Book sale haul, day 1

As I always try to do, I hit the “pre-sale” for Friends of the Library the other night. As usual, I was a little disgusted by all the prospectors with scanners looking for stuff to resell at a profit. I know the library gets money either way but it seems really dishonest to prey on people’s good will for the library like that; after all the stuff I buy I’ll probably donate back so someone can enjoy it for a buck or less while these vultures are sending them off to jerkwad collector, right? Yeah maybe I shouldn’t begrudge them. I guess I’m just annoyed they aren’t actually there to find things to read and enjoy. Oh well.

The cover images are all swiped from Goodreads.com, which has a surprisingly complete catalog.

I’m planning to hit it again on Saturday (probably while this post goes up). They always restock the shelves between the sale days.

Not a bad haul so far for 5 bucks:

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Dragons / Hogarth & Clery (love this cover; it’s a nice illustrated miscellany on dragons)

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The magic of Atlantis / ed. Lin Carter (Atlantis-related tales by the usual pulp fantasy suspects — Howard, Kuttner, de Camp, etc.)

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Little, big / John Crowley (a hardback in excellent condition, even though it is a “book club edition”)

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Return to Quag Keep / Norton & Rabe (withdrawn library copy; I would not normally bother with Norton but this does have a D&D connection and an intro by EGG)

3821856

Three Hainish novels / Le Guin (typical beat up book club edition but I like le Guin)

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The dwellers on the Nile / E.A. Wallis Budge (a Dover reprint of a fairly classic book on the Egyptians; I may have read this before but I’m not sure)

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Sturgeon is alive and well (stories by Theodore Sturgeon, a true master)

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Dead cities / Mike Davis (nonfiction about extinct and abandoned cities of modern times; looks interesting)

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Fantastic archaeology / Stephen Williams (about crackpot theories about North American prehistory; unfortunately I realized it has some mildew when I got it home so it will not be joining the shelves permanently; so far it’s good)

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The sundering flood / William Morris (a BAF paperback in good condition)

[no pic!]

Issues # 15 and 16 of Harbinger (2005) — a British miniatures magazine I’d never heard of.

Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Troggs

Back in the early 1970s when Gygax and his buddies were improvising fantasy miniatures for their wargames and proto-D&D, plastic caveman figures stood in for ogres. Various toy companies had sets of prehistoric animals like saber-tooth tigers and mammoths that came with a handful of cavemen figures (to be their hunters, or prey, I guess). I remember my brother & I having a few cavemen that came in a set with dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals when we were kids, so it was a kick to find, among the DFC minis and knock-offs, several knock-offs of (I believe) the old Marx cavemen figures — including several I recognized from my childhood.

They are pretty similar in height the TOYCO “barbarians” or “giants” or whatever they are (like some of the other TOYCO figures, they are not really knock-offs of the DFC line at all).

Toyco-giants

So I thought they should all get a similar paint job to form a small clan.

not-marx-cavemen

None appeared to be female, although the stout one with a spear might be a child. In fact I may use more for juvenile giants than as ogres, since ogres in D&D have been getting steadily larger and broader. Really with scale creep these guys are only 7-9 feet tall at the most, compared to other figures. Interestingly they are almost exactly the size of the Grenadier AD&D hill giants that came in a blister pack. I have an extra rock-lobber from that set so I painted him in the same group too.

hill-giant-and-cavemen

Here are all four of my Grenadier “Giants” (I just realized they never actually said they were Hill Giants on the packaging. Still they are small and cave-man like, so Hill Giants seem to be the intent.)

hill-giantsI’ll probably re-base the ones on square grassy bases like the newer guy.

