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Posts Tagged ‘People’

Queen of the Dolls

When my boys were growing up, they owned the usual succession of popular guy toys. Naturally, they had no experience with dolls and other girly stuff.

(G.I. Joe action figures don’t count as dolls, do they? Certainly not. Perish the thought.)

On the other hand, thanks to TV commercials, friends, neighbors, etc., we were plenty familiar with the girl toys on the market. We never had an actual Barbie around, but we knew all about the perennial queen of the dolls.

Barbie-1

Fashion Model Barbie, 1977.

All these years later, Barbie remains a genuine cultural phenomenon and a sales and marketing juggernaut. I’m uncomfortable with how advertisers manipulate kids, but still, you have to be impressed by the masterful job they did with Barbie.

I did some research to fill in the details, and the story is fascinating.

———

It’s another tale of a business started in a garage.

In 1945, two Southern California product designers formed a company called Mattel Creations. The designers were Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler. Mattel was a combination of their names.

Working out of Handler’s garage, the men built picture frames using shop equipment purchased from Sears on the installment plan. In addition, Elliot began using the wood scraps to make doll furniture.

Elliot and his equally enterprising wife Ruth had a host of potentially marketable ideas. Among them were a child-size ukulele and a jack-in-the-box.

Mattel was not the Handlers’ first business venture. In the late 1930s, newly married, they formed Elzac (named for Elliot and his then-partner Zachary Zemby), which made and sold costume jewelry and brooches. Most were inexpensive and often whimsical.

Barbie-2

An Elzac brooch from the 1940s.

Elzac was a successful venture, but the Handlers, having greater ambitions, put their hopes in Mattel.

And Mattel was profitable from year one. The ukulele (the Uke-A-Doodle) was a popular seller. In 1947, the Handlers bought out Matson, and Ruth and Elliot became co-CEOs of Mattel.

By the early 1950s, Mattel was focused exclusively on toys, and business boomed. In 1955, it surged exponentially when Mattel began advertising on TV.

When the Mickey Mouse Club was set to debut on television, Disney and ABC approached Mattel about sponsoring a 15-minute segment of the program. The deal required a commitment for the full 52-week season, at the sobering cost of $500,000.

At the time, that was almost Mattel’s entire net worth. But the Handlers understood the potential and took the deal.

The television exposure was transformative. Within a few years, Mattel’s annual sales topped $1 million, then $5 million, then $14 million.

For several years, Ruth had been musing about an idea she got when her daughter Barbara was a pre-teen. Barbara often played with paper dolls, making paper clothes for them and acting out fanciful stories and adventures.

Ruth also observed that Barbara had outgrown her doll babies and always treated the paper dolls as adults.

Ruth wanted to give girls like Barbara a replacement for both traditional dolls and paper dolls: an adult female doll with a wardrobe of clothing made of fabric, not paper.

But Ruth couldn’t convince Elliot or the Mattel staff. They insisted parents wouldn’t buy their daughters a doll with the figure of a grown-up. Ruth had to bide her time.

In 1956, the Handlers took their then-teenaged children Barbara and Kenneth to Europe on vacation. During the trip, Ruth discovered a new German sensation, “Bild Lilli.”

Bild Lilli was a comic strip character in the tabloid Bild. Lilli was a gold-digger — single, seductive, and always scantily dressed. Men regularly pursued her, and Lilli deflected them with witty comments.

The comic strip became so popular that a doll in Lilli’s likeness was made. It was sold in gift shops as a novelty for men, not as a doll for children.

But Lilli was almost precisely what Ruth had in mind.

Barbie-3

A Bild Lilli doll.

After the trip, Ruth created a prototype doll based on Bild Lilli, but slightly modified. She named her creation Barbie after their daughter. Elliot and the staff quickly were on board.

Mattel’s new Barbie doll debuted at the New York Toy Fair in 1959, enjoying modest success. But soon, following a barrage of TV commercials — which advertised the doll directly to little girls, not their parents — Barbie, Mattel, and the Handlers were rocketed to toy business stardom.

Barbie-4

The first Barbie doll.

In 1959, 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold for $3.00 each. Clothing sets cost from $1.00 to $5.00.

By Barbie’s 50th birthday in 2009, over one billion Barbie dolls had been sold.

FYI, the last Lilli cartoon appeared in Bild in 1961. In 1964, Mattel bought all patents and copyrights to the Bild Lilli doll, and production in Europe ended.

