On Working With Your Hands + Creating Value

All day yesterday I was a lazy sack of bones.

I’m serious.

I sat in my pajamas, on my aunt’s couch and watched movies, cooking shows, and ate.  I only walked the few feet to the kitchen to get more water or open the fridge.

Horrible, I know. And yet, it was incredible! It was exactly what I needed! It was energy saving and recharging all at the same time. It is  something I need to practice more often.

Anyhow, in ALL of that sitting yesterday, I did a lot of work with my hands. I cut out 108 envelope linings by hand and I knitted a scarf.

See, I started off my day a bit early, around 8:45am and I read a few pages of my book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” before anyone (I was visiting my aunt’s home) woke up and I wouldn’t get another word read.  As my aunt and family started to wake up, I started to prepare to tackle other activities that needed to get tackled over the course of the day.

The first thing I did was pull out my envelope lining project.  As I mentioned just a few sentences above, I cut out 108 envelope linings. By the time I was done, my wrists were a bit annoyed and my brain kept thinking, “Why do you like stationery so much?”, but it was the perfect job to knock out as my 10-year-old cousin asked me every single question she could think of during the hour and a half it took me to cut each piece.

When I finished that project, I then switched to my scarf project.  I’m glad to say that I finished it last night before heading to bed. That was a solid 8 hours or so of knitting, but I finished and I’m glad I took the time to finish.  Now, I can move on to finishing another knitting project and then starting the next three (so many babies!). I can also move toward other sources of inspiration. See every time I knit, I am further inspired to design with paper.

As I got ready for bed, I realized that I spent the entire day yes, sitting on my butt, and watching bad, bad movies, but I talked to my cousin, relaxed my mind, and worked with my hands.

To me that is the secret of life, making things with your hands. It could be as simple as a note (my preferred method of communication), or as big as a knitted, sewn, painted, and cooked item. We all have skills and tools that allow us to create in these manners. The person that says, “oh, I can’t cook for the life of me” can probably grow the most amazing tomatoes, or sew the most gorgeous dress, or sketch the most real-life drawings. That’s the beauty of working with our hands.

Then think about all the  skill-based people like the carpenters, mechanics, and farmers-their craft is just as beautiful. Think about how awesome your car is after it’s been repaired (if you have a good mechanic you trust and they haven’t tried to rip you off), or food you bought directly from a farm (maybe you have a relationship with the farmer, or you know the growing methods and value them).

Since starting S2 Stationery and Design, I’ve learned to appreciate everything that is done by an individual’s two hands. I know it sounds simplistic, but as someone who finds value and rewards in cutting a piece of paper and maybe tying a bow around it, I find the value in the work that those who use their own hands do; It is not just great in creating value of skills and products, but in self, too.

Believe it or not, but this posting started over two months ago, after I attended the Brooklyn extension of “Hello Etsy“,  a summit on small business and sustainability put on by Etsy in Berlin, but with sessions going on in the US.  The keynote presenter that day was Matthew B. Crawford who wrote a book called,  “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work“. I have yet to read the book, but I’m excited to pick up a copy and give it a read. You’d think that between September and now, November, I’d have done so, but I’ve been busy reading and making and doing a whole mess of other things that I’ve only just managed to finish reading “The Help”.

Anyhow, I remember as I listened to Matt talk about how he ended up working with his hands that day, I couldn’t help but notice that I enjoy working with my hands. I think I always have, since I was a kid, actually, but as each day has gone by in the last two years, I’ve notice it more.

A few weeks ago, while at the seminar my 9-to-5 sent me to, I was out with a fellow seminar attendee and he mentioned how it feels weird to write notes down. He told me that his hand cramps up from not having written as much ever and you know, he’s right. When you don’t spend time writing, your hands don’t know what to do with themselves when they do. It’s like getting up to run after never having run before- instinctive, but painful and exhausting.

While I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic, it was only yesterday that it hit me just how important it is to love, nurture and protect my hands. Even now, I’m typing this post, but you know, it requires my hands. I don’t always feel fulfilled having spent the entire day typing, but I find that everything we touch as individuals, when filled with love and passion, can have value.

