Shop Series Feature

Erin of the shop Amelia in Mississippi has a series on her instagram called Shop Stories where she features other shops around the country. Gather is the featured shop this week. Check it out on instagram and see my “story” here:

Gather in Cary, North Carolina

My name is Michelle Smith and I own Gather, a hybrid gift shop & coffee shop that also serves as a coworking space and a classroom in downtown Cary, NC. Each facet organically feeds into the other. The shop features goods from emerging makers around the country, the majority of which come from North Carolina. I am very passionate about this type of entrepreneur and prior to Gather I founded an event called The Rock & Shop Market which I hosted for ten years and featured 100 juried makers per event alongside, bands, beer and food trucks. Gather felt like the natural next step in progressing the needs of both my local community and maker entrepreneurs by giving them a platform to sell their wares, a place to work out of, network and teach their skills.

Gather in Cary, North Carolina

As a shop owner and entrepreneur I wear many hats. I have a small team of part-time employees who help me at Gather while I am going full-speed ahead to make the space successful. A few of my day to day tasks include paying bills, selecting goods for the shop, marketing and coordinating events, tagging items and adding them to inventory, merchandising the space, photographing and updating for social media and sometimes making coffee behind the register.

In addition to Gather I have my own product line which I’ve run for the past ten years as well, and I work professionally as a photographer and food and prop stylist. See what I mean about wearing many hats? I’m also a mom to a 7-year old and my husband, a scientist by day, makes peppermint bark at night with his business The Apothecary’s Kitchen. Keeping all of this going while also maintaining balance in my personal life is something I work equally as hard at, and I think key to doing this kind of work without burning out and staying healthy.

Gather in Cary, North Carolina

I really love food and helping to foster community, and I think the two are closely related so having a coffee and teashop within the space is a natural fit. We also have a variety of local chocolates for sale too. Gather is located in a sleepy downtown in the middle of an otherwise thriving region in North Carolina called the Triangle. Creating a space for the residents of this particular pocket to literally “gather” is an important piece of what the space is. And when people who live in other parts of the Triangle take the time to drive to the shop it becomes even more of a special destination: a quiet retreat that you’ve discovered and can pore over and bring a friend to that feels like you are stepping away from your normal routine but still just a short drive away.

Gather in Cary, North Carolina

I grew up in a small downtown filled with antique stores and beautiful historic storefronts that were underutilized. When I was a teenager I used to imagine the type of shop I would open in one of those spaces. I would always imagine a gift shop filled with plants, a space that was also my studio. I imagined it filled with books, with coffee and tea and hosting musical performances. What’s funny is that I never really saw how all those pieces would fit together cohesively and I had even shelved the idea of opening up a shop at all, after multiple earnest but never quite-right earlier attempts toward that goal. And yet here I am running this type of space in a sleepy downtown similar to the one I grew up in. Gather in Cary, North Carolina

Through hosting my Rock & Shop Market events for the past ten years I’ve come to develop a deep understanding and relationship with the maker entrepreneurs in this community (over 1000 different makers have participated in those events) and have helped to cultivate a culture and shop space where these makers are hopefully able to grow & succeed as business owners. I feel like maker entrepreneurs have a different set of needs and should have access to resources that benefit them specifically, and though this a thriving movement happening right now, those resources aren’t always easy to find in person. My goal is to help facilitate that at Gather both organically through the shop but also through the classes we offer and informal mentoring.

Gather in Cary, North Carolina

At the end of the day I am just a micro-business owner too and have to pull myself up by my bootstraps and find creative ways to fund the space and try to make it beautiful at the same time. I’m on a scrappy DIY budget and take things one-step at a time hopefully evolving and improving each day to make an awesome experience for my customers. These shelves were built by my husband and I about six months ago and allowed me to double the merchandise in the shop. I had the idea for them in my head long before I was able to implement them. It’s really gratifying to watch my ideas unfold over time and evolve and get refined through use, instead of being perfect all at once.

