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The Gallon Sized Bag Of Foolishness

On occasion, I have been known to chase significant, specific change in my life as the result what most people might generously refer to as “an odd tangent”.

Less generous individuals might, however, suggest that sometimes I get a wild hair up my….well, you know.

The point is, from time to time I get this weird notion in my head and decide to do something I’ve never done before. Then I go jumping off the deep end, all enflamed like a week-old spider bite and go running around, hell-bent on completing Exciting! New! Scheme! I’m worse than a lab rat pumped full of caffeine, skittering in an oval circuit from one end of his  tiny rat-sized basketball court to the other as fast a his little pink feet will carry him. Meanwhile, my poor wife can do little but throw her hands up in the air and sigh in that tortured yet still somehow loving way that comes out as an long, slow expression of irritation, woe, and pity.

Well, that is, when I even bother to explain Ridiculous Idea to her beforehand. Sometimes I don’t for fear she’ll use her Voice of Reason superpower to make me see sense before I’ve even gotten to a chance to go shopping for my materials list, which likely includes something along the lines of:

  • 1 – 100 count bag of rubber bands
  • 1 – quart of Crisco
  • 4 – 9V batteries (aka, the “square” ones, which you and I both know are no more square than a pumpkin pie)
  • 1 – bag Chili Cheese Fritos

The sad truth of the matter (although I’ll never admit it openly!) is that if I was to give the Puddinette and her Voice of Reason proper credit and attention before choosing to pinball across town on what is likely to result in little more a Fool’s Errand, well, I’d have more time to play video games in the long run. Of course, I make it a point of gentlemanly honor never to consider the Voice of Reason when I’m mid-flame up, because, well, where’s the fun in that?

Of course, ignoring it does have drawbacks.

Drawbacks such as…

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Pictured above – in case you didn’t recognize it – is a gallon-size Ziplock bag half full of Puddin’s Homemade Trail Mix. You want to talk about drawbacks? Look at the size of that thing! I’ve been snacking on it for months and it still looks very much like I’ll be holding the baby for pictures at my third grandkid’s baptism before I can eat it all.

Plus, I now hate sunflower seasons with the kind of burning, irrational hatred usually only demonstrated by Evil Disney Stepmothers and internet trolls.  But…I digress. Explaining Why I Hate Sunflower Seeds and Other Trail Mix Issues is, well, another post.

This post, believe it or not, is about getting that wild, foolish hair in an unmentionable – and often itchy place – and deciding to act on it. Surely, you might think that as I stare at my nigh infinite supply of trail mix, I’d be tempted to give those uninhibited urges a wary eye in the future, right? Maybe even consider the Puddinette’s Voice of Reason for a second or two before launching into another great foolish endeavor?

Nah, I don’t think so.

Because while reason is fairly often a phenomenal thing, when it comes to having silly, harmless adventures, it’s not so helpful. And if we can’t have a handful of ridiculous adventures from time to time – even ones as pedestrian as Making Our Own Trail Mix –  well, then, are we really living our lives?

Because that sounds a lot more like just trying not to make to much trouble while waiting to die.

And that, for sure, isn’t something I’m prepared to do.

So I’ll keep my gallon bag of trail mix and grin about it, even as I silently curse the sunflower seeds. I’ll giggle about that and the hundreds of other ideas that don’t, strictly speaking, makes sense, but make life better, nonetheless.

Pud’n

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What I Did On My Summer Hiatus

It seems as if every time I turn around, there’s another new way to dot the I’s, cross the t’s, and close the book on summer.

It’s over at the Fall Equinox!

No, dummy, it’s over at Labor Day!

Screw you guys, it’s over when the distributors ship us pumpkin beers!

I don’t know what you’re talking about; summer is over when I finally give up, change out of my flip-flops and into shoes, put on pants, look around my house and realize that dust shouldn’t be measurable with a ruler and laundry probably shouldn’t be considered wall ornamentation.

For me, though, summer has always ended when the big yellow bus rolls down the street for the first time, with the August morning sunlight beaming off its roof. That morning was today. At the moment of this writing, all of my kids are back in school.

