Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

2010 in Review

As we embark on another year, it always feels good to review happenings of note from the last (at least the things we can remember or that we took the trouble to write down).  This list is not exhaustive but captures highlights. In making this list, we are reminded how rich our lives are, how much fun we have, how much love there is, how much wonder and beauty. We should do this more than once a year.

On the Homefront:
Interior home updates this year included new fixtures and tile in the full bathroom shower and a new, smaller, sleeker fridge in the kitchen (thank you City of Austin energy rebate!). If we could just get the tub refinished now (paint is steadily peeling off), bath time would be totally luxurious.

Lots of work in the backyard this year, including the addition of more gutters and 2 new rainbarrels (for a total of 3) in Amo’s water reclamation effort. We should be able to tend our plants better now during the hot/dry season. And we’re officially advertising our efforts with our new Certified Wildlife Habitat sign from the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe neighbors will make a note and change their habitats.

The wee ones are well, keeping us entertained and sufficiently snuggled on a daily basis. The dogs are good travelers, and have accompanied us to Arlington and Gonzales (more about those trips below). I’ve enjoyed making doggie sweaters out of old sweatshirt sleeves.

Captain, aka ‘MonkeyCat,’ is great and both pups had their teeth cleaned early in the year – Busy lost 6 teeth due to poor dental condition, but her snaggle-toothiness only makes her cuter. I’m still trying to get her to let me brush the remaining choppers, but she wriggles and squiggles and keeps her mouth SHUT. *sigh*

In & Around Austin:
Amy & I got iPhones, and I was eager to finally try geocaching. We subsequently caught the bug, frequently squeezing mini-adventures in our urban landscape among our regular errands and travels about town. It is amazing the way it makes you look at your surroundings differently, and we’ve learned quite a bit about our fair city along the way, as folks tend to place caches in historic and culturally significant places. We’ve also had a blast finding caches on our wider travels while visiting family and camping.

I won free tickets to one of the last tapings of Austin City Limits in its original studio home, for the Roseanne Cash/Brandi Carlile show. We grinned maniacally the entire time, as neither of us had been there before and we are HUGE ACL and Brandi fans. Such intimate and professionally-produced musical experiences are rare – we felt so fortunate to be in the historic music venue before it closed up shop. AND, we were on TV, and part of that recording FOREVER. Amen. “People used to make records, as in the record of an event: the event of people playing music in a room.” – Ani DiFranco

We also said goodbye to the Dobie Movie Theater on campus, which closed in 2010. We made a point to go and see a film on the last day it was open and say goodbye to the tiny theaters decorated with gargoyles, egyptian hieroglyphs, and library shelves by UT theater students. I hope the indie theater scene in Austin fills the hole this leaves.

Something we decidedly didn’t lose was the Cactus Cafe on campus, another historic music venue, tiny and super-intimate compared to the Austin City Limits studio. To celebrate the persistence of this place that faced closure by UT admins, we attended our friend Elizabeth Jackson’s All Out Accordion event there. Cool beyond words to be in a room mostly filled with friends and acquaintances, hypnotized by the wild and varied stylings of musicians covering so many genres, ladies and gents, from so many cultures. Squeezebox smorgasbord delight.

At the Paramount Theater downtown, we saw funny ladies Sarah Vowell (writer, satirist) and Margaret Cho (comedian). Amo heard Sally Ride (first American woman in space, 1983) speak at a UT lecture. I love this “prominent ladies” series we seem gravitate towards in our entertainment choices.

Nearby in Blanco, we spent another blissful Easter Sunday with Amo’s mom, friends and Framily at Juniper Hills farm. Good company, good food, bountiful sunshine, and more cascarone fun, leaving a confetti trail in our wake for days.

Later, in the heat of the summer, we suited up again to man the booth at the Lavender Festival with friends, hawking Sibby’s wares and testing our survival skills. We were decidedly better prepared this year than last – I finally invested in a serious sun hat that made subsequent summer hikes bearable.

We waved flags and marched with friends in the first Queer Bomb parade (alternative to over-commercialized and hetero-conserva-tized Austin Pride parade that has dominated the scene for years).

