Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ancestor Sunday

Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Prime

You know how much I love writing the stories of family members gone before?
Well, I’ve decided to make it official and institute Ancestor Sundays!
Here we go . . .
For today’s story, first a little background . . .
My Grandma Stringam’s Paternal Great-Grandmother was Sarah Thornton. Sarah was born in Little Paxton, Huntingshire, England on June 11, 1806.
So my great, great, great grandmother, if I’m doing this right.
Am I doing this right?
Moving on . . .
Sarah died in Utah, USA on March 1, 1892 at the age of 85.
What a treasury of stories her life would be!
I only have a tiny portion, from family journals:
At the age of 10, Sarah was left motherless.
Her grieving father sent her and her older sister Jane to boarding school. A common enough practice.
But this was no ordinary school.
This was a school that emphasized ‘discipline’.
Oh, they were quite progressive in a lot of ways: no beating or whippings were allowed.
But to make up for that ‘lack’ the powers-that-be got a bit creative.
They weren’t allowed capital punishments, so they resorted to other cruel and unusual reprimands.
Going without food was a biggie.
Or being forced to undress and go to bed in the day time.
Separation from playmates was another first response.
But the cruelest punishment was saved for any child found sleeping with their knees up.
Each child was expected to sleep perfectly straight. If anyone was discovered curled up in a comfortable position, their legs were roughly jerked straight. Abruptly waking the child.
They couldn’t even escape these people in their dreams!
Sarah survived at this school for ten years.
Finally, at the age of 20, she married Prime Coleman.
Prime’s father was against their union. He told his son that he was making a colossal mistake. In his own words, “Son, a girl who has spent most of her life in a boarding school could not hope to be a helpmate to a cattleman and farmer.”
But the two persisted and married.
Years later, Prime Coleman’s dad had to admit he had been wrong. Sarah had turned out to be a wonderful wife and mother.
Strong Sarah obviously left her rough ‘boarding school’ years in her past.
At least those horrifying punishments never made it the five or six generations forward to my childhood . . .
I don’t know if I’d have survived . . .

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Poop Deck

I’m almost sure it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Maybe I should explain . . .
For over thirty years, our family loved, trained and raised Old English Sheepdogs. Emphasis on loved.
The OES is a breed known for its protective nature. Its intelligence, loyalty, gentleness, energy, fun and for just being downright cute. From puppyhood right into old age.
Okay, yes, in full coat, it can be rather blind.
Let’s see how well you do with your hair hanging in your eyes!
And said coat takes hours to keep up.
Unless you do what we did (a lot of the time) and simply shave them in the spring with the other sheep!
Another drawback/perk is that this breed is large and requires an equally large amount of exercise. Which, in turn, necessitates someone actually making an effort to give them that exercise.
Enough. On with my story. Which may or may not have anything to do with what I’ve already said . . .
One bright summer morning, after the first of their three daily walks, and because they were bothering me with their insistence on taking their second walk (which was still hours away); I put all three of our adult OES’s on the deck.
It was a lovely, large deck and they roamed around the enclosed area, sniffing the air and generally acting like dogs.
Then flopped out in the center in the warm sunshine.
A short time later, I went to call them back inside.
No dogs were evident at my first glance through the window.
Alarmed, I ran to the door and threw it open.
To see, residing in lonely glory in the very center of the deck, a pile of . . . leavings? excrement? dung? muck? feces? poop?
You get the picture.
Now I probably don’t have to tell you that this sort of thing was very fiercely frowned upon.
I mean, that is one of the major reasons the cretins had three walks a day!
And our dogs were extremely well trained. And knew such a mistake was one of the few times when the boom was going to definitely be lowered.
With force.
Right. Remember when I said I couldn’t see any of the dogs when I looked out the window?
Well, that is because all three had wedged themselves under the built-in benches that ringed the edges of the deck.
As in—so tightly stuffed that nothing protruded past the 12-inch bench seats.
And I probably don’t have to remind you that these were large dogs.
I stepped out onto the deck.
Silence. One would never know they were even out there.
I moved over to the scene of the crime. “Who did this?!” I demanded.
The silence remained unbroken.
Oh, they were good.
“Come out here!”
Three large dog bodies slowly crept out from under the benches.
Again, I demanded, “Who did this?!”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Someone to throw their furry self on my mercy?
Two loud voices denouncing their fellow?
That’s what my kids would have done.
If . . . one of them had had an accident on the deck.
I mean . . .
Never mind. This doesn’t apply at all.
I probably don’t have to tell you that I never did discover the culprit. Although, if I try I can almost picture it: One dog doing the dirty. And two others running about, screaming, "Oh, my word!!! Look what Aldo did!!! Everybody flee for your lives!!!"
All three received the standard punishment, the swat on their furry backside and ‘don’t do it again!’ that had proven so effective in the past.
But still I wonder . . . I mean, it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Could it?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

