Sponsor Highlight: Handmade by Aly

Please give a warm welcome back to A Life Sustained sponsor Handmade by Aly!


Aly designs and crafts whimsical Montessori-inspired teaching tools. In her words...

Canadian Lynx in progress.

You used to sell under the shop name The Handmade Classroom. Tell us about the changes to your shop...new name, new logo, what else is new?

The Handmade Classroom was borne of a very specific idea to create toys and learning tools for creative teachers and students, namely for a Montessori setting. At the time I created my business, I was working full-time as a preschool teacher, and I was looking for a way to bring my newly-earned fine art degree into the classroom in a less bulletin board-y kind of a way. So I started making simple tools for my students to learn simple concepts of the natural world (and beyond) like how rainbows happen, and the main bodies in our solar system.

A typical morning work table.

A colleague suggested I sell them online, so I opened a shop on Etsy under the most logical name for handmade classroom tools -- The Handmade Classroom. As these two years have passed, my business has evolved into something much more personal to me, and I’ve slowly been introducing work that brings in my other interests -- history, literature, folklore, science, and like, 15 more -- and though they technically all fall under that Handmade Classroom title, I was feeling a bit limited by trying to appeal exclusively to teachers of young children. Half of my customers are folks like me, lovers of tales and armchair scientists and historians, who are simply looking for compelling ways to display their love of these things in their homes, studies, offices or wherever.


I liked the idea of marketing to that audience alongside the educators, but did not want to open up a second Etsy shop. I’m a good multi-tasker, but that would have been just too much! So I decided a change was in order. I contemplated a number of new names for my business, but I kept coming back to simply using my own name. I am not one who puts down their work at 6pm every day and does something else. This is not my hobby or a side-job, it is just...me. So using my name made sense.



Also, parrots are so cool. I kept daydreaming about having a parrot as a logo. They are intelligent, colorful, complex creatures, which seemed to represent the items I was striving to create, and the kind of people I hoped the children using the items would someday grow into. So I approached an artist friend I knew from an Etsy treasury-making team who is a brilliant stamp carver to see if she would be interested in creating a few stamps for my packaging, business cards, shop banner, blog header, and all of that business-y stuff. As you can see from my sidebar ad and packaging photo, she is a rockstar. Her work can be found here: www.etsy.com/shop/subtleacts

Early spring flowers along my road.


I have also been getting more and more interested  in photography, and using warmer, darker backgrounds for my photos. My fairytale art dolls and animal pillow toys (as friends have dubbed them over the past few months as I’ve introduced more to my shop) have become more colorful and dynamic, and I have started looking into creating printed versions of them from my original designs. That way, I will be able to affordably sell the animals and fairytale dolls to teachers on a budget, and create sets (like the farm animal set) much more easily and cost-effectively.  I’m hoping to have them up in the shop by this back-to-school season.


Original sketch & notes for Addax toy.

Overall, I would say that the last year has brought a lot more depth to my shop, but there is still so much more I want to create and share. I have Moleskines full of ideas for new things, and I have been slowly adding them amidst a very overwhelming (in a good way) show of support for my made-to-order items.



Tell us about your Montessori pieces. What is your experience with the Montessori philosophy and how does it inform your work? 

I love the Montessori philosophy. I was first introduced to it right after I graduated from college, and got a job as an after school teacher at a local Montessori school. Of course, having worked with children since I was a senior in high school, I was attracted by the notion of children learning at their own pace, and in their own way. But it was the precious objects in the classrooms, and the care with which the children were taught to treat them from such an early age that grabbed me.

Counting & Sorting work ready for magnets.


I was, and still am, enchanted by the idea that ‘lessons’ are beautiful little pockets of sensory discovery, and that a school day for a young Montessori scholar is a journey through meditative counting and sorting tables, practical life corners, and vibrant science shelves. The fact that five-year-olds would capture spiders under glasses and call their classmates over to look at their cool markings or ask for a magnifying glass for a closer look before carefully releasing them outdoors was so amazing to me. I knew I had found the audience for the precious, handmade objects I had been making all through college, and had long dismissed as something that children in this world of glittery plastic, disposable toys wouldn’t have the slightest interest in. 