The Marx knock-offs were made in a waxy plastic of various colors — including orange, silver, and black — which reminds me off some plastic figures made in former Soviet republics that flooded the 1/72 scale market a few years back.  A few had bases but some did not, so I had to plant them in epoxy putty to get them to stand. All are on bases about an inch across. Larger sized bases, like the ones most of my giants and ogres are on, seemed too big.

cave-man-clan

Anyway, when my thoughts turned to what they’d be in AD&D terms, I looked through the monster manuals and noticed a relative dearth of 8 foot cavemen. The closest thing seemed to be Verbeegs, though by second edition they approach 10 feet tall. However they are barbaric and described as “unusually thin” for their height. The cavemen certainly are thin compared to regular D&D minis, since these guys use human proportions rather than the cartoony proportions that most D&D and fantasy figures have. (Even Tom Meier’s sculpts for Ral Partha, which are unusually realistic, have noticeably over-sized hands and heads; most other sculptors have totally given up on realism in favor of the convention that features be exaggerated to make up for the small scale.) The illustrations for Verbeegs are barrel-chested, though some descriptions of Vergbeegs in later editions of D&D modify the descriptions to either downplay their thinness or explain the look by saying they wear multiple layers of furs and clothes, perhaps to hide their slimness.

Cyclopskin would be another reasonable option, but I have other small cyclopes and didn’t want to alter these guys too much. So under-dressed Verbeegs they will be. Or I’ll just stat them up as oversized Neanderthals, or “Troggs”:

Troggs

Mv: 12″; AC: as leather + shield; HD: 4+4; Dam: d10 or by weapon; Save: as F5

Troggs are large cave dwellers, perhaps distantly related to humans. Their material culture is very primitive, and they wear only furs and skins. Some wear decorations like animal teeth or other trophies strung on sinew. They make crude weapons, such as clubs, axes, and spears. These generally do d6 damage, plus 4 for their great strength.  Alternatively they throw rocks for d10 damage at a range of up to 120 feet. They live in clans of 2d6 members; d8x10% will be juveniles (2 HD). The womenfolk usually are armed with flint knives which cause d4 damage, plus 4 for their great strength. Each clan has a leader with 7 HD and who saves as 7th level fighter. One clan in four will have a shaman who casts spells as 5th level druid and saves as 5th level cleric. One clan in six will also have a champion who has maximum HP and fights and saves as a 7th level fighter. They are not necessarily man-eaters but tend to be surly and easily provoked to fight or flight. They fear elves and will attempt to flee from them, but if forced to fight will focus their attacks on them if there are non-elves also fighting. They hate ogres and attack them on sight. Their treasure is usually negligible but some clans  will have a magic item or book that they consider a sacred talisman (50& chance of each). They will not willing part with such a talisman unless offered something spectacular (to their primitive minds) in trade.

troggs

Published in: on May 7, 2015 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The year of the sunken OPD

I thought I was being all clever submitting a sunken tower for this year’s One Page Dungeon contest, and now that the full list of entries is up I see FOUR other “sunken” entries — another tower, a pyramid, spires, and a ship. Though the ship is only semi-sunken. Great minds think alike, right? Or is it sick minds run it the same gutters? Something like that. Though really the idea of a structure that has sunk or been buried is not exactly something new under the sun.

There is also a “panopticon” entry this year. I’ll be watching that one with interest, since I entered a panopticon a couple of years ago and I’d like to see another take on one.

Published in: on May 1, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Comments (3)  
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Paper Dragon

ROOOOOOAAAAHHRRR!

ROOOOOOAAAAHHRRR!

Here’s a paper dragon I made a couple of years ago for my kid’s Halloween festival — one of the stations along the “pumpkin walk” was to be a Chinese pagoda. We made a couple of pagoda silhouettes out of cardboard, and the teacher wore a nifty traditional Chinese costume. (Cue asshole parent council member repeatedly referring to the costume as a “geisha” and questioning why we wanted dress a teacher as a prostitute. No, really. Sigh.)