In the Blizzard

Winter is finally over.
So let's talk about it . . .
On the prairies, winter storms can blow up very fast.
Obliterating the countryside and bringing visibility to zero.
One can lose one’s way walking between the house and the barn.
The best thing to do is to get inside where it’s warm and stay put.
If one has warning, one can get to the nearest safe place.
If one doesn’t . . .
A storm was coming. The local school had been emptied of children, sent home with strict instructions to get there as quickly as possible.
Most of them made it.
One little girl did not.
As the storm closed over the area, frantic searchers were sent out, fanning the countryside for one tiny figure in the vast, freezing blizzard.
A hopeless search.
It was many hours before my Uncle Owen found her, nearly frozen solid.
He hefted her on his back and began to make his way toward the Stringam home. Partway there, he met his father and the two of them managed to carry the poor, frozen figure the rest of the way.
My Dad remembers the scene well as they carried the still and silent girl into the house. As he told us, her feet ‘clopped together like two wooden blocks’.
She was handed over to my Grandma Stringam, who was largely accepted as the ‘doctor’ in the area.
Grandma took the little frozen body and laid her on the bed. Then, throughout the night, she tended her, rubbing her extremities with coal oil.
By the next morning, the girl was awake and improving.
She survived - her only damage the loss of the nail from one little finger - largely due to the knowledge and care of my grandma.
Pictures of the prairies show a soft, gently-folded landscape. Largely treeless, but covered in waving grass and sagebrush. The occasional stream or river flows through and the sky is clear and endless.
A perfect world.
But, in winter, it is a place to be respected.
Anything can happen.
And when it does, thank goodness for people like my Grandma.

I've written another one!

My newest novel, Hosts is now available on Amazon!
Read it! It's totally fun!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Church Panties

Okay, yes, I’m on a ‘panty’ kick.
As this is my second post on the theme in a week . . .
Emily. With a booboo. And a friend.

For four years, I had the assignment to lead the music in the children’s organization in our church.
My dream job.
Every Sunday, I got up in front of a group of children, age three to eleven and sang with them.
Have you ever heard a group of three-year-olds singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”?
If you can do it without tears, you are super . . . person.
There is nothing cuter in the world.
And I got to do this every Sunday!
For four years!
Inevitably, there were extra perks.
Because what dream job doesn't come with unexpected bonuses?
Each week, we invited the child or children who was/were celebrating a birthday, to come to the front so the rest of the group could wish them well.
Everyone enjoyed it.
The singers.
And the sing-ee.
Afterwards, I always asked the birthday child what their favourite song was.
And then all of us would sing it.
Normally, this was fairly routine.
They would pick a current favourite.
The pianist would launch in.
The children would follow.
Occasionally, we would encounter a hitch.
Perhaps a song that was a current favourite.
But somewhere other than the church . . .
Let’s face it, launching into ‘Stairway to Heaven’, though it sounds appropriate, would be anything but.
Ahem . . .
Sometimes, they merely got the name wrong.
Case in point:
We invited little Emily to the front of the room.
Everyone wished her a happy fourth birthday.
At the top of their voices.
She was smiling broadly by the end.
I leaned down. “Emily, what is your favourite song?”
She looked up at me. “Little Purple Panties!” she said excitedly.
“Oh, I said. “Umm . . . yes.” I looked at the pianist, who was staring back, wide-eyed.
“I think what she means is “Little Purple Pansies,” I said.
The woman’s face cleared. “Ah!” She nodded in relief.
We made it through.
Though I must confess that the temptation to sing the wrong words was very strong indeed.
And who knows, maybe a song, ‘Little Purple Panties’ is just what is needed when things get a bit . . . boring . . . in church.
Thank you, Emily!