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Fighting Crime With Mass Swag and Vicious Lunchboxes

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Fighting Crime With Ridiculous Adorableness

With the kids once again punching the clock on getting edumacated, I suppose I should get back to blogging on occasion, myself. Not that I did anything as intentional as taking a blogging hiatus while they were out of school, but the record speaks for itself. I mean, we’ve done a lot of stuff since back in June when I effectively wowed human civilization with evidence that I could, in fact, grow tomatoes and the world wouldn’t crumble into the smoldering heap of depravity and ash* while the Four Horseman galloped hither, tither, and yon (as foretold in Gardening Monthly’s Advice and Prophecy column). Since then, I’ve written of exactly none of it.

Before we move on, though, speaking of tomatoes, check out what the Puddinette and I hath wrought! I’m not even ashamed to admit that most of what you see there has already become salsa.

Oh, also, who wants some? I have the equivalent of a Great Lake of Spanish condiment in a bowl at home. And don’t worry, we’ve still got some ruby red ‘maters on the plant, just waiting to become famous.

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What else did I do this summer, since writing posts obviously wasn’t much of a priority? Well, I finished a draft of Project Bathrobe and sent it off into the world to be analyzed and improved by a number of Very Key People.  The feedback has been remarkable. It’s a very promising book, and you’re going to love it’s untold secret.

But, WAIT! There’s more. As a family, we doubled down on our efforts to do things that would be memorable for the kids, which we’re holding over our heads as the chief weapon in combating the (over)use of YouTube, Netflix, and personal electronics. We spent afternoons at the pool, took impromptu trips to King’s Island (the Midwest’s most kick-ass theme park, which is luckily in fair proximity to our house), and generally spent time trying not to just sit around the house.

Admittedly, though, we did some of that too. But as that kid in Footloose said, there’s a time for every season, and sometimes that even includes watching crappy summer TV as a family.

Oh! We also took a vacation. Can you guess where we went?

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If you said St. Louis, give yourself a kewpie doll! While we were there, of course, I had to visit the Schlafly Bottleworks. You know, for a tee shirt. Although, I suppose it would have been criminal not to have a beer or two, as well. Don’t worry, I did my duty.

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That wasn’t the only beverage I had in town that I fell in love with, either.  Fitz’s Root Beer and Sodas made a firm believer out of me. I’m trying to decide how much I’d be willing to pay in shipping for a mixed case of root beer and their delicious coffee cola.

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We also spent a day at Six Flags St. Louis, which was super cool (but I like King’s Island better)!

Now, though, all that revelry has come to an end. The kids put their brains back to work this morning (I hope), and I think it’s high time that I blow the dust of my blog and get back to doing, well, whatever it is I do here.

That said, word on the street is that the Harvest Ales are hitting the store shelves as we speak. And if that’s not a better way to cope with the return of critical soccer schedules and daily algebra homework, well I don’t want to know what is.

Pud’n

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A Backyard Summer Miracle

I went out on our back patio last night to enjoy the dwindling moments of daylight and the evening breeze with The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. What I found before settling in astonished me. 

We have…

  

…made the green…

 

…things grow!

I realize that many of you are probably eying my little green tomatoes and our fledgling jalapenos there and thinking, “Psht! Whatever. I’ve got bunions bigger that that, and they’re a deeper green, too!”

But you don’t get it…my skill with just keeping plant life alive is right up there with Justin Bieber’s ability to go 24 hours without saying something idiotic in front of a wall of mics and cameras. My thumb isn’t just black, it’s the void, empty color of that soulless Abyss from which the Kardashian children clawed their way into our unsuspecting world. And, again, that’s usually just keeping a plant a live. The prospect of having one actually grow is a fantasy of Tolkien-esque proportions!

Yet, here it is, not even the 1st of July, and we’ve got enormous plants bearing tiny, adorable fruits. And if that doesn’t fill you with hope (and a hankerin’ for homemade salsa), I don’t even know what to say.

Well, except that maybe you should have your gigantic, green tinged bunions looked at. Because, really, yeah, that’s probably not good.

Tomatoes, ahoy!