Ruth and Elliot Handler guided Mattel for the next 30 years. They introduced a wide range of Barbie-related dolls and merchandise, as well as the Chatty Cathy doll and the Hot Wheels line of toy cars.

In 1972, somewhat unexpectedly, Mattel reported a substantial loss. The government investigated, and in 1974, Mattel was charged with filing false reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Handlers chose to plead no contest and agreed to resign from Mattel management.

After the departure of the Handlers. Mattel rebounded and continued to grow. Over the years, the company acquired Western Publishing (Little Golden Books), Fisher-Price, Tyco Toys (Matchbox cars), Pleasant Company (American Girl), and the Learning Company (educational software).

At various times, Mattel also made licensee deals to manufacture Disney Princess dolls as well as toys for franchises such as Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Justice League, Loonie Tunes, and others.

Ruth and Elliot Handler were inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Barbie was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2002, Ruth died from complications of surgery for colon cancer. She was 85. Elliot died in 2011 at age 94.

———

To round out the story, here is some Barbie trivia…

— Barbie had seven sibling dolls over the years, plus an English cousin, Francie Fairchild.

— Christie, the first African American doll, was introduced in 1968.

— Mattel always uses the color Barbie Pink (PMS 219) in its logos and merchandise.

— In 1971, Barbie’s eyes were changed from looking coyly sideways to looking directly forward. In 1977, Barbie’s mouth was modified to reveal her teeth and form a smile.

— In 2016, Mattel began offering dolls with seven skin tone options and three body types: “tall,” “curvy,” and “petite.”

— In 2015, Barbie was given adjustable ankles so she could wear flat shoes.

— In 2003, Mattel released a pregnant version of Barbie’s friend Midge Hadley. The doll featured a removable baby that was held in place by a magnet. Pregnant Midge received mixed reviews.

Barbie-5

— In the 1960s, an elaborate backstory was created for Barbie in a series of books.

— Occasionally, celebrity dolls are sold in Barbie world, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Twiggy, Cher, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Nicki Minaj.

— Barbie and her boyfriend Ken (named for the Handlers’ son Kenneth) broke up in 2004, but got back together on Valentine’s Day 2011.

— Barbie has held over 150 careers.

— Mattel has released a “Barbie for President” doll every election year since 1992.

For 2019, Mattel debuted a doll with a prosthetic leg as well as a doll in a wheelchair.

Barbie-6

— Today, a Barbie doll is sold somewhere in the world every three seconds. Barbie-related merchandise generates annual sales of about $2 billion.

— A live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie is in the works. For real.

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Kenneth, Ruth, Barbara, and Elliot Handler.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1457, King James II of Scotland banned golf and football (soccer), which he said were interfering with the military preparation of the populous for Scotland’s ongoing war with England. The ban was lifted after England and Scotland signed a peace treaty in 1502.

The first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. The award for Best Picture, then called Outstanding Picture, went to the war film “Wings.” At the time, only silent films were considered. The first talkie to win an award was “The Broadway Melody” in 1931.

Hawaiian is a Polynesian language related to Samoan, Tahitian, and Tongan. It was an oral-only language until the 1820s, when New England missionaries worked out a modified English alphabet that allowed Hawaiian to be written for the first time.

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of five vowels (A, E, I, O, and U, each having both a long and a short pronunciation), seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, and W) and assorted combinations thereof. For example, AU = the OU sound in OUT.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, was only the beginning for author L. Frank Baum. He wrote 14 full-length novels about Oz, the last published in 1920 after his death.

Since then, Baum’s publisher has released 26 more Oz books by a series of writers. The most recent books based on the world of Oz are a trilogy published in 2005, 2006, and 2014.

Oz books

In 1972, electrical engineer Nolan Bushnell founded the popular video game Atari. In 1977, he opened the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain, which he envisioned as a place where kids could eat pizza and play video games.

Bushnell’s Law on the subject of video game design states “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.”

The idiom hands down can describe winning with ease (“He won the competition, hands down.”), or can mean without a doubt (“Hands down, Mom is the best cook in town.”).

The expression originated in horse racing. When a jockey was certain of victory at the end of a race, he could lower his hands, relax his hold on the reins, and stop urging the horse on.

In 1912, when the London Symphony Orchestra was invited to perform in the U.S. for the first time, the group booked passage on the RMS Titanic. However, the maiden voyage of the Titanic was delayed, and the orchestra switched to the SS Baltic to stay on schedule.