This post started out as a homage to solely working with your hands and being that artist like person, but really what I’ve come to realize is that it all comes down to value. Your hands are involved every step of the way (including when you’re lazily sitting on the couch flipping channels) and so what matters is how happy your are creating whatever it is you are creating, even if it is stringing words and sentences together using a computer keyboard and monitor.

My one piece of advice however, if you are sitting in a chair on a computer all day, do take a minute to doodle. It’ll give your hands another space to work with and can even stretch your imagination.

Oh, and if you ever feel a draw to the world that is skill-based and requires you to leave an office environment…explore it. You may learn quite a bit about world value and what your own two hands are capable of accomplishing.

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It’s a Launch! Introducing the Women Entrepreneur Series and an Underground Crafter

Readers, I have an announcement and an introduction! This is huge!

Several weeks ago, I attended a wonderful conference on women entrepreneurs. As I sat in the audience listening to all these women, I was inspired to start sharing the story of other women. Women who craft, run viable businesses, and/or are entrepreneurs.  My thinking is if these women inspire me, why not let them inspire you, too?

So…{Horns please…}

With this posting, S2 Stationery and Design’s blog is officially announcing a monthly Women Entrepreneurs Series.

That’s it! The goal of the series is yes, to inspire, but also to give you a bit of a window into the world of women making a go of their dreams and desires. I am fortunate enough to have women that I work with in The {NewNew} who have so kindly signed up to be part of this series. I’m excited not just to share their stories, but to also hear your stories!

Something I’ve learned, especially from women, is that when we open ourselves up enough to share these stories, we learn much more about our selves and our abilities.  We also gain ideas, foster a sense of community and develop friendships.  So speak up and share your story, even if it’s not on this blog. You never know who and what you’ll inspire!

If you are a woman entrepreneur who has a fascinating story, please send me a note and we’ll get started on focusing on you, your dream, your business and your story. As my friend and co-worker enjoys telling me, “everyone has a story.” She’s absolutely correct!

With that said, let me introduce you to the wonderful Marie Segares, Proprietress of Underground Crafter.  You should also check out her etsy shop to learn more about her handmade wares.

——

1. Hi! Please introduce yourself. Tell us your name (as you want it to appear), your company name, how long have you been in business and what is your business.

My name is Marie Segares and I’m the proprietress of Underground Crafter.  My business officially launched in January, 2008.  I am a needlecrafts entrepreneur focusing on crochet and knitting.  I teach private and group lessons, design patterns for publication, and also sell my finished pieces.

Little D Ami Group Shot

2. How do you define “entrepreneur”?

In the most generic sense, people use entrepreneur to describe any small business owner.  I define an entrepreneur as someone who is flexible and creative, willing to take risks, and willing to assume responsibility for the success or failure of their own decisions and efforts.  There are many entrepreneurial people who aren’t business owners just as there are many small business owners who don’t seem to be entrepreneurs.

3. When did you first think you could be an entrepreneur?

To be honest, I always dreaded the idea of having my own business.  My mom’s family is very entrepreneurial and so I grew up seeing the dark realities of running a small business.  While most of my friends always had that dreamy idea of “I want to be my own boss,” I understood that entrepreneurs work way more hours than most people who are employed by others, are accountable to many customers (internal and external) rather than to one boss, and take a lot of financial risk.  Nonetheless, a few years ago, my creativity was bursting at the seams and I wanted to set up my business legitimately and professionally, so I established Underground Crafter.

4. Did you have an “ah ha” moment? What was it?

I didn’t have any one “ah ha” moment.  Basically, over time I realized that if I didn’t start establishing my own business, I would never be free to leave my full-time career.  Right now, my business is part-time while I work full-time, but I realized that if I didn’t take the leap into at least part-time business ownership, I would never do it.  I hope to slowly expand my business until it is able to become “my real job.”

5. What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?

I am a big fan of intellectual and creative freedom, so that is my favorite thing.  I also like that I can trace the success or failure of my business directly back to me – it isn’t tied up in any one else’s drama.