Anyway the dragon was made out of triangles of paper cut by my wife from her stock of scrapbooking paper and glued in place on a piece of cardboard. Overall, the dragon is maybe eight feet long and 1.5 feet tall. It came out looking pretty cool, I thought, and I didn’t have the heart to throw the thing into the recycle bin until last weekend, but at least I captured a few photos of it in case I ever need to make another.

dragon1

Published in: on April 30, 2015 at 9:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Dimensions for Children: Demons

Last weekend I was mostly busy with yard work and cleaning my gutters (not a euphemism), but I managed to paint up a few plastic minis I’d gotten in trade from another blogger. The first batch includes:  four statues (pieces from the Risk “Godstorm” boardgame depicting gods), a TOYCO giant or ogre, and a some DFC demons/gargoyles, along with a couple of TOYCO DFC-knockoff demons.

DFC (Dimensions for Children) was a toy company that produced a lot different play sets but the one I am most familiar with was the “Dragonriders of Styx.” These came as action figures (which I’d never seen before researching DFC more recently) and a fantasy toy soldiers set I’d seen a coveted as a kid. Some of my friends — the same ones who introduced me & my brother to D&D — gave me one of the figures from that, or maybe I “borrowed” it. I eventually painted it and added it to my collection of D&D miniatures. Anyway when the opportunity to get some more of the DFC minis arose, I was pretty happy. The guy who sent me these also had some TOYCO models. TOYCO was (is?) a Canadian company that made knock-offs of the DFC playset. (In fact, they even filched the box art from DFC, right down to depicting DFC figures instead of the ones that TOYCO actually made for the set! That link also shows the full line of fantasy figures they made)  The knockoffs of the knights, wizards, and demons are all pretty recognizably based on the DFC figures, but TOYCO replaced the orcs, ogres and Viking giants with slightly smaller barbarians or cavemen, ogres with cat-like ears, and somewhat classical-styled giant. The giant reminded me of the Harryhausen bronze golem “Talos” in Jason & the Argonauts, so I painted him bronze with glowing eyes.

Toyco Giant

Bronze paint with a green wash.

Toyco Giant + viking

He’s about 2 1/2 inches tall. 28mm Viking for scale.

The demons from DFC came in two varieties — shaggy-legged demons with hooves and slimmer demons or gargoyles with skinny, almost bird-like legs.

DFCdemons

The TOYCO knockoff split the difference giving their demons shaggy legs and bird-like feet.

TOYCO demons

The two TOYCO knockoffs I got have pretty sharp detail — they seem to have been molded a lot more cleanly than the DFC pieces. In fact with the DFC guys, it is hard to tell if some of them have horns or all just have really long pointy ears. I gave it my best guess when painting them.

The faces on the TOYCO figures are very cleanly molded and quite different from each other and from the DFC figures. The axeman has a face that looks a lot like a Japanese oni mask to me. The swordsman’s face is eerily calm, and the only guy lacking fangs. He had a pronounced bump between his eyebrows which I decided to paint as a third eye. Since the TOYCO demons are a little taller and more muscular, they’ll be the leaders of this group.

demon figures again

DFC, TOYCO, DFC

Although I initially thought that the inconsistency of the DFC demons was just shoddy craftsmanship, once I painted these guys I kind of liked the variation it created. The two demons with scimitars are quite different looking even though they were presumably meant to be duplicates — the thick-necked guy looks brutish and bestial, while the thinner-necked one seems more human.

DFC demons

Left, the slim demon; right, the thick-necked version with a more upturned nose. He very strongly evokes a bat.

The demons are about 2 inches tall and mostly based on wooden dominoes (that’s how they came, and they actually make very good bases). So in D&D terms they are most like Type VI Demons or Horned Devils (except that they lack tails and horns, for the most part, so demons then.)

Lastly we have the Risk gods. I almost made the “wind” god into an elemental, but I already have several elementals I almost never use. Before looking it up I was thinking he was either a trident-less Poseidon, or the patron of pocket pool, based on his pose. Anyway they are all on short columns so making them statues was no-brainer.

statues

Risk Godstorm gods as statues

They’re about the size of 28mm figures, so they could just as well be cut from their bases and used characters or NPCs, though only the goddess with the orb has an active pose.

