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Archive for August, 2009

I said I wasn’t going to do any more bug posts, but these nasty creatures ruined my summer one year so I thought I’d share the misery.  In 2004, I was in central Nevada, cooking for a 6-week geology field camp. On the way to camp, the group had seen a few of these “crickets” on the roads as we got into central Nevada. We heard the locals talking about them when we stopped for gas. We saw a couple of “cricket slicks” on the roads, which are where large numbers of crickets were run over, turning the road red.

There were no crickets at our camping location when we arrived. It was one of my favorite field camp locations, because it has trees and a beautiful creek. As the summer days got hotter, everybody could play in the creek and sit under the trees after a hard day of mapping. Field camp is the last geology class required of geology majors, and it can be difficult and stressful. Six weeks of camping out. Six weeks of long mapping days. Six weeks of close quarters with lots of other students. Some students sail through it and decide to be field geologists. Some students struggle through it and never want to see sagebrush again. Some don’t deal well with having to work in groups. Some don’t like camping.

I became a field camp cook a couple of years after I attended my own field camp, which happened to be at the location of the 2004 camp. I loved cooking and I loved that location. I was looking forward to a fun six weeks.

For the first two weeks, the only time we saw Mormon Crickets was when we ventured to town or out some distant roads. The locals in the surrounding towns would mention that cricket swarms had been spotted at certain locations. Elko, Nevada, was putting up chemical barriers because their fields and tourism had been mostly destroyed the previous summer by the nasty critters. They were asking people to call in if they saw crickets, and then they would bomb them with pesticides.  The farmers of Diamond Valley, near Eureka, Nevada, were worriedly watching the surrounding hills as their fields of alfalfa grew, hoping they could get through a harvest before the crickets came over the pass.

It was right at the end of the second week of field camp when the first Mormon Cricket was spotted outside the perimeter of our camp. Uh oh. A couple of days later the swarm hit. A sea of marching bugs swarmed into our camp and set up feeding operations. At first people tried stomping on them, but they were so big and crunchy that it was really horrid, and we promptly discovered that the bugs were cannibalistic and would swarm over the bodies of those that were injured or killed.

As our vehicles came and went, transporting the students to their mapping areas, more crickets were killed by the wheels, which then attracted more of them to the bodies. The crickets swarmed over tents, covered the plants around the creek, marched through my kitchen, and ate every stalk of grass, every bug. The local mice and birds gorged themselves on the crickets.

Normally, by mid-camp, some students start showing the strain of dealing with hard work and heat and camping. But this time everybody was showing the strain. People were bordering on hysteria, tempers were short, tears were shed. Everybody was on edge. One day I was putting storage containers in the big double cab truck for my trip to town for groceries. I fell backwards out of the truck, badly spraining my ankle and landing on my back in a sea of crickets. A group of students was in the work tent nearby, working on their maps during their “office day.” They heard my bloodcurdling screams and ran out, expecting to see me covered with blood or something. My screams were partly for my very painful ankle injury, but mostly because I was lying in a sea of disgusting bugs and couldn’t get up. They rescued me from the crickets and got me into a chair. A tall chair.

A friend of mine came out to visit for a few days. She left after one day because she couldn’t stand to be around the crickets. I wanted to leave too. Everybody did. Nobody could cool off in the creek because it was swarming with crickets. Dead crickets on the bottom, crickets floating downstream as they crossed over, crickets on every piece of vegetation. People couldn’t leave their tents open because the crickets would go inside. People couldn’t just sit around and enjoy the shade because crickets were swarming everywhere. When a group of students made the drive to a beautiful hot spring that we had always visited when at this camp location, they came back traumatized, in tears, telling us that the hot spring had been turned into cricket soup.

One day a student came running into camp, breathlessly telling me why we hadn’t seen any grasshoppers. She said she had watched two crickets rip a grasshopper in half. She was wild-eyed and tearful. A group of students came back from mapping one day and said they had been sitting on an outcrop that dropped off into the valley below. Suddenly a swarm of crickets marched up behind them and hopped right off the cliff like lemmings. Students spent more time in town on their days off, desperately needing a break from the bugs.

