and The Storm.”)

She has since brilliantly cut this together and I love seeing all our very hard-at-work faces. What a wonderful time it was, making that album.

I have said on occasion that I don’t write songs, I just sing them. Which is to say that when the muse comes, when together we are at our best, that’s what it feels like – like a song I suddenly remembered, and maybe always knew.

I was standing at a bus stop in Berlin, in Charlottenberg, when I first sang the first verse to “Parasite.” I quickly and quietly recorded it into my phone (trying to look like I was just talking)  and when I played it back months later, was reminded of that favourite city of mine as a German ambulance siren rings through the voice memo in the background.

Those months later I was at The Hill House in Michigan during a residency I pursued with the interest of sorting through the songs that would become “The Living Record.”  It was just two verses that had come at the Berlin bus stop and there in the upper penninsula where the rest of the song made itself known.

When I played it for my partner he pointed out the inaccuracy of the word “parasite” and I had my own mini Alanis “ironic” moment in defending my artistic licence. For the months until we recorded it, I kept in the back of my mind the thought of replacing the word, but another never came. Indeed in this song, what plauges me (er, the protaganist) has not convinced the host of its own interests, it is rather a fight against the thoughts that won’t let up, the fight against the impossible question “what if.”

But the word stayed.

What didn’t stay was the original tempo. When composed it was much slower, in mind I imagined the final product would be darker, heavier. When Steve Dawson and I were in pre-production for the album his imagination led elsewhere and I followed – the outcome of which is the much more uptempo version on the album.

I love how it turned out.

Often people have said of that album, “The Living Record,” that for lyrics and themes that are darker, heavier, it is musically remarkably upbeat. Well, yes. I don’t think these ideas need to be hammered too hard, I think that a lot of the experiences chronicled on that album are complex – and the contrast reflects that – and I think stories in songs are worth digging for.

When it came to making the video I was lucky to be part of APTN’s First Tracks program which has, for the past few years, employed Big Soul Productions to produce five music videos per year for Indigenous artists. They brought director Adam Garnet Jones on board and over lunch I got to hear the visual ideas the song inspired in him. It always feels a kind of gift to have another artist create work sparked from your own.

(here’s Adam and I on set in what I liked to call our “mad Cowichan disease” matching-ness):

cowichan

Finding beauty in struggle became the theme and let me tell you, singing that song in double time (due to filming 48fps) while inhaling the bits of feather-down being blown in my face did not feel beautiful at the time. But all in a day’s work.

We filmed the video in November 2012, through the night in the cold, cavernous space belonging to the Toronto School of Circus Arts, beginning with the aerialists’ set up:

christa couture parasite video aerialists

Meanwhile, the lovely and talented Rachelle Whitewind attended to my hair and make up:

christa couture parasite make up by Rachelle Whitewind

In an ochre dress my dear friend Susan Kendal-Urbach MADE for the shoot.  It was handy that my bosom buddy was hired as cosutme designer – I couldn’t have trusted many other people to hold the tulle skirt in place, so as to avoid flashing the crew, when fans whipped up the “falling”:

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(and I got to keep the sweet belt she found at Anthropologie. Score.)

Fans played a major part in all the scenes – most of the time to blow sundry items at my face while I lip-synced. The bubbles were easy. The feathers, as mentioned, went up my nose.

christa couture parasite feathers

And the amazing art crew had to sweep it all up between takes to blow across the frame once more:

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They were a killer crew.

Adam and editor Jay Brant got to work and in March 2013 it was locked and ready. And then we waited. And waited.

APTN had legal dibs on broadcast – other than when I worked with a label on my first album in 2005 it was the first time I’ve not completely owned the rights to something connected to my work. Indeed I left the label for many reasons – that I like being in control of such things being one of them.

But First Tracks – which I think is an awesome series and has made a handful of wicked videos – is what “Parasite” belonged to and we were at the mercy of their scheduling. Except the scheduling never came and eventually APTN decided not to broadcast any of this particular batch of First Tracks videos.

Which is too bad.

But it meant that finally I could share this with everyone. Like you.

And so, from a bus stop in Berlin, to circus school rafters in Toronto, “Parasite”, the official video:

A few weeks ago in Berlin I spent an afternoon with my friend Henry’s piano. I meant to be practising, but instead I wrote this little ditty for the afternoon.

Oh magnolia call me spring
Call me anything
And if you know the names of things
speak them now before the bell rings

Paper always tastes the same
No matter what words grace the pages

Oh magnolia show your light
Keep it on and keep it bright
’cause it gets cold here still at night
Where pianos come in black and white

Where paper always tastes the same
No matter what words grace the pages

Oh magnolia call me spring
Call me anything

It’s no secret I’m an amputee, though it’s not something that comes up often. In the past few months people have said to me “you never talk about it” meaning I don’t write about it here, or in songs.