Modern dentures are made of acrylic resins and plastic over a metal base, but in olden times, other materials had to be employed. The Romans made partial dentures out of human and animal teeth. In the 1500s, the Japanese invented wooden dentures. In Europe in the 1700s, dentures often were carved from ivory and animal horn.

But by the 1800s, the most popular source was human teeth, which were not only denture-ready, but widely available from medical schools, graveyards, and battlefields. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, scavengers closed in to collect teeth from the thousands of casualties.

Dentures

Adolphe Monet, the father of French painter Claude Monet, was a prosperous retailer of groceries and ship’s supplies. He was greatly displeased when Claude became an artist instead of taking over the family business.

When young Claude was conscripted into military service, Adolphe declined to purchase his son’s exemption, which was the usual practice among the wealthy at the time. Take that, you ingrate.

The average elevation above sea level in the Kingdom of Bhutan, located in the Himalayas between India and China, is 8,000 feet, which is the highest average in the world.

Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy founded in 1616. All government policy is guided by the concept of Gross National Happiness, an index of the collective contentment and well-being of the populace. Let that sink in.

Atoms are composed of a nucleus (consisting of protons and neutrons) and one or more electrons. The electron was discovered in 1897 by English physicist J. J. Thomson. The proton was discovered in 1917 by New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford, who was a student of Thompson. The neutron was discovered in 1932 by British physicist James Chadwick, who was a student of Rutherford.

The world’s largest functioning guitar is 43.5 feet long, 16 feet wide, and weighs 2,255 pounds. It is a replica of a 1967 Gibson Flying V, with strings made of aircraft cable. The guitar was built in 2001 by the Academy of Science & Technology in Houston to demonstrate principles of acoustics. The big fella is on display at the National Guitar Museum in Orlando.

Guitar

 

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Wash and Wax

Friends, you may ask yourselves, what do old retired guys do every day? Well, in my case, I stay as busy as if I were gainfully employed.

Every day, tons of stuff needs doing. And sometimes, the things that need doing catch you off guard.

That’s because life hurls all kinds of unpredictable pitches at you. Fastballs, curveballs, sliders. All you can do is step up to the plate and address the ball. (No, wait. That’s a golf metaphor.)

Swinging away at the random pitches life serves up — that’s my job now. Well, I also have the blog.

———

– Slippery When Wet

Last winter was especially wet, and it was unkind to the Rocky Smith residence. By spring, unwanted stuff had begun to grow on various outdoor surfaces.

The concrete — driveway, sidewalks, and patio — was coated to varying degrees with a yucky layer of blackish-brown something that turned slippery when it rained.

Several walls of the house were afflicted with an unpleasant green mold or mildew or whatever.

And, instead of being a cheerful white with natty blue pinstripes, my RV was a depressing gray with blue pinstripes.

When Paul the yardman showed up to cut my grass for the first time, I asked, “Do you do pressure-washing?”

“You bet.”

I told him the concrete desperately needed cleaning. He gave me a price, came back the following week with a behemoth of a pressure-washer, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “Do you do houses?”

“You bet.”

He walked around the house to assess things, gave me a price, came back the following week, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “What about RVs?”

“You bet.”

He gave me a price, came back the following week, and spent an hour or so pressure-washing the van with unexpected thoroughness. It looked almost as good as the day I bought it.

– Prohibited by Law

My next task was to give the RV a protective coat of wax. Being retired from washing and waxing vehicles myself, I took it to a full-service car wash. I wasn’t after any fancy detailing. I just wanted a basic wash and wax.

Last year, I found a place that does good work at reasonable prices. It’s a big operation, part of a chain. While you wait inside watching TV, a dozen or so young guys are outside swarming like ants over the vehicles. A thorough, buttoned-up operation. I stopped to ask them about the RV.

The response was a knuckleball.

“Sir, we can wax the RV for you, no problem,” said the earnest young man at the counter. “But you’ll have to wash the vehicle before you bring it in.”

Say what?

“But… you’re a car wash. You wash cars. Why do I have to wash it before bringing it to you?”

“State regulations, sir. We recycle our water. The drains under the building collect the wash water so it can be treated and used again. Your vehicle won’t fit inside the building, so we would have to wash it outside. And that’s prohibited by law.”

“Prohibited by law.”

“Yes, sir. But I have an option you might want to consider. I do jobs on the side all the time. I could do the wash and wax at your place.”

Aha. A sensible solution. I gave him my phone number, and he said he would call to work out the details.