6. What is your least favorite thing?

My least favorite thing is not having the time to devote to my business to expand it.  It is really tough when you have a business part-time.  On the one hand, I enjoy the benefits of being employed by someone else full-time (e.g., health insurance, a regular paycheck) but on the other hand, I devote a lot of energies to my full-time work that could be used to build my own business.

7. What do you do when you feel the weight of being an entrepreneur? Not every day is great, how do you deal with this?

I have a great partner, family, and friends that I turn to when I’m overwhelmed or when something doesn’t go the way I planned.  I also tend to be more creative in those times, which can end up helping out my business.

8. Walk us through a typical day/week. Do you have a schedule on how you choose to focus on creating or the business side of things?

I usually spend some time each day in front of my computer.  This might be writing a blog post, updating my website, writing a letter for a design sample to submit to a magazine, or creating a new handout for a class.  I also keep track of deadlines and longer term projects with Google docs.

I usually update my bookkeeping and files monthly.  Until then, I leave everything in one big “to be filed” folder.  I do pay the bills as they come in because I’m worried I’ll forget and miss a due date :).

I do some of my crocheting or knitting on the commute each day, and then at home while I’m watching t.v.  I work on larger projects during weekends.  In between deadlines, I work on my long term projects.  For example, this fall, I’ll be teaching at the Finger Lakes Fiber Arts Festival and next spring at the All Things Fiber Camp, so I have to make samples, projects, and handouts in advance.  I’m also planning to launch some self-published patterns on Etsy and Ravelry later this year, so I’m finishing up writing the patterns and then will be testing them this summer.  All of this requires a lot of pre-planning so it is important for me to stay organized.

9. Do you work a full-time job? If so, what do you do? Does it interfere with your business? How do you balance these?

Yes, I work a more than full-time job and also another part-time job.  In one way, it interferes with my business but in another way, my other work provides me with the financial flexibility to work on projects which might not pay off until months down the line.  Sadly, I mostly balance these at the expense of my own sleeping!  But this year, I have been more active in taking care of myself.  I started going to the Y with a friend and have enrolled in some creative classes to give me a spark.

10. How do you keep yourself focused?

I tend to make lists.  I keep a physical calendar and also track deadlines on a Google docs spreadsheet.

11. How do you keep yourself creative?

As I mentioned, I’ve been taking classes this year.  I also find that teaching a craft keeps you creative, since you must always stay on top of different trends and learn new skills so you can teach these to your students.  I also read a lot of crochet and knitting books and blogs (and quilting blogs too).

12. Who is your business hero and why?

My mom is my business and personal hero.  She took a big risk when I was in high school by launching her own business and has really found success.  She is constantly reinventing her business while keeping true to her core values so she has been able to get through many economic ups and downs.  And, of course, she did this while also being a mom, cooking real dinners, and keeping on top of me and my sister to be successful in our own lives.

13. How have you found success? How do you measure it?

I am still a long way from calling my business a success though I have met many of the goals I set for myself when I started (for example, I’ve taught over 100 beginners to crochet – not too shabby for a part-time business focused on small class sizes!).  This year, I’ve set some public, professional goals on my blog.  I’ve kept these process oriented and about me developing as a crafts professional because I prefer to keep the business and financial details private.  But I have ideas about the monetization of meeting these goals in terms of increasing the success of my business.

In the last six months, as I’ve started to think more seriously about the future of my business, I’ve also shifted focus from making and selling finished objects to self-publishing more of my patterns.  (This is why my Etsy shop doesn’t have much in the way of finished items for sale right now – I’m in the process of preparing my patterns to sell in the fall.)

14. What does your business offer the world that is unique?

Obviously, I’m not the only crochet designer or crochet/knit teacher in the world or even in New York.  As a teacher, I have a tremendous amount of patience (shockingly, since I’m fairly impatient in the rest of my life!) so I work well with beginners.  I also have a great love of the crafts and want to share that with other people.

Teal Multi hexagon Scrubbies

15. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

In 5 years, I’d like to have at least one crochet book published.  In 10 years, I’d like to be working full-time in the needlearts industry.

16. As an entrepreneur and business woman how do you view sustainable enterprise? Is this a concern for you now? If not, are you considering it for the future?