But I did! That’s the first album people, or a chunk of it – the telling of and reflecting on my experience with Ewing’s Sarcoma when I was 11, and living with disability since then, after the amputation of my left leg above the knee was the cure for that cancer. That was the press release in 2005 for “Fell Out of Oz”, that was the interview on Sounds Like Canada, that was the misinterpreted information when a listener called my label at the time and asked how I could play guitar with no limbs…

Two more albums down the road I’ve moved on to talk and write about other experiences.

But it’s no secret.

Some people notice I walk a little differently, especially on “bad” days (i.e. when I’m tired, have been walking a lot, or my prosthesis just isn’t fitting quite right) where my gait is more affected than others. Most often it comes up on stairs, which historically I’ve climbed and descended one at a time. “What did you do to your leg?” “Did you hurt yourself?” After 22 years of those questions I actually sometimes am still confused by the question, thinking some part of me must be dripping blood or something to suggest injury. “Oh! No I’m not hurt. This is just how I walk.” I don’t mind the question, I do sometimes forget why it’s asked. I’m used to this body.

The answer “I’m an amputee” doesn’t always click for people. Sometimes I dumb it down, “I have a fake leg.” Sometimes I pull up whatever I’m wearing and point to the foam and nylon cover, “see?”

While my sometimes lopsided stance is not a result of injury, I have lived with a lot of pain over the years, mostly skin breakdown. I would reach a point on most days where the socket of my prosthesis would break my skin, meaning each weight bearing step would be digging into sores. The less I could weight bear on the left the more work my right knee has taken on. By my early 20s I’d already had a a tear in the medial meniscus and since have accepted that my one knee was going to get worn out long before the rest of me.

Oh well. I would ride it out as long as I could.

I came home from my first European tour a year ago in physical agony, having to admit I’d crossed the threshold of pushing-my-limits into going-too-far. I considered that touring like that might just not be in the cards. Shit.

Once the thought “this is too hard” crossed my mind, “can it be different?” followed.

It’s a simple question, but it hadn’t occurred to me, in relation to my leg/disability, before. “It HAS to be” settled in my mind not out of determination but desperation. I just couldn’t live with it anymore. I went to my clinic and demanded three things:

  1. a height adjustable foot, which was actually a purely aesthetic request but after 22 years in completely flat shoes I saw an amputee with heels and knew I wanted that option too.
  2. a new socket that wasn’t going to cause me pain.
  3. the chance to try a microprocessor knee.

 

Boom. #3 is the crux of this tale. Wait for it.

Quickly (err, Couture? You’re not one for brevity…) I’ll tell you that #1 was enormously fun, mostly when it came to my FAVOURITE shoe designer, Mr. John Fluevog:

 

As for #2, after using a suction socket for the last 10+ years, I switched to a gel liner and I will spare you the technical, gory details but it’s no exaggeration to say that this shift alone changed my life. CHANGED IT. For the first time in my one-legged life I walked for hours, and when I reached my limit it was because my right leg and muscles were tired, not because I had open wounds on my left leg. WIN. I even started to walk, wait for it … for fun. FUN.

And the knee, WELL.

For almost 15 years I’d heard of microprocessor knees, of the benefits first and foremost, and of the cost – namely exorbitant and not covered by healthcare. Because of the latter I filed it under “not available to me” (a list that includes things like “smooch David Bowie” and “see the effing 3D Magic Eye image for once”).

Then I met a congenital amputee who described trying a C-Leg (which is a microprocessor knee. I know, I know, the “leg” part confuses things) as the closest experience to what she imagined having two legs was like.

And THAT was intriguing.

At this point, I didn’t think I remembered what it was like to have two legs when more of my life – my entire adult life – has been lived on one. That the first 13 years were travelled on two legs had drifted into blurry, forgotten childhood moments.

Which is not to say I didn’t and don’t miss that. I decided I wanted to find out if the C-Leg could engage my imagination.

In fact, it illuminated memory. One of the benefits of these knees is the ability to go down stairs step-over-step. The first time I stood at the top of the 5-step “staircase” at the physio clinic, my physio therapist holding onto my arm, all I could say was “I don’t believe you” to her while she said, “just try it.”

I went down the 5 stairs step-over-step and a light switched on. I remembered. I remembered ease, I remembered automatic.

I was hooked.