Holidays were spent close to home this year: Thanksgiving dinner with Framily around the ping-pong table couldn’t have been better (our friend Stephanie snapped an awesome pic of the spread, shown below), and New Year’s Eve & Day with Framily on a friend’s farm in Bastrop was warm & fuzzy with wine, the wood-burning stove, and sparklers for all.  I could have done without Dick Clark’s mangled mug on TV (please let the man retire/rest), but hey, that’s what everyone else in America looks at as the year changes over, right?

Amo bought a cute silver 2006 Yamaha Vino scooter from friends relocating out-of-state, so we’ve got 2 transpo options between us now (1 car, 1 scootie). She’s an old hat at scooting, but I’ve never ridden one before – invigorating! We’ll need to get more gear so that we’re both properly outfitted.

Celebrating Us:
We celebrated Amo’s birthday this year by inviting friends over to watch Enter the Dragon in the back yard, with cold beer and kiddie pools to stave off the summer heat.

In September, we marked our 7th year together with one of our favorite things: good local food. We traveled to Pflugerville to check out the European Bistro, which is owned and operated by one of my old work acquaintances. Pure Eastern European bliss: hungarian paprika chicken, pork chop and german potato salad, hefeweisen, wine, and cheesecake. We swore over dinner it was the best meal we’ve ever eaten.

On my birthday weekend, we ventured downtown for a delicious dinner at La Condesa, followed by cocktails and live bluegrass from the Carper Family in the historic Driskoll Hotel lounge. Several friends joined us the following day for a geocache trek through downtown, culminating in burgers, fries, and drinks at the Cedar Door.

Further out:
I went to Atlanta twice, once in March to spend a long weekend visiting my pregnant sister and the Cofields in anticipation of the latest addition to the family, and then later to greet my first nephew upon his arrival on July 1st. Conveniently, my sister had a c-section scheduled, so Amo & I were able to plan travel dates accordingly. Everything went smoothly. Little mister was adorable right out of the box, and didn’t mind being passed around among doting parents, grandparents, and aunts. 

In August, Amy went on a 3-week epic journey by van and boat through Alaska with a group of her colleagues. From Seattle/Bellingham, she floated through the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway to Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. Hit the roads in “Vinny-Van-Go” through the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse & Tok, back to AK to Fairbanks, Denali NP, Anchorage, and the Seward Highway. Check out the Flickr site of the Alaska Adventurers if you want to see more photos.

We traveled several times to see Amo’s family, including a day trip to Sea World San Antonio this summer and Christmas in Arlington. On one Fall visit, we snagged nephew Dylan for a road-trip to Denton, where we met up with Uncle Frank for dinner, a quick wander through the Environmental Science bldg. on the UNT campus, and then back to the county square for ice cream and a stroll around the bustling courthouse grounds. We don’t see Frank or Dylan often enough, and it was great to get them both in one weekend.

Camp-outs with various Framily combos: Palmetto State Park (birders), Lost Maples (quick weekend getaway), and Bastrop State Park (annual group gathering) all lovely as usual. 

The weekend after Thanksgiving we went to Fort Huachuca, AZ to visit the James gang. First time staying on a military base. The surrounding landscape was surprisingly beautiful, and my sister indulged me with a visit to the base museum. Amo & I geocached, too, wandering some hiking trails and ridges for a scenic overlook and fun find tucked among the rocks. But mostly, we just giggled at the baby boy, whose cuteness and pleasant disposition make him a total joy to behold. 

After Christmas proper, we headed out to a friend’s cabin on the Guadalupe River between Belmont and Gonzales, TX for a 5 day writing retreat. We felt so revitalized by it, we are seriously considering making it our holiday tradition. Peace. And quiet. Very little distraction. An amazing gift from our friend, really. We did indulge in a day-trip into Gonzales, cruising the junk & antique shops, and exploring the old jailhouse museum. Totally fun. 

Music Notes:
Darling New Neighbors had a fabu year with wonder-drummer Karl, including lots of fun gigs around Austin, a couple of SXSW house parties, a Girls Rock Camp showcase at Cafe Mundi, a couple of San Antonio shows, and working up a new EP soon to be released.