Pud’n

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Why I’ve (Mostly) Stopped Reading E-Books

Some time last month, I realized that over the past two or three years, I had become a compulsive Did Not Finisher: a loathsome, dreaded heathen who frequently begins reading books but soon loses interest, forgets the book entirely, and moves on to playing Words With Friends instead.  Become a DNFer, something the Puddin’ of My Youth would have despised with a scorn reserved for the puddles of pudding-like ranch dressing that have become the real driving force behind American civilization, was not an immediate process, but rather the slow evolution of a man in his forties with little time for reading and an even narrower view of what was worth my precious, gold-tinted minutes.

I told myself everything was fine. That I was just getting pickier as my understanding of characterization and plotting grew from novice to journeyman.  That if I couldn’t remember how far into a book I was at the end of the night and wasn’t sure what happened when I left off, it was the author’s fault for not grabbing my attention and clinging to it like capering monkey at the zoo with a handful of rotting fruit and a bad attitude!

Deep down, though, I knew that explanation was bogus. It assumed things about my relationship with the craft of writing that I’m decades away from being prepared to accept.  Some of the books I was starting but not finishing were either highly recommended by people whose taste I trust more than I trust my own ability to pick out matching socks, or were written by authors I’ve read, enjoyed, and admiration for years. I mean, I know critics have been whining about Stephen King’s books for most of my life, but I’ve been digging them for most of that same time. So when I realized I’d gotten too bored to read past the third chapter of The Shining, I figured it might be worth considering that perhaps the problem at hand wasn’t just the Hindenburg of my writer’s ego.

And here’s where the our story veers into happy coincidence.  As luck would have it, something I needed to read for research into ProjectBathrobe is not now and apparently never has been available electronically. I was flummoxed by the realization, even though it makes a ton of sense to me in hindsight. At the time, though, it meant I would have to…gasp!…journey physically to an actual bookstore to buy a book! In the real world! Where you can run into other people! Where it smells of rotten fishes and one could trip and fall into alligator-ridden sewers!

Of course, as it turns out, the world isn’t as smelly as I remember it.  Or fraught with alligator-related dangers. At least, the book stores aren’t. Books can be expensive, though, boy howdy, especially the hardcovery ones, which I suppose I knew but had forgotten after years of ordering my (partially read) novels to delivered by magic stream of electron.  Deciding that I wasn’t sure I wanted to purchase a pricey book that I needed mostly for research purposes, I picked it up at the library as if it was 1978 again, Mountain Dew was still advertising about unsupervised kids riding rope-swings into ponds, and my tube socks were colorfully striped with some version of red, white, and/or blue and hoisted up to the cusp of my knees!

Then…the magic happened: I read the damned book. All the way through, cover-to-satisfying-cover, in what basically amounted to two sittings. It was a glorious*.

I hadn’t burned through a book like that in, literally, years. Feeling like a kid again, I went back to my library and got the very next book by that same author. Or, well, technically, I reserved it via the library’s website and then picked it up later that week. These aren’t primordial times, after all. I then proceeded to burn through that book, too.

It was like I suddenly remembered how to ride a bike again, except with a book, while sedentary at home, while ignoring my tablet buzzing notifications at me.

Giddy about my new seemingly new-recovered ability to pick up any book that caught my eye and read more than 50 pages, I had an epiphany: maybe it wasn’t my newly-minted snotty inner critic that was keeping me from finishing books, but rather the experience that I was struggling with.  Being every the scientist, I decided to try a small experiment.  I’d go a month or six weeks or so reading only actual, physical books, and at the end we’d tally up the scores.

I’m content to say that I’ve reached the end now, and the score seems pretty conclusive to me: I’ve averaged a book a week over the last six weeks, and haven’t DNF’d a single one of them. More than that, I’ve even finished books I started electronically but then petered out on like a kid’s birthday balloon the Wednesday after the big party.

The more I think about it, the more I think I understand the why of it, too. Before you say anything, yes, I understand that lots of people have been sneering their sneery sneers at e-books for years, looking down upon them like the landed aristocracy cursing the nouveau riche in the early 20th century.  “Real books”, they would say, “have weight. Presence. You can feel the gilted edges of their pages with your finger sticks and smell their tomey goodness in your nostril passage parts. Real books are real, and shall always be superior, may God save the Kings of the Firestone Nebula!”