The real words:
Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,
Growing on one corner of the garden old.
We are very tiny, but must try, try, try,
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Growing Toddlers

It seemed a good idea, I thought
                Some hours in the yard.
The winter months had been so long
                And I felt the need of working hard.

So armed with gloves and rakes and things,
                I started out the door.
Trailed by two toddlers
                Who loved to help with Gramma’s chores.

Things went well for a tic or two,
                As Gramma started in,
The girls spun circles in the yard
                Till Linney fell and bumped her chin.

A kiss and cuddle, tears were gone
                It really wasn’t hard.
I set her down and looked to see
                That Hazel’d wandered from the yard.

She’d not gone far, I scooped her up
                And carried her back home.
Then penned them both behind the gate,
                And told them sternly ‘not to roam’.

While toddlers watched, I grabbed my rake,
                But got no further then,
‘Cause Hazel shrieked; I had to run
                She’d fallen in the mud . . . again.

I fished her out and cleaned her off,
                A kiss, a tale to tell,
Then turned just as another shriek,
                Told me Lin was stuck as well.

I’m sure by now you’ve realized
                I didn’t manage much.
With Lin caught in the tramp’line springs
                And Hazel eating chalk and such.

Four bathroom breaks, ‘Pee, potty now!’
                And squabbles over things,
And pouring sand in someone’s hair,
                And all the angst that action brings.

Searching the yard from stem to stern
For Linney’s missing shoe,
Then doing the whole thing o'er again
                Cause Hazel’s hat was ‘somewhere’, too.

With helping up and helping down
                And watching in between.
It’s no wonder that my work just sat,
                With little progress to be seen.

Last night when all were sound asleep
                And peace had been restored,
I looked out the window there,
                And sang my praises to the Lord.

For though my tools were strewn about
With no sign of success,
My time was quite well spent, because
                I'm growing Toddlers in the mess.

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Come back next week when we three 'tweens' (between 50 and 100), 
Will talk about what friendship means!

Sunday, May 13, 2018


I Miss You, Mom

Daughter. Wife. Mother. Friend. Parent. Confident.
I have lots of stories about my Mom.
Favourite stories.
And in my mind, the woman at the center of each of them is still vibrantly alive and busy.
If I walk into the next room, I will hear her tell me, "I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!"
Or if I open the fridge, "What's wrong with that milk?! There's nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!"
Or better yet, "Don't eat that! It's for Christmas!"
When I look out the window, she'll be out there in the garden, hoeing or harvesting. Hauling around her paint sprayer to put on just 'one more coat'. Sprinting to the top of a corral fence because some bull objected to her presence there.
Hauling feed to cattle, pigs, chickens and dogs.
Turning around, I'll see her seated at the kitchen table, writing a short story or poem. Or occasionally snatching a few minutes to read an article in the Reader's Digest.
Or studying the scriptures and preparing Sunday School lessons.
I can see her cooking and baking endlessly in her scrupulously clean kitchen as she prepares feasts for an endless stream of children and hired men.
Or straining the socially acceptable language barriers as she copes with a recalcitrant sewing machine while making yet another article of clothing for one of her six children.
'Accidentally' ringing the ranch bell.
Hitting a home run to the delight of some and the dismay of others.
I can see her skating across the ice, spinning and dipping and coming to a breathless halt.
Kissing countless booboos and rescuing heedless children from hair-raising escapades.
Taking smiles and meals to someone who needs exactly those things. In that order.
Knitting and crocheting for everyone except herself.
In fact, spending every moment of every day in service to others.
And happy to do it.
All I have to do is turn around - or pick up the phone - and she'll be there.
Then reality pays a short visit.