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  
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The Mattress Factory

I took a short trip to Pittsburgh and had an incredible time — great company, good food, new music, plenty of beer — and the next day the wife and I visited a museum we’d been to about 10 years ago: The Mattress Factory. This post will just focus on the museum, because I have some photos and because the museum is more germane to swords & dorkery.

You can go to the museum’s web site to get the fuller story and much better photos, but the tl;dr version is: The Mattress Factory was an actual factory, but made into a museum in the 1970s and it mostly houses “installation” art: whole rooms are taken over by a single piece of art or series of pieces, and some are interactive. It is actually two buildings now; the factory and residential unit. The factory has art in the basement and floors 2-4 (the first floor now being the lobby, gift shop, and cafe). Some rooms are permanent installations and some are temporary. The exhibits on the second floor are rooms that use darkness and light in fairly amazing ways, and have been there for some time. But two of my favorite exhibits were new. The first a temporary exhibit of the work of one of the artists-in-residence. It is basically a miniature world. mf-diaspora-1 It’s called “Diaspora,” and depicts a city floating on a planetoid, with dozens of individual buildings floating around it, and as you can barely see in the picture above, space stations reminiscent of the film 2001.

mf-diaspora-6

The city is a mix of modern and futuristic buildings, and it is ringed with a highway that is heavily trafficked.

mf-diaspora-12

The cars are something like half an inch long, and while they may look like small-scale architectural models or railroad models, in fact they all made from scraps of cardboard and other materials the artist collected from street trash and garbage bins.

mf-diaspora-5Apart from the plaster or whatever makes up the land, and the model railroad foliage and flocking that makes up the grass and bushes, everything was made or repurposed by the artist.

mf-diaspora-10The windows were all cut by hand (presumably with an xacto knife); the details all cobbled from scraps of debris; many of the sci-fi touches are clearly auto parts or plastic parts spray-painted to resemble giant machines.

mf-diaspora-11

mf-diaspora-9The planetoid is apparently in some peril; here there is a crack in the ground that goes straight through to the void,

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here there’s a pretty big pile-up;

mf-diaspora-2here the highway abruptly ends. So you can see why those who can afford it are living off-planet.

mf-diaspora-7Off in one corner of the room, by the fuse-box, there is an Asian building of some sort.

mf-diaspora-8

This next photo is terribly blurry, but there is a series of apartment buildings further out, moving toward the space stations.

mf-diaspora-13If we go further into a darkened room, presumably representing outer space, we find a number of space stations, mostly formed in wheel shapes.

mf-diaspora-14This is a shot showing one of the last apartment buildings, then a ring-shaped space station, and the other space stations beyond it.

mf-diaspora-15

mf-diaspora-16

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This last one looks a little like the USS Enterprise trapped in a gyroscope.

And here is one last detail of a space station, showing some of the construction materials.

mf-diaspora-18Lastly, a plaque on the wall gives a bit more information:

mf-diaspora-0Many more photos, taken by professions, of this and other works by Ryder Henry are at the museum website linked above.

It’s less clear to me if the second building will be a permanent exhibit. I took a few photos of it, but they did not really turn out well. The gist of it is this: A three story apartment building was aquired by the museum, and it was a decrepit state. An artist touring it was fascinated by the stories implied by the layers of wallpaper, paint, etc. exposed on the walls, and the few remaining artifacts left behind by the previous residents. So she decided to “trap” the memories in the place by creating a sort of spiderweb of yarn, covering almost all the walls. Walking through the three stories of this building was a little creepy, as it seemed like the lair of some giant wolf spiders or something. There is an extensive gallery of photos here. If you can see this in person it’s pretty amazing.