I try, with every piece I make, to create something that will last for years and hold infinite possibilities for play. For example, the counting and sorting trees are very effective at teaching basic mathematics, but are also a good way to start discussing seasons, or life cycles. Add a doll or animal to it, it becomes a way to tell a story. They can be used by teachers however they see fit for their specific students, and a child will find a hundred ways to play with it that you and I haven’t even thought of. As for the more specific works, like the butterfly life cycle or the solar system, I know I would be happier learning these concepts with interactive, tactile objects than text on a page. 

Moon garlands in progress.


Which is your most popular piece? Why do you think everyone loves it so?

I’ve been so lucky to have the support of many teachers, parents, collectors and fellow artists on Etsy. By far my most popular piece the phases of the moon garland. I think people are fascinated by the moon--it’s something that is always with us, and has been the source of countless myths and legends since the beginning of human existence. The simplicity of the piece makes it very versatile. It can be a mystical decoration, a tool to teach children the different phases of the moon, a talisman for moon legend enthusiasts, an accompaniment to a story, and so many other things. 


Tom (my boyfriend) and I on top of Alander Mountain.


What are your plans for the summer? 

My family does a hiking trip every year to the beautiful Berkshire Mountains in eastern Massachusetts. We stay in a teeny tiny little cabin in the woods along Bash Bish creek, climb mountains, make s’mores, play games and generally act like children, even though my brother and I are both in our twenties. My boyfriend and I are also joining his family on their annual trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which is a week of beach combing, great food and wine and some pretty cutthroat trivial pursuit.

Our tiny cabin in The Berkshires.

I’ve also been slowly getting back into writing (one of my majors in college was creative writing) -- I have a book of flash fiction I hope to have published in the next, say, five years. What I really need are 36 hour days so I can fit it all in!


The Outer Banks.


I also hope to get back to blogging -- it flexes my writing muscles, and gives me an excuse to take photos of our adventures, my studio process and the great, supportive and extraordinarily patient people who help me at every turn. And, of course, I will continue to introduce new items to my shop, and bring some of those million or so ideas into fruition for you, kind readers, to enjoy. 




Aly is offering to one A Life Sustained reader a $40 gift certificate to her shop filled with beautiful, hand-made treasures. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered in the random drawing to win. For two additional entries, add Handmade by Aly to your Etsy favorites and "Like" A Life Sustained on Facebook. Make sure to leave an additional comment for each additional entry so that they can be counted. (I will confirm that the "Liking" and "Favoriting" actually occurred and will delete comments if necessary.) Comments will close on July 28 and a winner will be announced in this post shortly thereafter.

And the lucky winner is...
Medina Family
"I just stumbled upon Aly's shop and love everything! Thanks for the chance to win!"

Thank you Handmade by Aly!

137 comments:

  1. Such amazing and lovely creations! I am inspired!

    Love your little cabin by the way! So cute!

    Wishing you a lovely day.
    xoxo

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  2. I added Handmade By Aly to my shop favourites :)

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  3. oh - love these beautifully handmade toys!!!!

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  4. Really very good, I want to say this is what I like...

    Recommend to you a NFL shop:www.hotcheapjerseysale.com

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  5. Such beautiful things. Thank you for sharing with us Aly!

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  6. I am so proud of my daughter Aly! Wonderful piece and such a lovely blog Courtney. (of course no need to enter me in the giveaway ;)

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  7. Aly makes beautiful creations! I've given one as a gift for a new arrival and mom loved it!

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  8. Aly, that cabin is awesome, but I bet the annual spider clean out is terrifying!

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  9. I love Aly's shop and what a wonderful feature!

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  10. Aly's in my Etsy favorites. (Sorry, I can't like you on FB, as I don't have an account here... doesn't mean I don't think this is a lovely blog!)