She's there.
In my mind.
Busy. Happy. Healthy.
Someday, I'll see her again. Someday.
I miss you, Mom.
To all the mothers in my life, those who mothered me, and now those who are mothering the next generation, I love you!
Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Pantie Prejudice

Me - at my best . . .
I hated them.
Maybe it was the color. Yucky green.
Maybe it was the fit. Tight elastic on the legs.
I only wore them under duress, when there was simply nothing else in my drawer. And following a highly intellectual and diverting argument with my Mom . . .
"Put them on, Diane!"
"Put them on!"
Being the semi-obedient four-year-old that I was - and because 'going commando' hadn't been invented yet - I would haul my little green panties out from under the bed where I had hidden them and . . . shudder . . . pull them on.
Quickly, I would then hide them under a pair of blue jeans and try to put them out of my mind by heading outside to play. 
They itched.
They crawled into unwanted places.
They made me sweaty.
Sighing, I ignored them and joined the group of kids on the corner.
Now a couple of points of background . . .
In 1959, as in every neighborhood in Canada, weather permitting, we local kids gathered. Play commenced. As our mothers were working busily in their homes, we kids ran up and down the street, engaged in one of a thousand different imaginative schemes. At lunchtime, we were called home. We ate as quickly as we could, then returned to the street. Our mothers cleaned up and went back to their ironing or canning or one of hundreds of other chores. We kids played until supper was announced. 
When the lunchtime scenario was again enacted.
Actual physical parental supervision was unheard of. We policed ourselves. Tattled on each other. Looked after each other. When Kenny fell and broke his arm, an army of kids ran to his house and brought his mother. When Brenda got sick on the merry-go-round, same thing. 
It was a wonderful, carefree way to grow up.
Also, at this particular time, my Dad and older brothers had put up our family's brown canvas tent in the back yard.
I know this doesn't sound like an actual part of the story, but wait for it.
Now, back to my story . . .
My best friend and next door neighbor was Laurie. A sweet-tempered, agreeable girl just a bit younger than me. 
She followed me in everything.
Not always a good idea.
By early afternoon, I had been wearing the dreaded panties for much of the day. They had been my largely unwelcome companions while running, climbing, crawling, doing gymnastics, climbing, rolling, spinning, climbing . . . okay, I did a lot of climbing, but that is another story. 
They were really starting to bug me.
But there was no way I would ever be able to sneak into the house to remove them.
And then it hit me! 
If I ducked into the tent, I could shed the dreaded panties and my Mom would never know!
It was a brilliant plan. Awe inspiring.
Completely fool proof.
I acted immediately.
"Were are we going?" Laurie was right behind me, as usual.
"Into the tent."
"What are we going to do?"
"Take off our panties."
Did I mention that I often got Laurie into a lot of trouble?
In a few seconds, the deed was done. I wadded my cast-offs into a little ball and stuffed them down into a hidden corner of the tent.
Laurie did the same with hers.
Then I pulled on my jeans and headed back outside.
Laurie followed.
Hah! Mission accomplished. No one would ever know.
Our friends were sitting around in my front yard, breathing hard from yet another race up and down the street. I pranced to the middle of the circle with Laurie close behind.
"We're not wearing any panties!" I sang out.
Okay, so, secret agent material, I wasn't.
"Panties!" Laurie echoed.
And suddenly, Laurie's mom was there, grabbing her little daughter and running with her towards their house.
I watched them go, wondering at the shocked and dismayed expression on Laurie's mom's face.
What on earth was wrong with her?
Maybe I should point out here that Laurie's mom always dressed her in frilly, feminine dresses.
Short-skirted dresses.
I got a lecture. Something about modesty and being a good example.
Who listened.
Parents are so weird.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Hold the Onions