Well, okay, so maybe nobody every said that specifically. Because, I mean, who would talk like that besides alien visitors lacking any real concept of empathy and having only a passing understand of the English language. But that sentiment has been there since digital books first began gaining popularity several years ago.

Believe me, I know. I have such people in my family.

That is, the anti e-book set of people, not the alien visitor people. Or even the landed aristocracy people, for that matter.

Point is, for me, that’s certainly not the why of things here. Because I’ve always been a fan of e-books. They are convenient and generally pretty affordable and I can impulse buy ‘em quicker than you could say, “ShamWow!” And for travel? Believe me, carrying 10 books on a Kindle is a boatload easier than lugging around the mountain of paperbacks I had the last time I went on a week-long trip to Jamaica.

But doing this little book experiment made me realize there’s a quiet, analytically side of me, a layer of my subconscious that notices how far into the meat of a book my bookmark is currently sitting. A sneaky, persistent phantom that takes note of my current book sitting on the counter in the kitchen or the desk beside me, waiting, calling to be picked up.  I suspect it’s the same shadow of my personality that compels me to finish video game quests once I’ve accepted them, regardless of whether or not they’re necessary for the main game story.

I’m a completionist by nature, see, which drives me to finish games and books, and, lucky for me, is probably the driving force that’s keeps me on track to finish a novel, especially when I’m knee-deep in the confounding mire of the mid-draft, and nothing makes sense and all is darkness and black licorice and hope is lost.

For years now, apparently, I’ve been tricking that subconscious phantom by reading from my tablet. Because it couldn’t gauge how far into a book I was based on Kindle page numbers, when half the time each “page” is three page turns anyway. And because it wasn’t reminded of the imagined world and characters waiting for me when eyes would alight on the same device I’d use for books as well as twitter or Facebook or watching Taylor Swift videos or social media games.

E-books bought and never read leave little in the way of tangible reminders of my failure as a reader. That’s not to say I condone the idea that I should feel like I have to read everything I buy.  After all, life is much too short to inflict myself with That Famous Blowhard’s Mostly Wrong Guide to US History (For Kids!)**. If something’s just bad, it’s perfectly okay to toss it aside. The tossing, though, should be an active choice, as intentional as plucking nose hair, and possibly just as painful. Not something you never got around to finishing because, meh, why didn’t I get around to finishing it, again?

All of which is to say, I am The Phoenix, happy reborn as a physical book reader from the ashes of my recent ways. Not a zealot, or a crusader for the printed book. I still hold that it’s a preference, not a dictate. And I, will, definitely, still read e-books from time to time, when the circumstances demand it (anybody want to watch the kids while the Puddinette and I go to Jamaica?). But I’m proud to say that I’m a print book kinda guy. I want my books. I need my books. And anyone who claims that physical books are dead is welcome to have a nice, long chat with me about it.

Hell, I’ll even buy them coffee, if they’ll meet me at the bookstore.

Pud’n


*It was also a wonderful book, but that’s another post.
**Not that I ever bought that, Great Gods of the Lizard People forbid

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5 Things On My Mind Right Now

I haven’t been saying much lately. 

Wait, no, that’s not true. That suggests I’ve been roaming around the house in a mute daze like Frankenstein’s monster. I have been saying things, to my family, the people around me, etc. I haven’t been posting stuff, though. And that’s not specifically an indictment of my recent work here on Puddintopia.  It’s a comment on my general lack of having something to offer to the online world in general. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, you name it, I’ve been kinda quiet.

I can’t rightly say why either. Could be that I’m speeding towards the finish line for the first draft of Project Bathrobe, and that’s taking up a lot of my brain power right now.  It’s also probably fair to admit that a lot of other people already say things sort of similar to the things on my mind. Intelligent, witty, entertaining people that are putting out stuff that I don’t feel the need to parrot just to have a string of text streaming through the etherwebz with my name on it.

Also, it’s true that in some cases I’ve been reposting and sharing links to these other people’s intelligent, witty, entertaining posts.  But then, that’s not the same as having my own voice out there is it?

A Voice is a pretty important thing. If I’ve learned nothing else since I started writing books, I’ve learned that.

