Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Good Prank

Tools for tagging and/or causing trouble

As the only veterinarian for 100 square miles, Dad was called upon for many different animal situations.
Some dire.
And some not so much.
It was also his job to carry out the government programs of the time.
Brucellosis testing, for one.
And vaccinating for whatever was currently deemed important.
I should probably explain that, when a government vaccine program was initiated, the bottles of vaccine were sent along with little, metal tags.
After an animal had been properly vaccinated, a tag was clamped at the edge of one ear.
Proof of the deed.
Both duties involved long hours standing beside a chute - vaccine gun in one hand and tagging pliers in the other - while cattle were shuffled and sorted.
One herd was taking a particularly long time.
Unseasoned help?
Uncooperative animals?
Whatever the reason, Dad found himself standing for long periods of time with literally nothing to do.
Not a good situation for someone like him.
Mischief happens.
The owner had turned away, trying to see over the fence at what was going on in the next pen.
Dad glanced over.
The coat and coveralls the rancher was wearing were . . . right there.
He reached out with his tagging pliers.
And tagged.
Deftly (Ooh, I like that word!) and effectively pinning the man's coat and coveralls together.
The work continued.
Cattle were pressed forward down the chute.
Vaccinated and tagged.
And released.
Finally, the long job drew to a close.
As Dad was packing away his instruments, the rancher invited him inside for a chat and a hot drink.
I should mention here that the people who live in the wide stretches of ranching country are among the most welcoming and friendly in the world.
Any excuse is a good excuse for an invitation to visit.
I love it.
Back to my story . . .
Dad accepted the invite.
The two of them walked to the farm house.
And into the back porch.
Dad removed his boots.
The rancher did the same.
Dad removed his coat.
The rancher . . . didn't.
Oh, there was an attempt.
Some grunting and a couple of gruff words.
But, for some reason, the man and his coat simply couldn't . . . part company.
So to speak.
Finally, the man stripped off his coat and coveralls together.
And discovered the little, metal clip that held both of them firmly together.
He turned an accusing glare on Dad.
Who, with a wide grin on his face, found somewhere else to look.
The tag was easily pried off.
And coat and coveralls hung neatly – and separately – in the closet.
But the prank was never forgotten.
For years afterwards, whenever vaccinating, my Dad, veterinarians in general, the Government, ranching, chores, or ranch life were mentioned, that rancher would recall the time that Dad stapled him into his clothes.
The days come and go on a ranch.
But a good prank goes on forever.

Friday, August 17, 2012

That's Some Cat!

My Kitty

We had two Jersey milk cows.
Jerseys are small, light brown, gentle cattle.
With enormous, soft brown eyes.
They are a joy to work with.
Easy to milk.
Patient and quiet.
These two cows came to us already named.
Okay, the names weren't all that creative, I will admit.
Or suitable.
Still, they stuck.
The taller cow was Bunny.
The one a trifle shorter? Kitty.
The two of them gave us enough milk to supply our needs.
As well as the dairy needs of half the countryside.
We drank the milk.
Separated out the rich cream.
Churned butter.
For three years, we lived in Jersey heaven.
I had a friend who travelled about the area cutting hair.
Her skills were required at our farm every six weeks.
Obligingly, she showed up.
Scissors in hand.
To cut an endless parade of shaggy heads.
On one occasion, I was busily churning a batch of butter.
My friend was working in one of the kitchen.
Me and my butter were positioned in the other end.
As she worked, she kept one eye on what I was doing.
Finally, she had to ask.
“So, where do you get your milk?”
I smiled. “From my Bunny,” I said.
Her eyes got big. “From your . . .?”
My daughter interrupted. “No, Mom. This milk came from Kitty!”
“Oh, yes.” I looked at my friend.”From my Kitty,” I amended.
Her eyes got bigger as she stared at the enormous amount in the butter churn. “You actually . . . milk . . . a kitty?” she gasped out.
For a moment, we stared at each other.
“Yes . . . I . . .” I stopped.
I suddenly understood her confusion.
I laughed. Not a real kitty,” I said. “A cow, named Kitty.”
“Oh,” she said, relieved. “For a minute, I wondered.”
I had a sudden mental picture of trying to milk a cat.
It wasn't pretty.
Then I glanced at the two gallons of milk in the churn.
Yep. I understood my friend's look of astonishment.
That would have had to be some cat.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Someone's History

The new ranch, nestled in the Porcupine Hills.