But I was also hooped. The knee remained out of my grasp financially, and after a month of getting to trial the C-Leg I had to return it to the manufacturer. The day in January that my prosthetist was switching my knee back to my ol’ 3R60, I posted this to Facebook:

Christa Couture at prosthetic clinic

This past month I’ve spent a lot time at my physio and prosthetic clinics while getting to trial the “c-leg,” a micro-processor knee. The un/learning curve has been steep and at first really challenging. But then so much fun.

Today I have to give the knee back. I feel like I’m about to turn into a pumpkin.

‘Cause, you know, I’m one for the sharing and documenting. I did not expect the outpouring of support that occurred, a response that lead to this –

– and the launch of cc-kneeraiser.org, spearheaded entirely by my dearest of dear friends Susan, and pulled off with the time and efforts of many other dear friends. Getting it off the ground was the work of Susan, Shawn at Virtuous Giant (and IgnitionDeck) and Lisa and John at Paperny Entertainment.

But it takes a village. I didn’t even know I HAD a village. I knew my neighbours as it were, but holy smokes, a whole city of people made the kneeraiser a success.

In three days we raised our first goal of $15,000. On the last day of the campaign we tipped over our stretch goal of $25,000.

What had been my initial hesitation around launching – beyond the layered feelings of asking for support, and what money can complicate, which is a different story than this one – was that while I don’t hide that I’m an amputee, I’ve never wanted to sensationalize it. I worried that fundraising for a new knee might create an unwelcome spectacle, that I would become less known as a writer-singer-type and more as that-chick-with-one-leg. My friend Wes fairly pointed out “but you ARE a chick with one leg” and I am so grateful that the experience, the response, from within my community and the reach the campaign exceeded, and from the media, only integrated that fact. It never felt that it became about That One Thing, it was only ever about community, support, and change. Phewf.

In the meantime I started to try other microprocessor knees – the Genium and the RHEO – and spent a lot of time with my INCREDIBLE physio therapist Linda, and doing my best to test the knees in as many settings as possible. I took the RHEO on my last European tour – those cobblestoned streets and the lack of elevators make for very good challenges – and ultimately decided it was the one for me.

Why did I pick the RHEO? I had ruled out the Genium for being too big and heavy. The choice came down to the fact that the C-Leg’s default is resistance, and the RHEO’s default is free-swing and that that difference was most noticeable to me on stage. I felt that while I had to adapt to the C-Leg since it’s completely consistent, I could make the RHEO adapt to me – it has the potential to be variable, once you learn how to use it.

And I’m learning. And I love it.

And this week I’m writing a cheque to buy it.

248 people contributed, 19 artists donated work as “perks” for the campaign, thousands of people watched the video, shared, “liked” and spread the word.

“You must feel so loved” a number of people have commented. And I do. Mostly I feel loved by Susan because she has spent countless hours for the past three months managing every detail of this campaign. I also feel especially loved by Eddie and Natatlie who put in a week of their lives, and a night in their home, for the delectable, delightful house concert and celebration at the end of the kneeraiser. Also Barber Prosthetics, who gave me enormous time, skill, patience and thought while I went through the decision making process – above and beyond BP!

But yes. By every person who was moved to give what they could and to spread the word I feel so taken care of.

It’s changed my life.

And that’s no secret.

Christa Couture in Lynn Canyon

 

What can I tell you? It would be in a way repetitive to regale the shows that were GREAT. The ones where we all felt less lonely.

You were there. You KNOW.

But I will add these things about each city/town I played in on the autumn tour, about these Canadian, Dutch, German, and English travels, where we met, where we touched and circled each other, where we wondered, where we danced, where we asked “why?” and “why not?” not of the gigs necessarily, but of that day, that time, of the fact that what we do together is so much more than my songs and you being there.

These are the places I played, and a few of the things I’ll remember:

In Port Alberni, I was told “you’ve lived a tragic life” and disagreed.

On Gabriola Island I fell asleep to the sounds of owls talking.

In Victoria a secret got out. I let it. I’d been holding on to it for awhile.

On Salt Spring Island I was transfixed by autumn leaves on a skylight.

I remember most from Denman Island that “people say all kinds of things, but they act on their feelings,” over comfort food.

In Armstrong four distinct chapters in my life met on one page.

During the show, Carla and I counted that I’ve played in Ymir eight times – the most I’ve played in any town, outside of my hometown.

In Calgary I tiptoed towards possibility, then ran away giggling.

Edmonton gave me three days of tears.

In Sherwood Park a man described the day his life changed while watching a turtle give birth, to assure me that life is long and full of unexpected wonder.

Regina kissed me with prairie autumn.

In Winnipeg I believed him – “you know what to do” – before sunrise on Osborne street.

Montreal sang every Disney song she could think of and I was glad I never finished any post-secondary schooling.

Ottawa let me rest my head on her lap and we planned our next bold move.