 

Published in: on April 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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H.P. Lovecraft and the modernist grotesque

I’ve been down with a cold for the last couple of days and after forcing myself to go in to work one day, I took day off and binge-read a dissertation on H.L.Lovecraft that a guy I know wrote. It is called H.P. Lovecraft and the modernist grotesque. You can buy it at Amazon, and should. (Side note: among the things I learned here is the origin of the term “grotesque”, which traces to “grotto-esque” because the excavations of certain Roman grottoes revealed monstrous, fanciful images no-one had seen in hundreds of years. Such imagery was not limited to grottoes or baths but the term stuck, perhaps because the association with caves or the underground fit the demonic images.)

H.P. Lovecraft has become a sort of pop icon, at least within a sizable subculture of gamers, horror aficionados, and general “geek culture,” although as the author notes he is more frequently referenced or parodied than actually read. In all fairness, there is a considerable part of Lovecraft’s work that is pretty rough going, due to its conservativeness (e.g. his early work and attempts to copy Dunsany) or due to its unapologetic racism and xenophobia (which even Robert E. Howard, himself criticized for bigotry, chastised Lovecraft for!). However Martin focuses on several of Lovecraft’s most famous and acclaimed works (“The call of Cthulhu,” “The whisperer in the darkness,” At the mountains of madness, and a few other key works), and in doing so makes a powerful case to take Lovecraft’s mature work much more seriously than it hitherto has outside of “weird tales” fandom.
Martin argues, quite lucidly, that HPL can be better understood as a trailblazer in the intersection of two literary movements: the grotesque and the modernist. HPL, he demonstrates, uses modernist devices and concerns, with grotesque themes and situations, to create subtle studies on alienation, subjectivity, and the absurd. Indeed the Lovecraftian sense of “cosmic horror” (a phrase I think Martin circumspectly avoids) is understood here as really being a sense of horror at man’s evident place in the universe (or lack thereof). Martin rather convincingly (to me, at least, as a non-scholar regarding literature!) shows that HPL really fits comfortably in with Conrad, Eliot, O’Conner, Faulkner, and other “modernists,” distinguishing himself more by his use of the grotesque rather than more realist or mundane dramas to sketch his vision of the world: alienating because it is indifferent to human concerns and pride; disturbing because subjectivity makes absolute reality impossible to approach; and absurd because logic and science are just powerless as religion and art in the face of this alienation and subjectivity. HPL’s use of sophisticated literary devices belies his oft-criticized purple prose, and Martin also makes an effort to suggest that HPL uses humor and even self-parody which is lost on many readers.
So overall I think this is an excellent study of HPL, and refreshing in that it mostly avoids the biography that so often passes for criticism and appreciation that passes for interpretation.
Having said all that, this is a doctoral dissertation, and the reader is often reminded of this fact by the repetition of ideas, the exhausting presentation of piece after piece of evidence, pedantic footnotes which some advisor or reader doubtless insist be inserted to clarify or disclaim some statement, and most of all by the jargon of academia. In fact this last part was the most distracting: “connects,” “destabilizes,” “questions,” and similar verbs abound, as I have often found them to in academic literary criticism. Such terms always make me think that either the writer is avoiding taking a clear stance or that they don’t really know exactly what the argument is and these words are meant to say “well this here sort of suggests that, but the logical connection is not clear and I am not positive what the actual conclusion should be.” But then that is the meat and mead of defending a thesis. One must pull back as far into ones shell as possible or face endless debate from the advisor and readers who must ultimately approve the thing. So I can forgive that.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that I know the author of this work and he sent me a copy to read (though he did not ask for a review or anything in return). I should also mention that I was intensely flattered to be acknowledged among the people who influenced his thinking, though really I knew him long ago, and I doubt I had anything substantive to say about HPL at that time.
I hope that if he ever returns to this topic, perhaps to edit the dissertation into a format that will attract more casual readers, he will expand his examples to draw on more stories, and perhaps give a little more explanation of some of the more jargony terms of literary criticism, for the ideas herein do a great deal to rehabilitate HPL as more than merely a “horror” or “pulp” writer. He might also address some of the more problematic aspects of HPL’s work and views; however I know from correspondence that he intentionally set out to avoid the pitfall of biography and psychologism that besets so many writers on writers.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 7:15 pm  Comments (19)  
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Quick minis update