When I was seventeen, my Dad sold the Stringam Ranch in Milk River.
And bought another ranch in the shadow of the Porcupine Hills near Fort Macleod, Alberta.
New land to explore.
New worlds to discover.
A lot of riding to do.
Dad immediately got the animals organized.
The main herd was pushed into the southeast quarter.
Where the *gasp* trees were.
The yearling herd went straight east.
Easy access to the main ranch buildings.
They were my first assignment.
Every day, it was my duty to ride through, checking for abnormalities.
Animals in distress.
Animals in trouble.
Animals donning gang colours and getting ready to cause some trouble and distress.
It was a relaxing, wonderful way to spend every morning.
Our east pasture bordered on the neighbour’s west pasture.
Together, they formed a broad sweep of prairie, unbroken and untreed.
I was able to look over the gate in the far east fence and across the neighbour’s property - almost to the highway, seven miles distant.
Not far away, I could see the roof of a building. A large, abandoned building.
A barn, I thought.
It demanded . . . more exploration.
I knew the neighbor wouldn’t mind.
I opened the gate and, closing it carefully behind me, started out.
A short time later, I stopped my horse beside what turned out to be, not a barn, but a two-storey, formerly beautiful house.
Abandoned for some years, I judged by the windowless, shingleless, paintless, doorless condition.
I tethered my horse and went in through what had once been the front entrance.
I was immediately in a large open room.
Trash and debris were littered about, including a huge, old, wood-burning kitchen stove.
I moved nearer.
It had been a beautiful piece. Probably top of the line.
Nickel-plated and fancy.
Someone had used it for target practice.
Large holes had been blown through the doors and walls.
Shotgun, I believe.
I sighed and moved on.
In one of the bedrooms, the shelves were filled with . . . stuff.
I pulled out an old shoebox filled with letters written eighty years before, from a girl who had moved east, to her parents still on the family farm.
Fascinating reading.
I stuffed the shoe box back on the shelf and continued exploring.
A set of stairs beckoned.
I climbed to the second story.
Which proved to be one large room.
The windows at either end were, like those on the first floor, gone.
A layer of bird droppings about six inches thick covered everything here.
Clothing and other personal belongings were discernible.
There were some boxes against one end.
I pulled them nearer the window and scooped away the decades of bird manure.
The boxes were filled with old ‘Life’ magazines.
The kind you pay mega bucks for at the antique stores.
Some of them dated back to 1903.
For a moment, I pictured stuffing my saddlebags full and riding away with a small fortune.
If only I had saddlebags.
Then, the smell hit me.
Oh, dear.
I dug down through the pile and pulled out a magazine from near the bottom.
Then moved closer to the window and held it to my nose.
Did you know that decades of bird poop really smells?
Well, it does.
And, over the years, it had trickled down through the pile of magazines to those at the very bottom.
Visions of wealth and riches disappeared.
Who is going to buy a magazine soaked in bird manure?
I put the magazine back and returned to my horse.
For a moment, I looked up at the house.
It had been a beautiful building.
Someone had constructed it.
Moved in.
Then they had abandoned it.
I don’t know why.
But doesn’t it make your imagination soar?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Ugly Tourist

See? Invisible!

A Guest Post by Grant Tolley

The word evokes many images – almost all of them negative – in the mind of anyone who is not one.  Yet, it cannot cease to amaze one, that we can despise the tourist in others, while adopting so many of those . . . er . . . interesting characteristics when on vacation ourselves.
My wife and I recently toured the islands of Greece.  I am an anthropologist by training, so invariably we spend a lot of time people-watching, as well as enjoying the sights and scenery.  While overall it was a truly memorable and delightful trip, we inevitably encountered a variety of tourists, exhibiting a variety of ‘touristy’ characteristics, all of which we tried desperately to avoid, even though we were, technically, in the ranks.
I swear that what follows is an accurate representation of our observations of fellow tourists.

The Loud Tourist
This category of tourist has a number of sub-groups.
The first is The FogHorn Tourist
This is the traveller who doesn’t seem to mind announcing, at 100+ decibels, intimate details of their life to the entire world.