Toronto, as always, both soothed and excited and challenged and scared me. Our love story is being told so very slowly.

In Utrecht I was reminded of how I love short term routines in new cities.

Dusseldorf played music from home, connecting dots from far away places.

Offenbach kissed me too, but with wine and whiskey and Louis Armstrong.

In Berlin I turned 35.

Amersfoort reminded me how lucky I am to have mostly great gigs for open ears and hearts, and that noisy bars are few and far between. But noisy bars still happen.

In Hengelo I remembered how much I love the rain on my skin.

I felt lucky in Verden.

In Bremen I was overwhelmed by voices, sound, and the curve of a back that underlined “I love you.”

London flirted and skirted and darted and danced noisily, sweetly, and late into the night.

Beverley poured sunshine on the comfiest bed. It found familiar weight in broken hearts. It was full of kindness.

In Leeds we picked up where we left off, drinking wine while I went on too long and she smoked out the window, laughing and remembering.

In Alcester I was moved by family and friendship, by illness and endurance.

In Kelvedon a drummer did a decent Grant Lawrence impression and cited a long list of Canadian bands worth loving, known to him by the R3 podcast, and I missed Canada.

Onanole has come to be a much needed halfway point and always tells me “you’re tired, you’re safe here, sleep well.”

…and from there I drove home. 12,000+ Canadian kms later, planes and trains and rental cars through Germany, The Netherlands and England, wrong turns, right steps, hours, days, songs, duets, solos, parking tickets, speeding tickets, missed connections, connection, love, sex, touch, tears, remembering, forgetting, presence, absence, having, missing, something smaller and mightier than bridges over land and time, courage, fear, songs, stories, and nine weeks later –

I’m still yours.

and that was THAT tour.

and I’m going to rest now. Until the new year,
xoc

I love you this much (I assure you it’s A Lot):

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There are tour things I could tell you, and probably will, from the magical shows, to odd exchanges, to the new songs that found me on American highways, to having just two Canadian dates left before heading across the Atlantic for the wee string of them there.

But that can wait. Today — a day off in Ottawa, spent catching up on emails and paperwork and running errands (read: giggling my way through shops with my very dear friend Christine) — I am full of love for my friends.

There were shifts in September and I find myself out in the world now without my usual lighthouse to look to, nor my usual port to eventually steer towards. The metaphor could extend that I’m at risk of being lost at sea, but the reality is less melodramatic and the truth has more to do with charting new territory than getting lost.

That said the shift has been hard. But I have been amazed at my few nearest and dearest friends who have swept in to catch me before I could ever really feel like I’m falling, and at how quickly they’ve extended to bridge any gap I’m adjusting to. Being on the road can feel without landmarks of “real” life at the best of times, but I feel like I’ve had familiar beacons no matter my location thanks to Skype and (hands-free I promise) highway driving phone calls..

And especially thanks to mail. Physical, tangible, postmarked, travelled and handled snail mail.

My dear ladies of the infamous “Veggie Vag” collective — i.e. Lindsay and Susan — mailed me, prior to my Vancouver departure, a package containing one envelope for me to open on every day of my tour, plus two bonus envelopes (they truly are mad geniuses). From the backseat of my car, friends couches, hotel rooms, I have had the incredible delight of opening mail every day on the road. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.

The dated envelopes have thus far included:

mailbocks

  • road trip mix CD.
  • a Susan-made car air freshener.
  • chocolate.
  • a love letter.
  • sequins.
  • heart festooned bobby pins.
  • a letter on writing.
  • a brand new sharpie zipped in the sweetest bag.
  • cross stitch kit.
  • photo boothed Lindsay.
  • moustaches.
  • Cherry Bomb postcard.
  • print of Whoopi in “Chop Wood and Carry Martinis” (my one-day bio-pic).
  • print of Lindsay and I on the phone, as played by Cate and Whoopi. Plus a gin gin.
  • “I have loved you for so long” with teenage throwback photo of Susan and I.
  • blogbroidery by Lindsay.
  • astronaut straw.

 

AMAZING right? And upon my arrival in Ottawa I discovered THERE’S MORE. Round two for the European tour dates.

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And so, a toast: to these two fierce and wildly wonderful gals of mine and their pile of mail, to the one whose kind ears and kinder words of “anytime” while I cried into my pillow made it possible to sleep, to the one who ran down the steps to pull me in her arms before I was barely out of the car, and to the ones who know the difference a duvet makes, I LOVE YOU. You’re saving my life out here and I couldn’t be more grateful.

And for those coming to the shows and carrying on through these nights of music with me with abandon and verve, I LOVE YOU TOO.

xoc

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