West Lake Bitches played their second (and to date, last) show overlooking the infinity pool at Juniper Hills Farm as a fond farewell to our Kansan friends Allyson & Holly, who decided to return home for family and school. In addition to our standard rockers, we wowed the crowd with our one-time-only performance of ICE ICE BABY, dance moves and all – I narrowly avoided hyperventilating before finishing the number. 

Amo volunteered again as a band coach at Girls Rock Camp, along with DNN band mate Elizabeth. They also played guitar & violin during the ceremony at Karl’s wedding. I have to say that Karl & Rendi’s wedding was the most fun, musical, giddy-dance-filled wedding I have ever been to. I shed the most of the tears b/c I was so moved by the dancing (parents, grand-parents, friends, every-freaking-body).

Amo also warmed up her honey-toned Collings mandolin in some new bluegrass practice meet-ups with other local ladies.

Professional & Personal Growth:
In my 3rd year at the law library, I experienced some notable positives: Our new and hopefully permanent director finally arrived, and got the go-ahead to recruit a half-time software developer (hallelujah). These seem sure signs of an upswing in my job satisfaction!

I recently decided to finally attend to my creative life, or perceived lack thereof, by diving in to the Artist’s Way program. 8 weeks in now, I’m experiencing progress and rediscovery of long-neglected interests, ideas, and talents. Laundry can wait – internal exploration and creative risk-taking is a priority. At least, this is what I tell myself every morning during my mandatory write-before-I-do-anything-else ritual.

Amo has been plugging away reliably on her dissertation, traveling all over TX to collect research data. She visited Amarillo, Harlingen, and Canyon, interviewing teachers and staying in quaint B & B’s, usually making points to seek out ‘cultural’ experiences and have some fun along the way (e.g., spray-painting at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo!).

Professional conferences took her to Denver, Sacramento, and Philadelphia to name a few. She’s preparing to finish up her PhD in May (very soon now), and has been hunting job opportunities, applying for positions across the country, and considering job possibilities here in town.

We may be leaving our beloved Austin sooner rather than later after all. But it is all a journey left to the unfolding of time to tell….



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Looking back over the last year, we realized a lot has happened, and we’ve done A LOT.  Remembering is a good mental and emotional exercise.  We are so grateful to have such wonderful family, friends, and colleagues, who make our lives so rich and fun.  The paragraphs below include many highlights from 2009 – we know we didn’t get everything, but this gives a pretty good overview of our year.

On the Home Front, we made lots of improvements inside and out.  Outside work included painting of trim, fascia, and doors (goodbye country blue!); backyard landscaping to address erosion and improve drought tolerance including a retaining wall and fill dirt to level out the walkway to the side gate, crushed granite to line the walkways and reduce the amount of water-needy grass, experimental swaths of native prairie grasses, and a rainbarrel installation.  Inside, we had roller shades installed on livingroom and kitchen windows, put up new stylish curtains on pantries, got a new microwave (glue wouldn’t keep the old one together – believe me, I tried), and a new credenza in the living room.

Between the two of us, we’ve enjoyed many professional accomplishments:  Amo was elected to the ISEA board, received a hefty University Continuing Fellowship Award, and attended four professional conferences: ASTE in Connecticut, AERA in San Diego, CAST in Galveston, and an NSF P.I. conference in D.C..  Mel attended the OR09 conference at GA Tech in Atlanta (conveniently also visiting with family & friends).  At the Library, Mel initiated a web committee and introduced the use of several Web 2.0 tools (a library news blog, internal Sharepoint wikis, LibGuides); coordinated completion of a Library website refresh (including a major facelift on the homepage); agreed to chair a professional committee; and hired/managed her first full-time supervisee (this list helps me assuage the nagging feeling of getting nothing done at work).