I think being responsible for our own impact on the planet is critical to the future existence of our race (meaning, humans) on the Earth.  We can continue not to worry about the environment and that’s ok – the Earth will endure as will many other creatures, but we will have made the planet inhospitable for ourselves.  I’m not currently a sustainable enterprise, but I do consider the environmental impact of everything I do and try to balance it with other factors, such as cost and customer preferences.  I have been moving towards using mostly natural fibers in the past year, but I don’t think it is ok to just throw out synthetic yarns that I already have.  I put those to use making samples and kits for my beginner classes.

17. How do you view money? Do you work to live, or live to work (If this is too personal, you don’t have to answer. I’m more curious if view it as a MUST, or if it’s okay to have less as long as your happy. That kind of thing.)

Living in New York makes you view money differently than in many other places.  I’m a native New Yorker and have seen the City go from a place that tourists feared to a place where long-time residents are financially forced out so that people from other parts of the country can live their dream of spending a few years in the Big Apple.  In this context, money is something I need everyday or I’m in danger of being homeless, hungry, etc.  On the other hand, my full-time work is in the non-profit sector and my business is in an area not known for huge profits.  So I think the answer is that I value money but I don’t value great wealth.

18. Let’s talk about pricing. How do you price? How do you deal with competitors pricing? How do you respond to requests for discounts/deals? What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs in this area?

For my teaching, I have a set rate for private lessons and I really don’t budge on that.  I’m not too concerned about the fact that other teachers charge less – I think the experience of taking a class with me and all of the preparation and follow up support I provide make it worth the extra dollars!

When I teach through a venue, I am willing to get a lower rate if they are active in promoting the class since that saves me time (and therefore, money).

I have used many different methods for pricing my finished pieces, but ultimately, I don’t earn as much by selling my finished work, which is why I’m refocusing my efforts towards selling my patterns.  I will always have some finished objects to sell (such as samples of my patterns), but I won’t be creating a lot of new things just to sell as I did in the past.

I think pricing is pretty personal, because only you can judge how much profit you feel comfortable making.  But making a profit is key!  New entrepreneurs should take a look at all the various pricing tips available online (and there are many!) and come away with a formula that makes sense for them.

19. What is your guiding philosophy? What piece of advice do you want to share with other entrepreneurs or have them take away from your experience?

My guiding philosophy is to remember that you are in business.  It may be a business that allows you to do things you enjoy more than other types of work, but it isn’t just a hobby.  This extends to many things you do, like keeping good records, pricing, how you promote yourself, how you deal with dissatisfied customers, etc.  I also try and remain flexible, like my mom does, especially as technology changes.

In terms of advice, entrepreneurs should have a good understanding about the use of social media.  It is much cheaper than traditional or even online advertising, BUT if you consider the amount of time you have to invest in staying active online, it may not actually be cheaper.  I think entrepreneurs, especially crafty ones, often forget to value their own time.  If it takes you 15 hours a week to promote your business through your social media outlets, is that cheaper than a weekly ad that costs a few hundred dollars?  Then again, the connection you establish with current and potential customers may be worth the extra investment of time (especially if you lack the cash flow for an ad!).  In other words, understand the cost associated with social media and then decide if and how much time to devote to it for promoting your business.

I also think entrepreneurs need to be assertive about seeking advice and help from others who have found success.  I had a mentor, Mary Nolfi, for two years through the Crochet Guild of America‘s mentoring program who gave me really personalized tips from her experience as a crochet designer.  I’m still learning and I remain open to feedback, which I think is key.

———————-

Reading Marie’s interview gave me goosebumps! At points, I felt like she was describing my current space as an entrepreneur- losing sleep, working a full-time job, wanting more time to focus on the business and create. It’s tough work! It is also reassuring, in a way,  to know that there are many of us out being forces and fighting for what we want and believe in.

I wish Marie the best of success as she pushes forward and I hope that in five or more years she returns to the blog series to update us on her successes, failures, published works and whether or not she moved away from her full-time job.

Until next month, stay inspired!

May Favorites

Hi Readers!