 “But Henry, I’m sure I packed your hemorrhoid salve!  That’s just awful, to get hemorrhoids.  And on your birthday too!”

I’ve heard a lot of sad tales, but I’ve never heard of hemorrhoids appearing on someone’s birthday. I always thought they appeared somewhere else.

And another FogHorn, who told the following tale of woe :

“I was so sick! First I was throwing up.  My supper and everything! And then I had diarrhea all night! Oh, I tell you, Mildred, it was just awful!  I didn’t know which end was which!”

No comment.  I only hope that at half time, she switched ends.

Second in the Loud Tourist category is The Anglocentric Tourist.  This is the one who believes that any foreigner can understand English if it is spoken slowly, and loudly enough.

“Toi-let pa-per.  Toilet paper.  You know [insert largely obscene but mostly incomprehensible hand gestures here], TOILET paper.  In the BATHroom.  TOI-LLL-LET! TOI-LET-PA-PER! IT’S ALL OUT! IN THE TOI-LET!! [more incomprehensible hand gestures]”

One can only smirk when, at the end of this performance, the hotel clerk says, with a straight face and in Oxford English: “We’ll look after it right away, madam.”

The third sub-group in the Loud Tourist category is The Airhead Student Tourist.  This category consists of students fresh out of a college semester, who apparently are touring exotic lands for the first time.  They can be both Loud and Ugly, and for all their education, are seemingly under the impression that because they are in a non-English-speaking country, they are the only ones on the bus who actually speak English.
The following particular pair stood eight feet apart during a 45-minute bus ride, sharing their intimacies with – they thought – no one, again at 100+ decibels.

“They didn’t check my ticket.  How do they know I paid?”
“Well, like, when I first came, I thought the same thing, so once I didn’t buy a ticket, and the ticket inspector came and asked me, and I, like, totally freaked, and they hauled me down to the police station, and I was, like, totally hysterical, and then you know what?  Like, then I got my period, and it was just awful, a big mess, and I started crying, and they still fined me 65 Euros, and then they let me go, but on the way home, I was attacked . . . ”

After 20 minutes or so of this, the conversation turned to :

“I am so jealous of you, you’ve had so many loves in your life!  Like Jeff.  Was he, like, a major love, or just a mini-love?”
“Well, he was kind of a mini-love, but turned into a major love, and I was, like, so totally in love with him, but he dumped me, and I was sad, but I got over it quickly . . .”

When this pair got off the bus, someone behind us breathed out an exasperated “Thank goodness that’s over!”  We were not alone.

The High-Tech Tourist
This is the tourist who carries:
·         a regular camera
·         a digital camera
·         a video camera (sometimes two)
·         a cell phone
·         an electronic chronometer watch
·         a digital light meter
·         a GPS indicator
·         a Palm Pilot
·         a Walkman
·         several other indistinguishable gizmos

This particular breed of tourist becomes totally dysfunctional when something – anything – beeps.  I took perverse delight in sidling up close behind High-Tech tourists and making the alarm on his watch beep.  I have to admit that the unfortunate victim looked like a human windmill as he tried to figure out which toy was making the noise.

The Bleary-Eyed Bar Tourist
Truly amazing to us were the people who spent thousands to travel half-way around the world, only to spend thousands more getting plastered, day after day, in the hotel bar.  There were a few on this most recent trip.

“Why, shore, when I [hiccup] was in Australia, they got good wine there, you know [urp], the bar at the Hilton had ‘em all, it was great . . . [hiccup] . . . an' I even got to see one of them weird kangaroo thingys . . . "
 The Map-Impaired Tourist
 These hapless souls are the ones standing on a corner peering at the street signs, while wrestling with an indecipherable, gigantic map that is desperately trying to be a kite instead of a map.

The same ones you will see, two hours later, on another corner a block away, with the same map.
In the same wind.
And the same helpless, confused look on their faces.

“Harriet, I know we’ve been here before.  I remember this bakery.”
“Are you sure, Harry?  I don’t remember a bakery.  I don’t recognise anything!”

Harry then squints at the street sign.
Harry then turns the map upside down. 
And peers at the street sign again.
And at the bakery again.