So, here, in my own voice, is what’s on my mind, right now, an hour or so after dinner, at roughly ten minutes to seven o’clock post merdiem, May 20th, 2015:

  1. When I was younger, I couldn’t grill a burger worth a damn. Grilling a burger right means taking a little time, being patient, buying actual ground animal flesh, and forming the damn things yourself. Those frozen, too-perfectly round-and-or-square flat disks of meat-type stuff I used to flash grill with open flames at 1000 degrees for 5 minutes until they were hard and tasteless, well, they should make Past Puddin ashamed of himself.
  2. It’s mid-May, and I’m deeply concerned for my Reds. It’s much to early for this sort of worry. I should still be on my annual spring baseball honeymoon. But so far they aren’t hitting when they need to and their bullpen is the kind of collection that gives a manager night sweats.
  3. School is out for the kids in a week and a half.  I’m happy for the kids and also really really envious. They also just today finished up their standardized testing for the year, and good riddance to it. I’ve spent a lot time this year being dissatisfied with the way we educate our kids here in the US and wondering how we can fix it.
  4. I’m going to watch the season finale of The Flash sometime tonight, probably after writing another chapter of Project Bathrobe.  After said finale, good, bad, or indifferent, I can almost promise you I’ll feel a little sad. This season of The Flash was one of the best comic book-y TV shows I’ve every seen, and I’m sad to lose it until September.
  5. Today, right now, at this moment, chocolate ice cream > chocolate chip cookies. (Ask me again in an hour and you might get a different answer)

That’s what’s on my mind…what’s on yours?

Pud’n

This One’s For All You Mothers Out There

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Being Mother’s Day here in the United States, I thought I should take a day off from Project Bathrobe to be extra nice to the Puddinette. After all, she is the person largely responsible for making sure my children aren’t living lives of filthy squalor punctuated with too much bean soup and not enough bed-making and fingernail-trimming. In her honor, I slept on the basement couch last night (on purpose this time, so my avalanche-triggering snores wouldn’t wake her rather than because I just happened to have fallen asleep in front of Netflix…again) and I helped the kids learn how to clean bathrooms today. Plus, we even got her got her some pretty, pretty petunias and helped get the front flower beds planted and mulched this weekend.

And never forgetting the lady who brought me into this world and taught me about being in love with books and doing something right or not doing it all, we’ll be taking a yummy dinner (complete with pie, duh!) to my mom’s house in a little bit, so Grammy Puddin won’t have to lift a finger.

I hope everyone out there who’s got a mother, is a mother, knows a mother, or, heck, even breaks it down like a mutha makes some time to be with the one(s) you love and depend on, whether you’re in the US or not.  No matter where you in the world, it’s never a bad day to appreciate the one you think of as Mom.

Now go call your mom, and don’t forget to wash your face and hands for dinner.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Pud’n

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The Binge-Watcher’s Lament, A Haiku For Netflix’s Daredevil

Loved a show. So much
Gulped it down, Solo-cup style
Empty cup. Now what?

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A Movie In 100 Words Or Less: Interstellar

interstellarI waited an inordinately long time to see Interstellar, and I’m kind of ashamed of it. This is geek stuff! Spacey! Futurey! Black Holey! Einsteiny! It’s my bread and butter, my mother’s milk. A space movie with breathtaking space, actual characterization, solid dialogue and potentially even science? And from Christopher “Memento/Dark Knight/Inception” Nolan, even! If you had asked 2013 Puddin how long it’d take him to muster the energy to go to a midnight showing on some Saturday night after the kids were in bed, he’d have muppet flailed all over you and then bet he’d be there on the first weekend. Second, at best. This was a movie begging to be seen on the big screen, after all.

But then November came and the movie released. And 2014 Puddin started reading reviews. The muppet flail trailed off, the eyebrow arched, and the roaring blaze of my determination to make time to catch Interstellar in the theater whittled down to little more than a sputtering match head.

It happens, especially when a movie hits over the holidays.

Which means I didn’t see it on the big screen.

So I waited until it released on disc. I waited with some impatience, too, still bearing more anticipation for it than I expected. Maybe it would surprise, after all.

Until, at last, last week, it hit the stores (and pay-per-view sources).

And….well….

Interstellar

Interstellar is the kind of movie you either have 2500 words for, or 25. And while all the heavens, hells, and the Lords of Kobol know I could give it 2500, I think 25 will do. Here they are: I understood what I saw in Act 3, but that doesn’t mean it made sense. I wanted a science fiction film, not a science fantasy.