This post was meant to go out yesterday, but in the flurry of, “WHAT?! It’s already May 31st?!” and my cousin graduating high school, I got a bit behind. Regardless, May was a doozy and you’ll soon find out! I can honestly say that all the printing, cutting (I don’t have cuts on my hands to show how much I’ve been cutting, but I did grow tired of the cutting machine soon after beginning), I am seeing the fruit of my labor.

Between Sunday and Monday morning/afternoon/evenings I found myself wrapping some stationery product in the wrappers I’ve created and sealing with my new labels. All I can say is that it was/is one of the most gratifying and exciting feelings EVER! Well, one of them.  See, I often feel this way after completing a customized stationery order. The difference here is that these products haven’t been tested. I’m taking a risk and accepting my love for them and hoping that people, especially people who attend the concerts at Celebrate Brooklyn!, will love them, too, or at the very least like them a bit more than just like and a little less under love (I think that’s a happy medium!), to buy them.

Anyhow, in the mix that was, and still is Celebrate Brooklyn! production and completion (I have less than a week! Eeps!), I have done some great reading and the links are all below. There should be more, but I’m running a bit behind on my reading schedule and so c’est la vie, until I change that. Until then, enjoy the following. Oh and happy June!

FUN

I LOVE to knit! I’m currently knitting right now. I think this is a great idea for anyone who knits and loves to throw parties. Fun, fun! http://www.designspongeonline.com/2011/03/hunt-gather-and-host-a-knitting-party.html

I LOVE this idea! What if I made you a recycled newspaper scarf (there goes that knitting again!)? http://greenupgrader.com/2138/handspun-recycled-newspaper-yarn/

SUCCESS:

Funny isn’t it how when you’re feeling a certain way things have a knack for finding you. Or better yet, the way you feel brings you the things you need the most? This section is all about dealing with what I experienced earlier this month. I didn’t feel like a failure as much as things aren’t happening as fast as I want them. Alas, I got things under control and reigned in my emotions, but the day I decided to man up, I read these articles and was wowed at how timely they were.

I don’t know that I suffer from these three obstacles, but I can see how anyone can and it’s important to know that there are out there and that you can stop them. http://handmadesuccess.com/2011/05/the-three-obstacles-in-your-way-to-success/

I need to print this and carry it around with me always. Some great tips! http://zenhabits.net/small-scale/

ANY article that starts off with, “Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.” has my vote from the beginning. My other favorite, “Fear saps passion.” Don’t let it sap yours! Keep reading!  http://the99percent.com/tips/7017/Overcome-Resistance-and-Get-Out-of-Your-Own-Way

I am a loyalist to Chris’s thoughts and philosophies. Maybe because they are like mine. Either way, this article is for everyone struggling like me to get out of bed and do a job that you’re not so passionate about. http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/the-good-job/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1gDDRXsrPsnt7W

This article is SO SPOT ON! READ IT! http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/redefining-risk/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1gFN.uLhPsnt7W

Practice, Practice, Practice and wake up loving it! http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/rain-running/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1fnpF3zDjsnt7W

This one goes under success because it’s about how we place value on what we’re selling. Very important. http://www.craftmba.com/2011/05/25/what-are-you-really-selling/#comment-28538

Megan is just spot on. Really, I just just make my monthly favorite’s a dedicated spot for Megan because I post a lot of her articles. This one is just as true as the above. As someone who is in the “stationery/paper” industry, I know how easy it is to do what other people are doing, which is why I try not to. I know it’s not just my industry either, I know it happens in jewelry and clothes. So ask why and then stay focused on that way. I know that’s what I’m doing! http://www.craftmba.com/2011/05/17/standing-out-by-starting-with-why/

LANGUAGE:

Oh, Irony. Do you know how to use it? http://www.prdaily.com/writingandediting/Articles/8206.aspx

YOU:

I definitely over think. It’s not good. However, I also know that without overthinking about somethings, I would not have grown as exponentially as I have in the last year. It’s a give/take. Some things definitely need to be overthought, most does not. The question is how do you figure out which do and don’t and how do you stop it from taking over? This is powerful! http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2011/05/do-you-fall-into-the-trap-of-overthinking.html