“Just give me a minute.  I’ll figure this out.  What street is our hotel on again??”

The Know-it-All Tourist
 “Look, honey, your favorite perfume.  L’Air du Temps.  Look at the price!  It’s really cheap here.”

And suddenly a helpful, friendly third voice joins the conversation.  It is the Know-it-All tourist standing next to you who jumps in to show off his or her supposed knowledge about the country you are visiting.
Or anything else.

“Oh, yes! It’s because Greece is part of the European Union now, and they can get things from other countries in Europe really cheap.  That’s a marvellous French perfume.  L’Air du Temps.  That means Birds in Flight, you know.  I’ve been to France three times now . . . . . ”

The Obnoxious Tourist
 “Take this back!  This is . . . this is disgusting.”
The Obnoxious Tourist is rejecting his meal in a four-star restaurant.
As loudly as he can.  For the whole restaurant to hear.

“But sir,” objects the server in her faltering English, “eet is zackly what you order.”
“I didn’t order no #@&% rabbit-food crap like this!”
“Sir? Did you not order the horiatiki?”
“No, @#$%&*.  I ordered the @#$&% Greek salad!”
“But sir, that is what horiatiki means.  Greek salad.”
“Well, %$#*& it, why didn’t you tell me there were $%#$ black olives in it!  I hate olives!  They don’t make Greek salad like this back home.  Why don’t you @#$%& foreigners learn how to make it right!”

The Insensitive Tourist
 There are several sub-species in this category as well.
First is the Intellectually Insensitive Tourist, (as in just plain stupid).

“Sir? Sir! Sir, please don’t touch . . . Sir, please don’t climb on the statue!  Sir! Sir!? . . . . Security!!”

Next is the Socially Insensitive Tourist.

“Sir, this is a no-smoking area . . . .No, sir, that rule applies to everyone, not just to Greeks.”

And, there is always the Culturally Insensitive Tourist.

“Excuse me, sir, like the sign says, photography is not allowed in the Church . . . . well, sir, because it is a sacred place, sir . . . . well, maybe not to you, but it is to the local people, and out of respect . . . . How would you feel . . . . Oh, I see, well . . . er . . . Churches are places where millions of people go to worship . . . . “

The Invisible Tourist
 Alas, I must confess, we fall into this category.
We try hard to blend in.
Not to be Loud.
Or Insensitive.
Or Obnoxious.
Or Anglocentric.
We try desperately to learn a few phrases of the local language, and practise them rigorously.
We eat the local food.
And pretend hard that we omnivores really enjoy boiled octopus and eggplant mush.
We take the bus.  And the subway.  We refuse to be seen emerging from a taxi.
We are invisible.
At least, we would like to believe no one can tell that we are that most abominable of creatures, tourists.
But still, people know.
Somehow, they know.
They speak to us first in English.
How could they tell?
Maybe it’s the lobster-red, sunburned noses.
Maybe it’s the broad-brimmed sun hats we wear, out of mercy for our noses. 
The ones in which no self-respecting Greek would be caught dead.

I think I get it now. 
Maybe it’s the small Canadian flag.
Embroidered on our shirts. 
And the flag pins on our hats.
And the ten pound camera hung unobtrusively around our necks.
And the brilliant whiteness of winter legs sticking out of really scary Bermuda shorts . . .

Maybe we're not so invisible after all . . . . 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Best Thing About Holidays