The week wore on, and the little so-and-so never called. Time to explore other options.

– Mr. Clean

I’m a relatively intelligent guy, and this was a relatively simple problem. I needed to find a car wash designed for larger vehicles.

Trucks, for example. Trucks need washing, right? People out there are in the business of washing trucks, right?

Indeed they are. In fact, truck washes are everywhere. I didn’t know that because truck washes were never on my radar screen.

One place that had good online reviews was Mr. Clean Truck and Car Wash in Athens. I stopped one day to check them out.

Mr. Clean was a little more bare-bones than I expected — basically, just a small shed that served as an office, two more sheds stocked with supplies, lots of ladders and hoses, and a paved parking lot full of trucks and busy workers.

In the office was a middle-aged black guy sitting on a stool, staring at his cell phone. “Can I hep you?” he asked without looking up.

“You wash trucks, so I’m betting you can wash my RV,” I said.

“No problem,” he said, still focused on the phone. “Just bring it in. No appointment necessary. We’ll fix you up.”

I described the RV and asked the price of a wash and wax.

“Won’t know till I see it,” he said, still staring at the phone.

I said okay, but I need at least a rough idea of the cost.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everybody,” he said, looking up finally. “Bring $100 cash, and that should more than cover it.”

– 32 Minutes

A few days later, I drove the RV to Athens and pulled into Mr. Clean’s parking lot. Four employees were busily cleaning a semi. Two others big trucks were waiting their turn. I went inside the office where the black guy was sitting on the stool with his phone, still supervising.

“I brought my RV for a wash and wax,” I said. He went outside, took a look, and returned.

“We use liquid wax,” he said. “Sprayed on, not hand-rubbed.” I took that as implying that spray wax is inferior. But I’m not picky. I nodded in agreement.

“75 dollars,” I understood him to say. I got out my wallet, took out four $20 bills, and handed them to him.

“What the hell is this?” he barked. “I said 35 dollars.” He handed back two of the bills.

“Sorry, I misunderstood,” I said. “This is my first time.”

Stone-faced, he gave me $5 change and said his boys would be ready for me directly.

The four guys doing the actual work were an interesting bunch.

One was a large, muscular black guy who was suffering mightily in the 90-degree heat. He kept gesturing to the others to hose him down.

Another was a young white guy who was so heavily tattooed — arms, legs, back, torso, face, neck, even the top of his shaved head — that he looked like a Maori tribesman.

W&W-1

The other two were tall, lean white guys, typical Southern dudes. Somehow, their cigarettes stayed lit even though their clothes were drenched.

All four worked at high speed, but were surprisingly thorough and meticulous. The trucks ahead of me took half an hour each to clean. By that measure, I figured the RV would be done in 10 minutes.

Wrong. By the clock, they spent 32 minutes climbing over, under, and around the thing, scrubbing, spraying, and rinsing at a frenetic pace.

W&W-2

When they finished, it looked better than the day I bought it.

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The boys moved on to the next vehicle. I stuck a $20 bill in the tip box and headed home.

– Reality Bites

Back in Jefferson, I learned why sprayed-on liquid wax is inferior to the hand-applied variety.

For one thing, the RV was wet when I left Mr. Clean, and it air-dried on the way home. Thus, the glass and chrome ended up covered with water spots.

For another thing, the lower half of the chassis was covered with streaks where the wax dripped down and dried. From a distance, the vehicle looked great; up close, it had issues.

Mr. Clean’s wash and wax job accomplished what I wanted, but alas, fell a bit short. Live and learn.

With a sigh, I got out some rags and glass cleaner and cleaned off the water spots.

Next, I put some wax on another rag and began buffing out the streaks on the body. The buffing wasn’t hard, but it took a while.

Finally, I put a coat of Back to Black on the bumpers, door handles, and trim. The treatment worked well, but will need redoing in about a month.

It also occurs to me that, if next winter is as unkind as the last, I’m destined to do this all over again.

W&W-4

 

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This Just In

NAIROBI, KENYA — In April, the officers on duty at a police post in western Kenya locked up the station and went in search of a place to watch the European soccer championships on television.

They took radios with them to receive emergency calls and ended up at a shopping mall, where they watched two quarter-final matches.

When they returned to the station, they discovered that thieves had broken in and stolen three rifles and several boxes of ammunition. Disciplinary action is pending.

Kenyan police

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — As the growing season began in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s two royal oxen predicted a plentiful harvest.