** The top two images were taken by Lissa Gotwals for Etsy Wholesale

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Gather Snippets and Gardening

Green Tea & Ginger Matcha Latte

I love collecting recipes and combining flavors at home. It’s extra special getting to do this at Gather as well. Each month I try to work with my staff to come up with a “drink of the month”, this month it is a delicious Ginger Matcha Latte. So good. I also adore these green mugs that I stock in the shop. I might have to switch out my standard all white ones for a set of these too. Hellebore Perennial Plant

It’s finally starting to feel like Spring here in North Carolina, but it feels a little late. Here, we expect Spring weather early and for only a brief spell, then quickly followed by a long hot summer. I’ve learned to plant everything in the ground no later than June to give my plants enough time to grow roots before the sweltering heat sets in. The other day I found these gorgeous full-grown hellebore’s at Trader Joe’s for only $10. These are one of my favorite Spring-blooming perennials (they come back year after year). They need a good shady spot, so I might have to plant them at Gather instead of my own small patio garden at home, which receives quite a bit more sun. Flower Crown Class at Gather in Cary, NC

It’s really fun to partner with other local businesses and people who are doing inspiring things and offer those as classes to the community at Gather. Typically, I am behind-the-scenes organizing things or taking photos and not really able to attend the classes in the fashion that I could if I didn’t run the space. This past weekend though I took a floral crown class and my daughter joined me. While it turns out she was still a little too young to sit still for the class, it was fun learning new skills and anytime I get to work with flowers I am happy. Seed Bombs & Plant Sprouts at Gather in Cary, NC

For Arbor Day we gave away free plant sprouts left over from another class that was hosted at the shop. I love too these seed bombs that we carry. You just toss them and flowers grow. So easy. All Natural Cleaning Products at Gather in Cary, NC

I just received some lovely smelling and gorgeously packaged cleaning goods at Gather; they are making Spring-cleaning so much more pleasant. On that note, have you read The Magic Art of Tidying? It’s a little kooky book but as someone who’s had a fascination with “stuff” and why and how we keep it, this book’s method of sorting and eliminating by type of goods, methodically, is a really good one. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject and frankly have been working on this in my own home for a while now but this style of eliminating and organizing keeps you on task well and is really motivating.

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Orange Cake Recipe

Orange / Tangerine Cake Recipe  - Food Photography by Michelle Smith

I recently had some girl friends over to get dressed up and watch the Oscars and drink fancy cocktails. I made this orange cake and it was very good. Here is the recipe:

Orange Cake Recipe
 
Ingredients
  • Cooking-oil spray
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 oranges (about 1 lb. total), ends trimmed, then cut into chunks and seeded (or tangerines)
  • 2½ cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tsp. orange juice
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs.
  2. Whirl orange chunks in a food processor until mostly smooth but not puréed. Add 1½ cups orange mixture to batter and beat until blended. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to bowl and beat until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it, about 55 minutes. Cool pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack and let cool completely.
  4. Whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cake. Let glaze set, then slice cake.

Recipe via Sunset Magazine. Food photography by me, Michelle Smith.

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Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

November through January is always a hectic time of year in our household with a ton of birthdays, a seasonal food business (my husband’s peppermint bark), a retail shop and family in town but it is also a special time that deserves to be celebrated. I have a large file of recipes I’ve pulled from magazines for referring to and cooking in the future. For my daughter’s birthday we combed through those clippings together and landed upon a recipe that looked amazing, but that I had only tore out half of. The recipe was for a gingerbread layer cake with eggnog cream cheese frosting. I looked online for the rest of the instructions to no avail, so we winged, and combined two other similar recipes.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so the first thing I am going to say is that this recipe is very sweet. My husband and daughter though thought the cake in its entirety was awesome. I think both parts separately would be amazing if you like things slightly less sweet like me: the gingerbread cake without any frosting, or the eggnog cream cheese frosting on another baked good. That said, this is a really good cake and very pretty served with sugared cranberries on top.