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  11. Yay Aly!! I love your shop of course and getting a little glimpse into the workings of it all is wonderful! Thanks for this giveaway! :)

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  12. I have added your shop to my favorites on Etsy (under my ripeshop account).

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  13. And I have liked A life sustained on FB too! :)

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  14. Aly is already one of my Etsy faves :)

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  15. A Life Sustained is now among my fb faves! Thanks, Courtney and Aly, for such a sweet giveaway.

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  16. This feature is layer upon layer of goodness!! So glad to get to know Aly and her work a little better.

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  17. i love your shop aly! But of course what is not to love!

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  18. These are such unique items! Your shop is the BEST!!! :)

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  19. aly is added as a favorite under "John"!

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  20. I added A life Sustained on Facebook!- Jennifer Truong

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  21. OH!!! I so hope I win! Her items are wonderful!!!! :)

    thecountryblossom at hotmail dot com

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  22. Her shop is already one of my etsy faves!
    katy010305

    thecountryblossom at hotmail dot com

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  23. I *like* you on facebook! Katy A.

    thecountryblossom at hotmail dot com

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  24. I just visited your shop, so many wonderful pieces

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  25. Liked A life sustained on facebook as Mary Helene

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  26. Added Handmade by Aly to my etsy faves.

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  27. Love the mom and baby animal set, the moon garland, all the beautiful pieces!

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  28. I would love to win! My niece would love some of these items :)
    My email address is nicole at knitnicoleknit dot com
    -Nicole
    Knit, Nicole, Knit!

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  29. I "hearted" her shop!
    My email address is nicole at knitnicoleknit dot com
    -Nicole
    Knit, Nicole, Knit!

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  30. amazing talent and a great person! i want to go hike in those mountains and rent the little cabin now

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  31. Aly's work is absolutely amazing. It was such a pleasure to work with her on carving the stamps. :) Best of luck to everyone entered to win the gift certificate!

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  32. I really love the Moon Phases Felt Garland! adriannebraun@yahoo.com

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  33. I like A Life Sustained on Facebook as Adrianne Braun adriannebraun@yahoo.com

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  34. I favorited Handmade by Aly on Etsy as Adrianne Braun adriannebraun@yahoo.com

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  35. Great stuff! Thanks for the chance!

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  36. charming! I love the idea of long-lasting "heirloom" toys!

    elizabethglassturner (at) gmail (dot) com

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  37. I "liked" on Facebook!

    elizabethglassturner (at) gmail (dot) com

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  38. favorited on Etsy!

    elizabethglassturner (at) gmail (dot) com

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  39. Beautiful work!
    Thank you for the chance to win!

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  40. Just added Handmade by Aly to my Etsy favorites!

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  41. Just "liked" A Life Sustained on Facebook!

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  42. Your blog is absolutely inspiring! My sister just had her first baby and I am always looking for unique gifts!

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  43. I favorited Handmade by Aly on Etsy! (kasey04)

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  44. I liked A Life Sustained on Facebook! :)

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  45. Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

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  46. I absolutely love your creations. I am a Special Education teacher and your creations would truly enhance my classroom teaching.

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  47. Love the phases of the moon garland

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  48. great giveaway thanks for the chance
    crazyweirdo33@yahoo.com

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  49. i favorited handmade by Aly on etsy under sarah cool
    crazyweirdo33@yahoo.com

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  50. I just stumbled upon Aly's shop and love everything! Thanks for the chance to win!

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  51. I added her to my Etsy favorites! Thank you!

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  52. Oh my goodness, such lovely things! I love the apple tree sorting toy.

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  53. Liked her on FB as sarah solducky

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  54. Added to my Etsy favorites as well!

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  55. I love the products from Aly!

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  56. I liked your site on FB too :)

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  57. and I heart handmade by Aly on Etsy. :)

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  58. I was excited and surprised to find that I already liked some of your beautiful creations on etsy!