Even though much of 2009 was hotter than hell (literally), we still played outside alot:

  • Palmetto State Park camping with friends, twice, for birding, hiking, lounging, eating, drinking, laughing, eating, drinking, napping, storytelling, acoustical music playing, burning things, sharing.  Best campfire food experiment:  toasted marshmallows stuffed with homemade lemon curd.  yum!
  • Neighborhood park volunteer cleanup
  • Birding hike in Balcones Canyonland with neighbor friends
  • Water play – Barton Springing & pontoon boat play day out on Lake Travis with the posse
  • ~5 months of group training with friends, culminating in Mel biking on a relay team in the Danskin Triathlon
  • sweating it out at the Blanco Lavender Festival volunteering at our Juniper Hills Farms friends’ product tent, cured by blissful evening dips in their infinity pool
  • wandering streets and beaches of Galveston
  • hiking and picnicking with the posse at Reimer’s Ranch
  • riding our bikes as much as we could, to see free show at SxSW, explore the East Austin Studio Tour, and take weekend morning rides with our friends followed by diner breakfast grub-outs.

We have had much fun on the musical front:  we saw Amy Ray @ Stubbs, and Flight of the Conchords at Bass Hall (Amo won free tickets on KUT radio!); our West Lake Bitches garage band practiced for the first time in January and gave our first live performance for an audience (including strangers) on New Year’s Eve;  Amo’s bluegrass duo project the Honeytones (where she gets to vamp on her treasured Collings mandolin, newly acquired this year) has been gearing up for their first public performance;  Amo taught upcoming tweenage rockers at Girls Rock Camp; DNN news: the never-say-die band found a new best drummer Karl, celebrated the release of their second full-length self-produced album ROCKET, and played raucous fun show in San Antonio (among many other local shows at new venues like Club DeVille, Lambert’s, the Moose Lodge, etc.).

We celebrated well on the holidays: Valentine’s Day traditional dinner date at Little Thailand in Garfield (last time we would see the gregarious host/proprietor Mr. Dick Simcoe, RIP); Easter Brunch at Juniper Hills Farm; 4th of July swimmin’ & eating at Phe’s house in Arlington (mini-flag decorations included); Halloween candy give-out followed by backyard firepit fun with friends; Thanksgiving and Christmas in Arlington with family; New Year’s Eve WLB performance followed by dance party with unexpected drunk neighbors in attendance.

The family news bag was mixed this year:  In chronological order – Amo’s dad passed away unexpectedly (our friends planted a memorial tree in our backyard);  Phe turned 65 (we dined well and got cultured at the Dallas Museum of Art to mark the occasion); my brother-in-law enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter, he and my sister announced they were expecting their first child; my grandfather passed away.

Notable milestones: Inauguration of Barack Obama (hallelujah);  Amo’s birthday (swimming at Barton Springs, Paramount Marilyn Monroe movie, Tex-Mex at Polvo’s); new (ish) car – we love our Toyota Rav4; our 6 year anniversary (we got rings!); my birthday (Galveston b & b, beach-walking, seafood-eating).

Other travels and random fun: Amo went on family vacation to the Disney-parks in Orlando; Mel visited good friends in L.A.  We saw David Sedaris read; we put on costumes for our friend’s 40th birthday-Yacht Rock party and a pre-Christmas Wig party.  We dance a lot – it is good for the soul.

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Bed & Breakfast

Rather than stay w/ the thousands of conferencing Texas science teachers in the chain hotels beachside, we’ve been staying in the Lost Bayou Guest House – a lovely, cozy, colonial 3-story historic house, complete with toile wallpaper and clocks that gently chime on the hour. Porches with rockers, a private sitting garden with fountain out back, and a third-floor deck for moon-gazing and evening breeze-catching. Lucky for me, Amo always finds the perfect places to be.

lost bayou - elyssa room

lost bayou bedroom


On our birthday morning stroll towards the beach, we had a lucky encounter.  Looks like this guy has seen a lot of belly-rubbins!

birthday buddha

lucky birthday buddha belly


I keep asking myself, what could be better than a birthday morning walk on the beach?? Not much. Although I’m sure Amo will come up with something next year, just as good. We strolled together for an hour or so, breathing the crisp salt air (not too salty or fishy, but just clean and fresh as you please). Those ginormous tanker things on the horizon seemed like ghosts, fading in and out of visibility, like optical illusions in the glittering sun. We observed the sea gulls and terns, wondering why several gulls were missing one foot. Does this happen often? What exactly is happening to them? beach mystery… We collected funny little pink barnacle shells from among the beachy bits as souvenirs.