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting
 
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 grams raw (Demerara) sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup stout
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 340 grams all-purpose flour (2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 210 grams dark brown sugar, lightly packed (1 cup)
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup)
  • ¾ cup safflower oil
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ stick salted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3.4 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 tablespoon dark, aged or spiced rum
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar
  • frozen cranberries
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt pan well with the softened butter. Coat the entire pan with raw sugar so that it sticks to the butter. Turn the pan over to dump out any excess sugar.
  2. Add the stout and molasses to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and let cool to room temperature. Be careful as the stout mixture will bubble up.
  3. Sift together the flour, ground spices, pepper and salt. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the fresh ginger, eggs, vanilla extract, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed for five minutes.
  5. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the oil. Mix for another 5 minutes. Slowly add the stout mixture and mix for another 5 minutes.
  6. Carefully add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing well in between each addition.
  7. Pour the batter into 4 prepared cake pans. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes and then flip pans upside down to release while still warm. Let cool completely.
  8. For the frosting, beat the softened cream cheese and cutter together until smooth in an electric mixer.
  9. Next beat together the rum, nutmeg, vanilla and rum extracts.
  10. On low, add powdered sugar, until smooth.
  11. Frost the cakes when they are completely cool, then stack.
  12. Take frozen cranberries, rinse them in water, then roll them in granulated sugar. Add to the top of the cake.

Food Photography by me, Michelle Smith. Recipe inspired by ones from NY Times & Epicurious.

 

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Holiday Gifts & Misc Shop Updates at Gather

Gather Business Cards

It only took a year, but I finally got business cards for Gather, and I’m really loving them! I created the dogwood pattern specifically for using at Gather in branding, and I have it in various spots throughout the shop, including wallpaper. The dogwood is the state flower of both North Carolina where I’ve lived now for almost thirteen years, and also of Virginia where I grew up. I’ve used dogwoods in logo designs for other companies (I was a graphic/web designer for ten years) and throughout my own various business incarnations too: in my first product designs and in the logo of indieNC, the blog and shop I ran prior to my business evolving to where it is now. And I planted a dogwood tree when my daughter was born in our backyard to celebrate the occasion. The tree and its flower are special to me and I like that it is infuses my various endeavors with symbolism and heart.

Copper Patina Belt Buckles, Made in North Carolina, at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

I really love these copper belt buckles that just came into Gather this week. They are made by a lady who lives a few streets down from Gather. She is a lifelong fine arts crafter, having attended dozens of classes at the John C. Cambell Folk School. I hope to one day be able to attend a week-long retreat there or at Penland. Both spots are dedicated to teaching fine art & homesteading skills in rural mountain settings and have rich histories.

Shiny Gold Illustrated Mugs, Pretzel and Grumpy Cat, at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

These mugs are super cute. Who can resist shiny gold pretzels and a grumpy cat with a shiny gold bow tie? I mean come on. These are filled with drinks from Gather’s in-house coffee shop. I brought the coffee shop in-house early last year and it is another element that I manage and run at Gather alongside the gift shop, classes, and coworking. The skills I gained in my teens from working retail, waitressing and schleping coffee are paying off! It’s fun to concoct new recipes too.

Gift Shop Shelf Merchandising at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

It’s so satisfying to see something you’ve been planning for a very long time come to fruition. I had been planning a second area of merchandise for the shop but have limited space at Gather to work with and a very scrappy bootstrapped budget. I imagined a wall of shelves that looked like built-ins in my head. I was confident they would look good but you never really know when the idea lives solely in your head. My husband and I got around to putting them up a month or two ago and they are rapidly filling with great gift products – including my favorite thing of all: books!