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  59. I love reading about the person behind the art and your enchanted life! Great to see more things on etsy!

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  60. Such care obviously goes into these! Absolutely lovely. Thank you for sharing!

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  61. Lovely things, my boys would love some of them.

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  62. Two Little Dragons favored your shop!

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  63. wow! gorgeous creations! WOuld absolutely love to win!

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  64. Wow, great Etsy shop - you are now a Favorite! Elizabeth Ahern

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  65. Added you to my Etsy favourites!

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  66. Adore the Felt Marine Life in your Etsy Store!! Thnak you for the giveaway!

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  67. A so enjoy knowing about where good children friendly products come from and your story warms my soul. Thanks for a chance to treasure some of your precious things.

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  68. Oh what a wonderful giveaway! ive loved your garland for so long!

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  69. favorited on etsy :) feel free to favorite me too! www.heavensearth.etsy.com

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  70. Beautiful! Your work is stunning.

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  71. A Sustained life is my new "Like" on Facebook. :)

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  72. Handmade by Aly is definitely my new "favorite" on Etsy. While I was at it, I followed on Twitter, and promoted on Google. :)

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  73. Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for the opportunity.

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  74. Your work is fantastic! Thanks for the chance!

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  75. Everything Aly makes is just gorgeous:)

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  76. Love you on Facebook (liking doesn't seem like enough)

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  77. All of Aly's items are absolutely stunning. Wow!

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  78. I also liked Aly's page on FB :)

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  79. And I liked your blog page on FB too! Thanks!

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  80. I'd love to give some of your products as gifts. Thanks for the chance.

    sweetascandy579 at yahoo dot com

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  81. What a beautiful shop full of great toys!

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  82. I added Aly to my Etsy favorites.

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  83. I <3 the phases of the moon garland!

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  84. ^Oops... meant "favorited" on Etsy. Also- liked A Life Sustained Facebook page. :)

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  85. OOOH! I just love all of Aly's work! So whimsical and beautiful! I'd be hard pressed to pick a fave!

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  86. I absolutely love this store! My kids would adore several of her items!

    pennymindingmom (at) hotmail (dot) com

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  87. Liked you on facebook.

    pennymindingmom (at) hotmail (dot) com

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  88. Favourited her store.

    Pennymindingmom (at) hotmail (dot) com

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  89. Love all her pieces -fingers crossed

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  90. hearted her shop on etsy
    beewbedard

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  91. How creative! I love all the ideas you have came up with, very unique. I see how fun you make your items, but it being also a learning tool. Thanks for the giveaway!!
    Ashley
    shopjinx@gmail.com

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  92. I liked your page on facebook. :)
    (Ashley W.)

    Ashley
    shopjinx@gmail.com

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  93. New etsy favorite! <3

    Ashley

    Etsy: shopjinx/jinxas
    shopjinx@gmail.com

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  94. Already like "Handmade by Aly" on Etsy {Sarah}.

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  95. Beautiful! and unique. Love it! :)

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  96. added to my Etsy favorites - bjncourt

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  97. Like on FB - courtney heath

    happyheaths at gmail dot com

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  98. Beautiful items and creative pieces! Thanks for the chance to win!
    saltsnmore at yahoo dot com

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  99. I added your shop to my favorites.

    Erika
    Erika at justpeachyphotog dot com

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  100. I follow you on FB.
    Erika Anderson Williams
    saltsnmore at yahoo dot com

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  101. What a beautiful, creative items! Love it!

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  102. Liked allyparrot on Etsy (as LaLutine) - and thank you for discoveing it to me!

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  103. Liked A Life Sustained on FB (Sandra Mil)

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  104. Lovely work you do. I am a bit jealous of that cabin in the picture as well.
    sbfugate@bellsouth.net

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  105. I liked A Life Sustained on Fb (Silvia Fugate)
    sbfugate@bellsouth.net

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  106. I love all of your stuff...so cute

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  107. I am a facebook fan:)
    nikki thigpen patterson

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  108. This looks like a great shop!

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