Galveston beach

beach-y bits

Galveston beach

beach walk

Later, after an amazing birthday dinner of oysters, scallops, shrimp, and snapper @ Gaido’s, we took a quick jaunt on the beach – I even busted out with a giddy circle dance in the sand, my own ad-hoc version of the Caucus-Race from Alice’s Adventures. The chilly night breeze kept us from staying out there too long, but I couldn’t resist the urge to walk in the sand again this morning after dropping Amo off at the hotel/conference for the day.

I didn’t realize until I got close to the water that this particular section of the seawall is painted with huge renditions of sea creatures. Lots of other folks out enjoying the sun & surf, too (I saw telltale blue conference bags on many a shoulder). A lady with earphones on a cruiser bike looked like she was having the time of her life. I ventured out on a couple of jetties, letting the crash & suck of the waves block out all the other noise & goings-on of the Seawall Blvd. and construction (still recovering from Ike) around me. Blissful.

Bishop’s Palace

We didn’t make it to the tour of this National Historic Landmark, but we climbed the front stairs and peeked in the windows.  It is definitely on the to-do-next-time list.

Blue Bags and the Bone Lady

As a registered conference guest, I scored a handy blue tote (this tote far exceeds the tote-ness of other standard conference schwag), name badge (even the badge holder is awesome, with zipper-pockets and pen holder!), and the opportunity attend conference sessions, field trips, and get into the Moody Gardens Aquarium for free.  On my birthday proper, Amo & I enjoyed the presentation of forensic anthropologist Mary Manhein (aka The Bone Lady), who explained the science of her gruesome job in layman’s terms with an upbeat, comical spirit.  Then we toured the aquarium, gawking at seals, penguins, seahorses, sharks, and more.  “Smells like dinner,” I kept thinking to myself.

Incredible starfish

Incredible starfish at the aquarium

The following day we loaded up on the bus to take a tour of the Haak winery in Santa Fe, Texas.  They gave us 4 drink tickets each – more than plenty, I’ll tell ya.  Their Madeira was our favorite, and we had some ruddy fun with other science teachers at our table, including our Kerrvert friend Claire.


Wrapped up the weekend B-party with a lip-smacking lunch at Meyer’s BBQ in Elgin before landing back home in Austin.  Shooowee.  I love BBQ, especially the pork sausage!   We buy their sausage from the grocery store, but I swear it tastes better in their restaurant on that styrofoam plate, with all the stuffed game looking down from the walls.


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City of Angels

I visited Los Angeles for the first time this summer, to catch up with my good friend Carmen and her family. It had been ~6.5 years since we last saw each other, before she and her husband moved to the west coast, before her children were born.

In addition to the high adventures I had with Carmen, Erik, and the kiddos, (see photos below), Carmen treated me to many little get-aways from the daily grind, including: delicious home-cooked vegetarian meals, after-dinner cocktails at a neighborhood bar, girls’ night out complete with mani/pedi followed by dinner party & clothes swap, a healing breathing circle in a yurt, with live music! And to top it off, on my last night, Erik took me on a motorcycle tour of Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Strip, and West Hollywood. Totally unexpected and awesome way to see the sights, real quick-like. It didn’t feel like a whirlwhind visit, but we really packed in some good times.

The weather was a treat in itself (I didn’t want to hide from the sun the whole time, like I’ve been doing in ATX), and the lush greenery blew my mind (compared to the browning, crunchy landscape I inhabit). I picked figs from trees in their yard. Heavenly.

morning family time

drink hot coffee at your own risk

Hollywood ladeez

obligatory photo-op

We spent quite awhile exploring the spacey exhibits inside the recently-renovated Griffith Observatory (cool, dark respite after hot dusty hike up the trail)

Griffith Observatory (and me)

Griffith Observatory (and me)

Foucault pendulum in rotunda at Griffith Observatory

Foucault pendulum in rotunda at Griffith Observatory

I was flabbergasted by “The Cosmic Connection” exhibit: a 150-foot visual time line of the universe, composed of 2000+ pieces of celestial-themed jewelry, collected by astronomy enthusiast Kara Knack over 20+ years. Honestly, I didn’t read any of the educational plaquards, I was so enchanted by the jewelry! It reminded me of my grandmother’s extensive costume jewelry collection she let me play with as a child (thought not theme-specific).