I set the basket down on the desk and took a seat in the proffered chair, hooking my dripping umbrella on the carved, wooden arm.
For a moment, there was silence between us as we studied each other.
Then his eyes turned to my basket.
I felt a frown gather, drawing my brows together. What was so interesting? I followed his gaze.
It was an ordinary enough basket. Plain. Serviceable. Stiff, yellow straw with brown leather hinges and bindings.
My frown deepened as a small, cold trickle of fear? anger? disgust? looped its way down my back. Could he smell them? I thought I had disguised them so well. My nostrils twitched slightly as I stealthily took a sniff of the air.
Did he have super senses? Should I be alarmed?
Outside in the street a group of boisterous children ran past, screaming with laughter as they splashed through the puddles.
Both of us turned, distracted for a moment. Then I swung my head back to him.
Now his eyes were on me. Strange eyes. Green. With a blue center next to the pupil.
Cold eyes.
I took a deep breath and held out my hand, palm up. “If you’ll ‘cross my palm with silver’, figuratively speaking, we can get on with this,” I suggested.
He started and blinked. “Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.” He reached into a vest pocket.
I kept my eyes on his hand.
I had been fooled before.
Something jingled slightly and he dragged out a tightly closed fist. Spinning his chair, he presented his back to me and peered down at his hand.
Then he turned back, his fingers closed once more over his palm. “Okay,” he said softly. “I’m ready.”
“Good.” I slid a paper across the desk toward him. “If you’ll just sign . . .”
He nodded and pinned the sheet to the table with his fist, then grabbed a pen with his free hand, scrawled something across the bottom and released it.
I pulled it back toward me. His scrawl seemed indecipherable, but I was fairly certain those who needed to would be able to decrypt it.
I gave what passed for a smile and pushed the basket toward him.
His eyes flared and, with one hand, he eagerly began to attack the straps.
Again, I held out my hand. “Maybe it would be easier if . . .”
“Oh. Of course. He held his closed fist over my palm and uncurled his fingers, releasing a fair-sized stream of silver coins into it. “That should be about right.”
I looked down and poked at the money. “It seems so.”
He hadn’t waited for my response, but was once more tackling the straps. This time with two hands.
In a moment, he had flipped the lid back and was staring down inside. “Is this really . . .?”
I nodded.
He reached in and, with two hands, tenderly lifted his prize out of the basket. Then, eyes still fixed on it, he set it reverently on the spotless blotter in front of him.
I stood up, pocketing both his change and the receipt and reached for my basket, then said, in a rather sing-song voice, “The one and only Furiner’s Market Special 'Count-To-Five' Deluxe. One oven-fresh roll, two seasonings, three meats, four cheeses and five vegetables, all rolled together with a heaping dollop of love.” My eyes narrowed slightly and I felt a small smile tickle the corners of my mouth. “Or, in your case, the Count-To-Four Special because you instructed us to withhold the onions.” I turned away and continued under my breath, “Which, in my opinion, gives the sandwich it’s unique flavour.”
I looked at him.
His eyes were on mine. “You’re sure. No onions.”
I nodded. “Quite.”
As I walked out the door, I let the smile that had been teasing my lips for the past five minutes widen. “No onions, indeed!”

Each month, we, the followers of Karen, submit words. Which are then re-submitted by our fearless leader to other members of our circle.
The resulting Use Your Words posts are unique, inspiring, thoughtful, entertaining and/or all of the above.

My words this month receipt ~ pen ~ basket ~ screaming ~ umbrella
were submitted by:  

Here are Karen's other victims happy fellow writers.
See how they did!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Birdbaths for the Birdbrained

What we wanted.

What we got.