Made in North Carolina Gifts at Gather in Cary, North Carolina: Flour Sack Tea Towel, Ceramic Herb Garden Markers, Bath Salts

With the expanded inventory I am adding in more maker made products from outside the region, but still about 95% of the goods are from North Carolina designers – and most of those goods come from the Triangle. I am very passionate about maker entrepreneurs, especially ones here in North Carolina and helping them find more channels for success. I find that here in the Triangle especially, the desire to become an entrepreneur and the amount of new business owners is at an all time high.

I am fascinated by the seemingly sudden public awareness of both business ownership and the maker movement, when it has been something that has been steadily chugging along and gaining momentum for quite a while, and something that I have been advocating for, for a decade now. That said, I still think that there is an over abundance of focus on young, male, tech-centric start-ups seeking venture capital funding and I get a little tired of hearing that story broadcasted loudly. My hope is that Gather draws attention to other, equally impactful, business owners who have a different style of both work and way of working, and different needs to reach their own business milestones and resources to get there that aren’t readily available. So far, I think Gather is filling a much needed niche and it’s a gratifying (if not challenging) endeavor for me too.

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Party at Gather, Small Business Saturday

Gather Cary North Carolina

In honor of Small Business Saturday we are hosting a party at Gather featuring 10+ local men makers, a food truck, and free beer + more fun surprises this Saturday November 29th from 5-10pm!

We’ll have a heated tent in the parking lot filled with local men makers selling everything from peppermint bark to cutting boards and hand-stitched leather goods. Plus everything in the Gather shop will be 20% off. The food truck Chirba Chirba Dumplings will be here, plus a build your own Old Fashioned’s Station, a DIY Smore’s Station, free gift wrap and a local tin type photographer will on hand as well taking portraits. Help us spread the word, and see you there!

Gather is located at 111 West Chatham Street in Downtown Cary, NC 27511

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Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Carving pumpkins at Halloween is fun, but I especially love cleaning out the goopy innards and turning them into this delicious treat. I don’t particularly have a sweet tooth (I’m more of a salty snacker) but these skillet roasted pumpkin seeds are that perfect combination of sweet and spicy that is especially hard to resist.

While my husband and daughter were deciding on the looks of their jack-o-lanterns (my daughter decided to go with “evil Grandpa”), I took a short break to make these. This is a very easy recipe to whip up, with the most labor intensive part being retrieving the seeds themselves. ;)

Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds Recipe
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Dash of ground red pepper
Instructions
  1. Place 1 cup pumpkinseeds in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 4 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly (seeds will pop slightly).
  2. Combine canola oil and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; add seeds, tossing to coat. Arrange seeds in a single layer on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Cool 10 minutes.
  3. Stick in oven at 350, for 10 minutes if seeds aren't to the crunchiness of your liking.

iphone image by me, Recipe via Cooking Light

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Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe, Tom Kha Gai

Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe

I’m a big fan of soups in the fall and winter. My husband not as much, but I think they are growing on him, especially, with soups as good as this one that is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. I tend to be hyper focused during the day when I’m working and usually want something quick and easy for lunch. Soup is great because even after reheating it doesn’t lose its essence like a lot of other leftovers tend to do. This soup, a Thai staple, is also great when you are sick because the spiciness of the chili helps clear your sinuses.

Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe, Tom Kha Gai
 
Ingredients
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in 1-in. pieces
  • 1 pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-in. chunks $
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Thai chili paste
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, broth, ginger, and lemongrass and bring to boil over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass. Garnish servings with basil and cilantro.

iphone photo by me, Recipe via Sunset

 

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Photo Styling Work for Southern Season, Brunch

Here are some photos from one of a number of food & prop styling jobs I worked on for Southern Season this past Spring/Summer. This shoot had a brunch theme.