In an annual ritual presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni, the royal oxen, dressed in ornate robes and headdresses, plowed a field and then were given offerings in ceremonial bowls.

A Hindu priest said the oxen ate 85 percent of the rice and beans and 90 percent of the corn offered to them, indicating that a bountiful harvest will ensue.

Royal oxen

SHANGHAI, CHINA — A China Southern Airlines flight departing Shanghai was delayed five hours after one of the passengers threw coins into the air intake duct of one of the engines.

As the passengers boarded, an 80-year-old woman tossed a handful of coins at one of the engines, which was not running. The woman told police she threw the coins as a prayerful gesture for a safe flight.

The passengers disembarked while the ground crew inspected the engine and retrieved the coins.

Police later said the woman, who was traveling with family members, had no criminal record or known mental health issues. The airline hasn’t decided whether to file charges.

Coins

 

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Tune o’ the Day

The English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron popularized the phrase “time, the avenger” in the 1880s. If you’re like me, however, you probably think of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders when you hear it.

Their song “Time the Avenger” is the story of a married businessman who has an affair, drinks to numb his feelings, eventually realizes that time is no longer on his side, and ends up on the street with his possessions in a briefcase.

The tune is from the 1984 album “Learning to Crawl,” the group’s first album after two of the four original Pretenders died of drug overdoses and Hynde had a baby.

The album, made with a new line-up, was a big success and, as you can imagine under the circumstances, heavy on retrospection. Chrissie had a lot on her mind.

Her daughter, by the way, was learning to crawl at the time.

Learning to Crawl

Time The Avenger

By the Pretenders, 1984
Written by Chrissie Hynde

Nobody’s perfect.
Not even a perfect stranger.
But, oh, what a gal.
She was such a perfect stranger.

And you’re the best in your field,
In your office with your girls
And desk and leather chair.
Thought that time was on your side.
But now it’s time the avenger.

Nobody’s permanent.
Everything’s on loan here.
Even your wife and kids
Could be gone next year.
And with what you have left,
You’ll be forever under pressure
To support her.
And a lover who looks strangely
Like time the avenger.

Time, time, hear the bells chime
Over the harbor and the city.
Time — one more vodka and lime
To help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick.

Nobody’s perfect.
Not even a perfect gent.
When your property took the A Train,
I wonder where your manners went.
You were standing at the station.
In your briefcase was your aftershave and underwear.
Can you hear the whistle blow?
Sounds like time the avenger.

Time, time, hear the bells chime
Over the harbor and the city.
Time to kill another bottle of wine
To help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick.

 

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The Questions…

1. What is the smallest planet in the solar system?

2. The four carvings on Mt. Rushmore depict Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Why those four?

3. “Koala bear” is an inaccurate term because the animal isn’t a bear. What is a koala?

4. Milk is a source of calcium and protein, and cow’s milk is the most widely-consumed milk in North America. But another kind of milk is more popular in the rest of the world. What is it?

5. Lego bricks, the plastic construction toys, were created in 1932 by Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter. In 2015, Lego was named the “world’s most powerful brand.” Over 600 billion Lego bricks have been manufactured. What is the origin of the word “Lego”?

The Answers…

1. It depends. Of the eight big-league planets, Mercury is the smallest, being about 38 percent the size of Earth. Pluto was the smallest until it was demoted to “dwarf planet.” Of the five dwarf planets we officially recognize these days, the smallest is Ceres at 600 miles in diameter.

2. Gutzon Borglum, the monument’s creator, said Washington represented the birth of the nation, Jefferson the growth, Lincoln the preservation, and Roosevelt the development.

3. The koala is a marsupial. Specifically, an arboreal herbivorous marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat.

4. Goat’s milk.

5. Lego comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

Mercury et al

Legos

 

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

November

By Thomas Hood

Hood-t

Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun -- no moon! 
No morn -- no noon -- 
No dawn -- no dusk -- no proper time of day.
 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member -- 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -- 
November!

———

Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

———

Justice

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

--------

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

Dickinson E

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

———

The Ploughman’s Life

By Robert Burns

Burns R

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

As I was a-wand’ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin’, thir words he did say, –
There’s nae life like the ploughman’s in the month o’ sweet May.

The lav’rock* in the morning she’ll rise frae her nest,
And mount i’ the air wi’ the dew on her breast,
And wi’ the merry ploughman she’ll whistle and sing,
And at night she’ll return to her nest back again.

*Skylark.

 

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