piece of "The Cosmic Connection" exhibit

The Cosmic Connection

precious cargo

precious cargo

Friendly folks share their pools! We had this luxurious swimmin’ hole to ourselves – surrounded by 20+ foot high wall of tropical paradiso (just look at that bougainvillea!?)

swimming paradiso

swimming paradiso

We had another adventure in Griffith Park: watching the kids scooter through Shane’s Inspiration and then over to the old animal enclosures from the abandoned zoo (built in the 1930s, closed in the 1960s). The kids indulged me by posing for a picture. **Snarl!** We even saw a coyote as we wandered back to the parking lots.

wild animals at the abandoned zoo in Griffith Park

wild animals at the abandoned zoo in Griffith Park


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The 2009 conference of the American of Educational Research Association took place in San Diego. Since I am notorious for forgetting the real camera and snapping phone pics, here’s the week’s solo adventure I had during breaks at the conference. From boutique hotel roof vistas to downtown and Hillcrest walks to the fav Trader Joe’s to sushi! The weather really is perfect there, except that I developed an allergy to the place a couple of days in, leaving me pretty stuffy headed most of the week.

View from Ivy Hotel rooftop


Southern Cali Sushi


Trader Joe's

yard zoo art

hillcrest entrance

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Hello, 2009!

2008 is officially over. I know because I’ve even written several checks without accidentally writing the wrong year. My list of anticipations for the year includes: travels to San Diego, CA and Big Bend, TX; my second Danskin triathlon, this time as part of a relay team; developing a weekly writing routine (so that this blog actually says something new each week). This list seems much more palatable than my list of “resolutions” – I won’t share those here. As a general rule, I try to leave as little evidence of failure as possible.

But, in the spirit of new year’s tradition, I’ll share some highlights from 2008:

  • switching from credit cards to a cash-only spending plan
  • visiting NYC for the first time ever and enjoying every waking moment with my partner, faboo hosts, and friends in Brooklyn
  • adopting (and almost completely housebreaking) the deliciously cute companion Busy for my old-timer dog pal Griffin – G-man has quite the spring in his step these days!
  • being found by and reconnected with my BFF from highschool (thanks, Christine!)
  • traveling to Sedona, AZ with Amo and her mom, hiking, eating, reading, and riding the train
  • having a mic placed in my hand and asked to be the lead vocalist for my friends’ garage band, no audition necessary
  • visiting my family and friends in Atlanta, GA for the winter holidays, and getting a goodly amount of quality time with everyone (no small feat)
  • learning how to make chicken and dumplings from my Nana. Now I can please picky-eater children all over the world with this famous delicacy. Recipe below.


Chicken and Dumplings

5 chicken thighs, cooked, skin removed
~ 4 cups chicken broth (from cooked thighs)
1 can pillsbury buttermilk biscuits
plain self-rising flour
yellow food coloring (optional)

Separate thigh meat from bone & set aside.

In large pot, heat chicken broth to boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add few drops food coloring.

Flatten biscuits with hands and press into flour, coating. Tear small (quarter-sized) biscuit pieces with fingers and drop into boiling broth. DO NOT stir broth, but check bottom of pot with spoon to loosen any stuck dumplings.

When all dumplings are in, cover and simmer on low until dumplings are cooked through (~10 minutes). Add chicken to pot and simmer on low for ~20 min.

Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken & Dumplings

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Ice!! blue parkas

Bro + nephew....each new line gets colder as we approach the entance

Bro + nephew....each new line gets colder as we approach the entrance

The Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, TX currently has this exhibit called – guess – Ice!! “Visitors will feel as though they have been transported to the North Pole as they bundle up in warm parkas and enter this winter wonderland created with TWO MILLION pounds of ice and kept at a wintry 9 degrees.” Well, IF visiting the north pole means being crammed parka to parka with 100 strangers in tiny, dark frigid rooms, then yes, I suppose this exhibit was a success.


ice bunnies

ice bunnies

exit tube

exit tube

icey stare, icey nativity

icey stare, icey nativity

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