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

 

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

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Cedar Creek Gallery, Creedmoor, North Carolina

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

This past summer my friend Amanda and I were out for a drive on a business errand. On the way back, a little under an hour from being back home, I noticed a sign on the highway for a spot I had seen a picture of and had saved as something to check out at a later date. I’m a sucker for a long rambling drive into parts unknown and happening upon new and notable things along the way.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

So I asked Amanda, the driver, if she would take a slight detour from our errand and check out this unknown spot with me. It turned out to be a great discovery and with the right person – I love it when that happens! Both of us are absolutely smitten with gardens and plants and outdoor spaces and just being in them without much of an agenda. We are both the same type of introverted, slightly loner, creatives who soak up spaces that pique the imaginations of our inner world. And anything that is slightly overgrown, feels unspoiled and a little like a secret garden that we just happened upon, is even better.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

This is what it felt like when we found Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor, North Carolina. The grounds were landscaped but slightly wild, obviously planted with intention years ago but left slightly neglected for a while and allowed to grow out naturally in a beautiful way. Small wooden barns covered in ivy and lush green leaves, wild and native flowers, and bulbs intermixed with a picnic table, small sculptures and even a porch swing.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

When I was in high school I would go on treks by myself a lot. There was a nearby graveyard that I would walk through often. It wasn’t spooky, but it was quiet and isolated and scenic and I could be alone with my thoughts. Near to the graveyard was a large tree in a great big field, just far enough from civilization that I could again, escape into my head, and on separate occasions I would go here too to ponder and just be. The grounds of Cedar Creek Gallery feel like the kind of place I could spend hours like that if I lived closer. The slightly hippie vibe of the space appeals to me as well. I think that too comes from growing up in the valley of a nearby mountain where barefooted, musical, and artistic people were plenty.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

While I was distinctly more taken with the grounds on this first trip, the actual gallery features a large number of fine art crafts and pottery and is worth a look. Dotted on the grounds are kilns and ovens, pottery and glass making studios that are occupied by working artists.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

Near the parking lot is a plant nursery with rows of plants in flats for purchase. This weekend they host their annual pottery and glass festival with pottery, wood turning and fiber dying demonstrations. For me though, being there with no one around except my friend, quietly discovering alongside each other, it was perfect.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

iphone images by me, Michelle Smith

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Gather, One Year Anniversary, Party

It’s been a big year with so much forward propelling movement that I’ve hardly had time to pause, let alone blog. That said, I’ve learned a lot, built a lot, and connected with countless fabulous individuals through Gather, my gift shop/coffee shop/coworking hybrid space in downtown Cary, North Carolina. The pop-up retail space at Gather expanded into a full-time shop,the majority of which is filled with gift products and goods made by North Carolina makers, but also including great products from other regions too. The pop-up coffee portion also morphed into a full-time facet of the shop as well that I brought in-house. Gather now has over thirteen coworkers, the majority of which are women, who utilize the space as a communal office away from home, and the space has curated and hosted dozens of classes in the past year to over 100 attendees. In addition, the space and back patio garden has been rented out for a number of baby showers, parties and other gatherings.

It’s a lot to manage and daily I am contemplating the benefits versus the risks, especially since I foresee at least a few more years of having to hustle hard. I am quite passionate about the space and what it means to the community and entrepreneurs like myself, but it is challenging work and not for the faint of heart.

Gather, Cary, NC

This Friday, August 29th from 5pm-9pm, I am hosting a one year anniversary to celebrate the space. There will be free beer and wine from my soon to be downtown Cary neighbors, Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage, free chair massages by two of our private studio coworkers who have a massage practice in one of our private studios, BBQ by the food truck The Humble Pig, and 20% off everything in the shop. If you are local to the Triangle, North Carolina area I hope you can attend!

Gather is located at 111 West Chatham Street, downtown Cary, NC 27511. And if you can’t make it to the party Gather is open every Tues. 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri. 10am-3pm, Sat. 9am-6pm & Sun. 1pm-5pm. You can also follow along on Instagram or Facebook as those pages get updated daily with Gather news. Hope to see you there!

 

 

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