Debbie and I had spent the morning dreaming about the big ‘B’.
All of whom were fascinating and none of whom were interested.
We were drooling over yet another male lead in a long line-up of romantic movies.
This one was a Western. My personal favourite.
Mmmmm . . .
Suddenly, Debbie jumped up and shut off the TV right in the middle of blood and blue shadows under the midnight sun.
Who does that?!
“I want to do something,” she announced.
I glowered at her and briefly considered pointing out that we were doing something. Her whole demeanour suggested . . . action. Which probably meant that, sooner or later, I was going to have to get off the couch.
“I want to build a birdbath.”
I stared. Had I heard her correctly?
“I’m serious!” Her voice started to gain in pitch and enthusiasm. “I saw one in a magazine article. It was made of cement and had an all ‘dignified and harmonious-with-nature’ theme. It started with a little pool up top, then plunging down a waterfall  to iridescent bubbles at the bottom!” In her eagerness, she began to pace.
I hated it when she did that.
“We could make a little thatched roof to limit weather-ly interference.” She spun around to face me. “So what do you think?!”
I should point out here that her asking me that was merely a magnanimous gesture. We were doing it. She just wanted me to feel included.
I rolled my eyes and pushed myself to my feet. Let’s get this over with . . .
Pulling her little brother’s wagon, the two of us walked downtown to the hardware store. Then followed a frenzied rush to grab anything she thought would help. And the expenditure of two months of allowance.
As we toted her baggage home, she talked endlessly about the indelible impression her creation would make. About how the town gentry would stroll past, abandoning their normally impartial opinions in their excitement over this brush with the . . . wet and bird-like.
Yeah, she dreamt big, that Debbie.
What followed could only be considered inhumane – which is really ironic, considering we were creating something to benefit nature.
Because I was a farm girl – with muscles - I hauled cement. Mixed cement. Formed cement in a great hole which I had also helped dig.
Then I collapsed.
Debbie looked at the mass of grey glop in the bottom of our hole and then at her exhausted friend.
“It’s perfect!” she said.
I, too, looked into the hole. At the plop of cement in the bottom. Seriously?
Debbie got the garden hose and filled the little indent in the top of her creation. “See? Perfect!”
I blinked. Then turned to look at the paraphernalia strewn about. “What about . . .?” I got no further.
“Perfect!” Debbie nodded decisively, then gathered everything else up and packed it away.
After that, when the weather cooperated, Debbie happily filled her birdbath. Her beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing work of art.
Well, to her . . .
Debbie’s family moved away from Milk River decades ago.
But I think her birdbath sits there to this day.
A monument to what can be accomplished by the lazy and unmotivated. 
Or of an afternoon spent with a friend.
Take your pick.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Monthly SWS

“Please tell us all your problem, sir,
You know we’re here to help.
Supporting is how we get through,
You only have to yelp!”

“Just look around the circle, Sir,
There’s not but friends you’ll see.
Get the whole thing off your chest,
Then Madge will serve us tea.”

“It started much as any day,”
He said. And then he sighed,
“A run together in the dawn,
I was so proud, I cried.”

“Then changing for the workday, but
A load of laundry first.
Who knew that act would be her last?
‘Twas like we both were cursed!”

“So innocent as soap went in,
Naive as buttons pressed,
Then watched as clothes began to swirl,
And tumble with the rest.”

“All was well until the load,
Was moved into the drier.
We were watching it together as
The heat was getting higher.”

“Then she was gone, t’was just that fast,
My love was there no more.
And all I had was memories
Of what we had before.”

“I’ve tossed it round within my mind,
There really is no doubt
As a pair of socks, we two went in,
As a single, I came out.”

Each month we have a challenge
Yes, we voted on a theme,
Then each put on our thinking caps 
And hurried to our screens.
So you know the theme 's official,
It was on the internet,
Today's Lost Sock Memorial Day,
Join us in our SOCK regrets!

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: Ode to a Sock

Dawn of Cognitive Script: Ode to My Sock

All of My Friends

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael
A House Divided is now available at all fine bookstores and on and .ca!

Daughter of Ishmael

Daughter of Ishmael
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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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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?