People on holiday say the darndest things.
I'm sure that, in their real world, these people are well-adjusted and intelligent.
But, for some reason, when they leave home, they leave something else behind as well.
I've heard people say such gems as, “Excuse me, guide? How do you get all of the flags on the compound wall to fly in the same direction?”
And, “The sign says 'No Admittance'. Is that for you? Or us?”
And my personal favourite, “How much of these caves are actually underground?”
They make a great holiday just that much more entertaining.
For example . . .
My Husby was at a conference in Washington D.C.
I went along.
When he wasn't attending meetings, we explored the city.
We were having a wonderful time.
On one free afternoon, we decided to take a tour of the White House.
With a large group of fellow tourists, we were directed to a relatively unimportant door somewhere in the rear of the building.
Then guided, in a orderly manner and under the constant scrutiny of a number of Secret Service agents, through the building.
The agents each looked very Secret Service-ish with dark glasses and an ear bud.
We felt as if we were in a movie.
The place was beautiful.
We saw state rooms and bed rooms.
Assembly halls and offices.
Dining rooms and ball rooms.
All were heavy with the feeling of History.
Our guide gave us a large dollop of it as she directed us from room to room.
My Husby is an historian.
We have spent our married life immersed in things historical.
We couldn't have been happier.
Finally, regretfully, our tour drew to a close.
We were led to the door under the famous portico and released to the outside world.
Immediately past the door was yet another secret service agent.
One of the guests hurried over to him.”Excuse me, agent?” she asked.
He turned toward her. “Yes, Ma'am?” he said in a colourless voice.
You know, I've always wondered what a colourless voice was.
Now I know.
It has absolutely no inflection.
Soo . . . no colour.
Just FYI.
Back to my story.
“Yes, Ma'am?”
“This door . . . where we are . . . that is the front of the White House, correct?”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“So the other side. That would be the back, right?”
I admire these agents. They must have to take special training just to deal with the questions they may be asked at any given moment.
His face didn't even twitch. “Yes, Ma'am,” he said as soberly as if she had just asked him the time.
My Husby, on the other hand, was totally unprepared for her question.
He burst into laughter.
I quickly pulled him away to the lawn. “Hush!” I said.
Really. That's what I said.
But he wouldn't.
Hush, I mean.
Some people are so unruly.
“No, that would be the roof,” he whispered to me.
I started towing him across the lawn.
“No, wait. Maybe it's the basement!”
I towed harder.
We really did enjoy our trip to Washington.
The history.
And the tourists.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ow! -or- How Do You Spell Stupid?

Branding Crew. I'm the one in the floppy hat.
Sitting right behind the author of my misfortune.
How many times would you bang your head against a wall before you remembered that the wall was there.
And that banging your head against it . . . hurt?
Sigh . . .
Branding in the early summer is a time of great excitement.
For the humans.
I don't think the calves are all that enthusiastic.
The animals are pushed down a long chute and caught up in a squeeze.
Which then tilts sideways and secures the animal on its side.
Allowing the rancher to brand, tag, and inoculate the creature.
Each animal spends, at most, about two minutes up there.
Because it is attended by several people.
Each with a specific job.
I had just recently graduated from being the 'pusher'.
It's not what you think.
To being the 'inoculate-er'.
To accomplish my assignment, I was charged with the care and use of the vaccine gun.
Which would pump 5cc. of serum into the neck of the calf, quickly and efficiently.
Simply by pulling the trigger.
It was the best of jobs.
And very soon, I had mastered the technique and was injecting with the best of them.
I was the queen of the world.
Then, that squeeze.
Each of these machines have a long lever on them, which is pushed down to force the sides of said squeeze together, trapping the animal.
When the apparatus is flipped sideways, that lever hangs out . . . a trifle.
And that is where I came to grief.
Numerous times.
Having completed my injection, I would return to my post near the back of the squeeze, check my gun, and recharge, if need be.
Concerned for my responsibility, I usually started checking my gun as I walked.
Not too bright.
That stupid arm hit me right at nose height.
And I do mean nose.
Everyone turned to look.
“What's the matter?” Dad asked.
“I hit this stupid lever!”
“Well, watch where you're walking.”
I scowled and, rubbing my sore nose, continued to my station.
The animal we had been working with was returned to the upright position and released.
My younger brother brought up the next one.
Capture. Squeeze. Tilt.
Inject. Check gun.
“What's the matter now?”
“I hit that lever again.”
“Diane! Look where you're going!”
Tilt. Release.
New calf.
Capture. Squeeze. Tilt.
Inject, check gun.
This time, my nose started bleeding.
I put up a hand.
Dad turned around. “Did you hit that lever again?”
I had one hand over my nose. “Maybe.”
“Diane! Watch where you're going!”
I found a rag, which I quickly stuffed up my nose.
Tilt. Release.
New calf.
Capture. Squeeze. Tilt.
Inject. Check gun.
You know where this is going, don't you?
I hit that stupid pole six times.
Before I finally figured out that I could just as easily walk OUT and AROUND.
Maybe it wasn't the pole that was stupid . . .