My disappointment aside, it’s a movie still worth seeing. I think the homages to 2001 could have been trimmed a great deal, but maybe that’s just me. I will admit, too, that Interstellar has the best few lines about parenting I’ve ever heard committed film.  So, yeah, I think everyone should probably see this once. It is, after all, undeniably kind of epic.  But the head-cocking “what just happened?” near the end is not the kind of epic I want to relive on Blu-Ray over and over.

Pud’n

What I’m Up To Right Now

writing_logo_180Just in case anyone was curious what I’m doing at this very moment in time (April 2, 2015, 10:01 PM), I’d say this says it all:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out whether I’d like to write a two-page, dry-as-Grandma’s-salmon-croquets run down of the plot for Project Macaroni, or 400,000 words about some guy named Somethingovitch getting rained on continuously for 10 years until he catches pneumonia, dies, and ends up in a pauper’s grave. You know, where they don’t even mark down poor Somethingovitch’s pathetic last name.

That’s right, kids, I’m rocking this Thursday night. What about you?

Pud’n

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The Best Monday Of The Year (or Revisiting The Start Of The 2015 NCAA Tournament)

Yeah, you heard me right: yesterday was the best Monday of the year. Ordinarily, I’d argue that suggesting any one particular Monday could possible trump it’s 51 brethren was crazy talk on the highest order. Like, seriously, you’d be better off taking stock tips from the “magic” fortune teller that made Tom Hanks Big. It’s like evaluating 52 piles of browning banana peels and attempting to pick out The Best One when no matter which you pick, it’s still just a slippery mound of mushy yuck, you know?

So why on Earth would I possible suggest that yesterday is the best Monday of the whole year?

Because there aren’t any NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games again until Thursday.

Now, hear me out. I know the tournament is awesome. I do, I swear. But Not having any games until Thursday gives me three whole blessed days when my bracket won’t be getting any worse. That’s a far cry, mind you, from what happened the four days prior to Monday.  From noon Thursday until late Sunday night, every time I checked my bracket results and place in the groups standings, my hopes and dreams of being this years Big Pool Winner slid closer and closer to becoming, well, this year’s big poo winner.

As in, I’m not going to win sh….  Err, I mean, you probably get the idea.

Yet therein lies the magic of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracketizing. Before that first tip-off Thursday afternoon, millions of children, women, and men across the globe (probably?) stood breathless, poised over a precipice leading to glory or ruin one, clutching a gleaming sheet of paper hope in their hands. The NCAA Tournament Bracket is the Great Equalizer, where everyone, for that one moment, can stand all on the same footing, shoulder to shoulder, with four regions of selections unmarred by error.

That is, until the games begin.

After that, hoo-boy, things get uglier than a guy like me in a Victoria’s Secret two-piece quicker than you can say, “for the love of your eyeballs, children, look away.”

Because that’s when upsets start rolling in, underdogs clinging to scrappy wins and clearing out whole swaths of expectant victory.  Soon after your (my) bracket sheet looks like a editor took a red pen to that Chuck Norris Commando fan-fiction I wrote when I was 10.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good. Just like my tournament picks.

This year’s lesson, it turns out, is that if you’re going to try to pick some underdogs, it helps to pick the right underdogs.  Because otherwise you’ll soon be weeping over the lost dream of a Villanova/Oklahoma Regional Final, and swearing no child or grandchild of yours will ever set foot on Villanova’s lazy, no-good campus, no matter what kind of scholarship they offer*!

At last, though, after days and days and days (what? it was only four? What sort of time vortex sorcery is at hand here? I’ve surely been watching my picks get axed for at least a fortnight!), Monday, sweet Monday arrived, ending the endless siege against my bracket. And as the dust settles, I can now take a moment to gather up the tattered remains of my 2015 NCAA Tournament Picks and do what 90% of us do this one week of year.

Look forward to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and swear that next year we’re picking every stupid game via coin flip.

Pud’n


*Totally kidding here, Villanova. You’ve got a great institution of higher learning there, and we’ll gratefully accept whatever scholarship money you’d like to fling at us.

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