I have always been 100% behind being Sara. Always. I hate being grouped. I hate being asked what where I come from. I really dislike when people label me in general. Which is why I’m adding this article by Chris Guillbeau, of course, to the list this month. When you’re an entrepreneur, you are different and it is a good idea to come to terms and accept that you’re not going to fit into any one particular box. http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/hello-my-name-is/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1dQ9gJL1Msnt7W

And just when I wanted to go out and buy something pricey, I read this and remembered why I love, and have always loved, that full-of-himself man named Thoreau. http://www.dumblittleman.com/2011/05/thoreaus-guide-to-living-more-by.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DumbLittleMan+%28Dumb+Little+Man+-+tips+for+life%29&utm_content=Google+International

BUSINESS:

I didn’t graduate from Syracuse, or in May of 2011, but I swear he was talking to me! http://mashable.com/2011/05/16/dennis-crowley-syracuse-graduation/

I tell myself “Sara, YOU are an artist” almost every day. It’s worth it and it reminds me why I love doing what I do. http://www.artbizblog.com/2011/03/art-has-value.html

I’m always thinking about sustainability and business and how S2 is going to be a sustainable business. I love articles that show how you can keep being sustainable, doing good and make profits. THIS is the area all businesses should REALLY be looking into. http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/how-many-business-models-can-one-company-have/

This posting is so good! I am a knitter by hobby, which means I enjoy the entire creative process involved and end up making blankets and scarves and the like for friends and loved ones, but more than just enjoying knitting, I love how Tammy writes about the lessons behind knitting. As I read this posting, I definitely agreed with what she has learned and realized that I’ve never truly explored all then ways and things you can learn from knitting. Often times, I talk about lessons I’ve learned from running, etc, but there are lessons to behold in everything we spend our time exploring.  http://rowdykittens.com/2011/04/knitting/

This one is GOOD! So good! When I read it early in the month, I was struck at how timely Megan is with the two ceilings that an entrepreneur can hit. The question is how will I tackle this? Working on a strategy! http://www.craftmba.com/2011/05/04/growth-ceilings-and-scalability/

Do you sell on Etsy? Are you curious about finding certain data in your analytics? READ THIS! http://www.etsy.com/storque/seller-handbook/web-analytics-whos-found-you-through-the-taste-test-12747/#comment-507008

I wrote a blog last week about scarcity and the implications of it and then Ms. Megan went and wrote about making one-of-a-kind products. Go figure! She’s right, though! http://www.craftmba.com/2011/05/18/turn-your-liability-into-an-asset-or-how-to-wholesale-limited-edition-products/

To trade show or not? I’m not nearly trade show ready, BUT I really enjoyed reading Megan’s (yes, another article by her) take on this and I also really loved her comment, “Despite all our reliance on technology and social media, we still crave physical connections with people and objects. ” Read the full article and watch the video response: http://www.craftmba.com/2011/05/20/icff-innovation-and-the-future-of-trade-shows/

MONEY:

Yeah, what does it mean to have money? I’ve never really had money, just enough to keep paying debt. But what about when I do (because I will!)? What then? Tara Gentile, gives a great thought about this on Daily Worth. http://dailyworth.com/posts/756-What-Does-It-Mean-to-Have-Money-#articlejump

SOCIAL INTERNET:

I came across this article on The Atlantic on May 12th and understood it immediately. I have used Groupon and I’ve definitely overspent in the case of restaurant coupons, but I’ve often wondered how exactly do both parties benefit from the program. I’ve also noticed that the deal that roped me in is not the same caliber of deals that are being offered currently and so I end up deleting the emails and paying less and less attention to the whole online discount coupon programs that seem to be popping up every way you turn. Needless to say, I think this is a great way to begin really looking in-depth at the cases of these programs, especially for small and new business owners.  http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/05/why-does-groupon-work/238706/

Following the article above, I present this article, which you can find in the above article. This is a first hand account of a business owner who used Groupon last year and lost big time. Sometimes it’s important to hear about experiences especially when they are open and honest. It’s also a great way to learn that somethings are not always what they seem. I’m curious to know how many other businesses have stories like this and if they’d be willing to share them. http://posiescafe.com/wp/?p=316

Just 29 days until the next list of articles!