I took the day off to see an assembly at my kid’s school and get some chores done, and while I was waiting on the laundry I painted a Reaper Bones mini, probably as quickly as I’ve painted a mini (well not counting assembly-line painting of armies or 1/72 plastics which I mostly don’t shade or highlight). The mini has pretty shoddy detail, really, and I decided to cut off the goatee on the sculpt and paint him as a half-orc, as I’m playing a half-orc ranger in a very occasional 3.5e game with my brother-in-law and his friends. I also finished up a mage, which I’d been meaning to use for a PC in a now-defunct campaign.

wr-fronts

The ranger’s mail was just a plain undergarment with no texture, but I used some of the Heritage “Chainmail” paint I acquired a while back and the little flakes of metallic whatever made even the plain surface look reasonably close to mail. I really need to try it more. The milky stuff on the ranger’s base is varnish which isn’t quite dry. I’m hoping it will eventually dry clear.

And from behind:

wr-backs

The keys to making this one a super-fast paint job were: 1) not priming at all (Reaper claims you don’t need to prime Bones plastic minis; I found that the paint rubbed off pretty easily before sealing); 2) keeping the color scheme simple; 3) combining shading and lining by using a thick black wash to line the boundary areas and pulling it into the deeper crevices for shadow; 4) just adding white to the base colors and highlighting very heavily, since I wanted a weather-beaten look anyway for the ranger. The mage has more traditionally subtle shades and highlights but at arm’s length the ranger looks more striking to me. The mage is a Ral Partha; I’m not sure which line or date but he was definitely in lead, not zinc (er, “Ralidium”). I think he is probably a Julie Guthrie sculpt.

Also, I finished painting Orcus some time ago and forgot to photograph him:

Orcus

He’s a late Grenadier sculpt, but still in line with the 1e version as opposed to the muscle-bound 3e/4e version. I’m still not sure about the eyes, but the sculpt has really deep pupil slits and showing whites made him look bug-eyed, so I guess this will be it.

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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One page dungeon contest 2015

Once again, there is a one page dungeon contest, and what the hell, I’m in.

(If you don’t know, the One Page Dungeon contest is a thing where you create an RPG adventure that fits on a single side of a piece of paper, and share it for free with the world, and possibly get some recognition. It’s also a major boon for busy DMs. As the contest has been running for several years, there are now hundreds of free, one-page dungeons available for download.)

Once again I’m revisiting a dungeon I used in a past campaign, although in this case my notes were extremely spare (less than five lines, with some cryptic floorplans) so it is more an impression of what that dungeon was like than an accurate recreation.

As usual the biggest hurdle was making a decent map, and this time I tried a simple cutaway drawing. The dungeon is a tower that has sunk into the ground, and small enough that a party might be able to explore the whole thing in a single session, depending on their numbers and resources, and ability to leave some doors unopened. :)

Here is the first draft (and possibly the final draft, unless I find time to work on it again!) as a pdf:

ScriptoriumOPD

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just in time! Santicore 2014!

File:St. Michaels ass laden with heath and firewood, Bullar 1841, p. xiv.jpg

Artist’s representation of the contents of the Santicore 2014 documents. Source: Wikimedia

The Secret Santicore for 2014 is now out!

With an ass load of great stuff. Plus some not so great stuff, like my own contribution, but you get what you pay for. Monsters, NPCs, tables, whole freaking adventures. All crafted on-demand in the spirit of giving and flinging poisoned iron spikes from one’s tail.

 

 

Published in: on March 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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