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Little Knowledge

For years, the Canadian Government had a program.
Okay, they have many, many programs.
But this particular program was designed to share ranching knowledge and expertise with people from other countries.
Candidates would be chosen.
And would then spend up to a year with a Canadian ranching family.
Learning the ropes.
So to speak.
My father, being one of said ranchers, participated in the program many times.
We had people from Germany, Korea, Denmark and other countries.
It was definitely a learning experience.
One particular gentleman arrived, all smiles and eagerness.
Excited to learn the 'Canadian' ways.
His enthusiasm lasted until suppertime.
I should mention that this man was the head of his own household in his native country.
At home, he was fed first and his family took what was left.
I don't know if that was common in his country, but it was certainly common in his household.
Moving on . . .
Mom passed him the first dish.
He took half and set it down.
We stared at him.
Then at what he had left.
That still needed to feed two hungry parents and four hungry teenagers.
Mom handed him the second dish.
Again, he put a neat line in the centre and took half.
She picked up the third, and last dish.
There was a smothered protest from my elder brother as she handed this dish, again, to our guest.
Good manners must.
Our new employee again took half.
After that initial meal, Mom learned to hand the dishes to someone else first.
Lesson one learned.
One of the chores on the ranch included hauling water to a row of newly-planted trees.
Our friend was given hoses and equipment suitable to accomplishing this.
When Dad went back to check on him, he discovered that man had found a broomstick and two five-gallon buckets and was hauling water with the stick over his shoulders and the buckets suspended from either end.
Dad realized that he had to instruct the man on the proper way to connect everything to accomplish his task with a fraction of the effort.
Lesson two learned – after a fashion.
We had a large field that needed to be cross-fenced.
The trees and undergrowth needed to be cleared back to a distance of about eight feet to allow for the construction of the fences.
Dad supplied our friend with chainsaws, axes and saws.
And a little ATM to get to and from.
Our friend loved the ATM.
Though he never learned how to change out of first gear.
But he never could get the knack of using the power tools.
Or any of the tools, for that matter.
Oh, he cleared that field all right.
Using a machete and his right hand.
Lesson three . . . glanced at.
I don't want to suggest that he was stupid.
Because he certainly wasn't.
He was, in fact, quite brilliant.
We were, all of us, simply struggling against the pull of generations of 'this-it-how-it-has-always-been-done'.
And it became quite obvious one day after he head been with us for several months.
I had had a busy day.
Early that morning, I had been milking.
My little brother's usual chore, but one he occasionally dumped on me.
Our friend glanced inside the barn and greeted me.
After breakfast, I was working with one of my green-broke horses.
Our friend watched me for a few minutes, shaking his head and grinning.
A couple of hours later, I saw him look over the fence as I was pulling a calf.
And a short time after that, he came in as I was helping Mom make lunch.
That afternoon, I was in the room I shared with my little sister, just off the dining room.
We were putting up wallpaper.
He glanced inside and watched us for a few minutes.
Then he turned away.
Later, as I was helping Mom with the dishes, he came into the kitchen.
“You are amazing girl,” he said to me. “You would be worth much, very much in my country.”
I didn't know if I should be flattered.
Or alarmed.
A short time later, he left us.
Taking all he had learned back to his country.
The program was successful on many levels.
Much knowledge was given.
I really don't know who learned the most, though.
Or us.

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Following tragedy, Devon retreats to the solitude of the prairie. Until a girl is dropped in his lap.

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Pearl, Why You Little...
Everyone should spend a little time with Pearl!

The Marketing Mentress

The Marketing Mentress
Building solid relationships with podcast and LinkedIn marketing

Coffee Row

Coffee Row
My Big Brother's Stories

Better Blogger Network

Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis
I've been given an award!!!

The Liebster Award

The Liebster Award
My good friend and Amazing Blogger, Marcia of Menopausal Mother awarded me . . .

Irresistibly Sweet Award

Irresistibly Sweet Award
Delores, my good friend from The Feathered Nest, has nominated me!

Sunshine Award!!!

Sunshine Award!!!
My good friend Red from Oz has nominated me!!!

My very own Humorous Blogger Award From Delores at The Feathered Nest!

Be Courageous!

Grab and Add!

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Ghost of the Overlook

Ghost of the Overlook
Need a fright?