Finally the last day arrived, and camp was packed up faster than I had ever seen it. Usually the morning departure is a little slow, because everybody stayed up late the night before at the final party. But that morning people were moving fast. My husband, who was the camp manager, was yelling at people to get in their vehicles NOW (he is not the yelling type but he really hates bugs). As we were driving away (fast), a cricket jumped up from the floor of the truck we were in and landed on my husband’s arm. He screamed and flailed his arm arm around, hitting it hard against the door, badly bruising it. He opened the door and threw the cricket out, then stomped on the gas.

Here is some information about these horrible creatures, and about the big infestation in Nevada (also Idaho, Utah, and California), starting in 2003 and continuing for several summers. Warm winters and drought conditions help start the infestations because the bugs have a longer breeding season, and fewer eggs are destroyed by cold weather.

From Wikipedia:

The so-called Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) is actually a shieldbacked katydid, and not a cricket at all. Mormon crickets are large insects that can grow to almost three inches in length. They live throughout western North America in rangelands dominated by sagebrush and forbs. The Mormon cricket is flightless, but capable of traveling up to two kilometers a day in its swarming phase, during which it is a serious agricultural pest and traffic hazard.

Appearance

Mormon crickets have variable coloration. The overall color may be black, brown, red, purple or green. The “shield” (actually vestigial wings) behind the head may have colored markings. The abdomen may appear to be striped. Females have a long ovipositor, which may be mistaken for a stinger. Both sexes have long antennae.

Mormon crickets may undergo morphological changes triggered by high population densities, similar to those seen in locusts. The best-attested change is coloration: solitary individuals typically have drab coloration while swarming individuals are often brightly colored.

Life cycle

Mormon cricket eggs mostly hatch the spring after they are laid, although in some high-elevation areas eggs may take two years to hatch. Hatching begins when soil temperatures reach 40 °F (4 °C). The nymphs pass through seven instars before reaching the adult stage, typically taking 60 to 90 days.

Breeding begins within 10 to 14 days of reaching the adult stage. The male passes a large spermatophore to the female, which can be up to 27% of his body weight. The spermatophore is mostly food for the female to consume but also contains sperm to fertilize her eggs. The value of this nuptial gift is such that swarming-phase females compete for males. This sexual role-reversal is not seen in solitary-phase females.

The female lays her eggs by thrusting her ovipositor deep into the soil. Females can lay about one hundred eggs each.

Swarming

The Mormon cricket exists in populations of relatively low density throughout most of its range. However, at certain times and places, population explosions or infestations occur in which large numbers of the cricket form roving bands. These bands may include millions of individuals and have a population density of up to 100 individuals per square meter. These infestations may last years or even decades, and are characterized by a gradual increase and then decrease in population. The factors that trigger these infestations are poorly understood, but are thought to be weather-related.

Some research indicates the Mormon cricket’s cannibalistic behavior causes swarming behavior. Crickets attack the cricket in front of them every few seconds and must move constantly forward to avoid attacks from behind.

When a large band crosses a road it can cause a safety hazard by causing distracted revulsion on the part of the driver, and by causing the road surface to become slick with their fluids.

Food

The Mormon cricket prefers to eat forbs, especially cultivated crops such as alfalfa, and vegetables. Grasses and shrubs such as sagebrush are also eaten. Insects, including other Mormon crickets, are also eaten, especially individuals that have been killed or injured by automobiles or insecticides. A recent study has suggested that the migration of swarms may be a strategy to avoid predation by other Mormon crickets.

During an infestation Mormon crickets can cause significant damage to crops and gardens, however they have not been shown to decrease the livestock forage value of rangeland.

Control

Mormon crickets are preyed upon by a wide variety of birds and mammals. These predators include California Gulls, crows, coyotes and various rodents. They were also eaten by Native Americans. There are no predators that specialize on Mormon crickets, which may be explained by the cricket’s migratory habits and large population fluctuations.

The most common chemical control method used is carbaryl (typically sold as “Sevin”) bait. This bait kills both the Mormon crickets that eat the bait, and the crickets that eat crickets that eat the bait. Insecticides applied directly to crops may kill the insects, but due to the large size of swarms this method usually does not save the crop from being destroyed.

As Mormon crickets are flightless, physical barriers may be effective. Barriers should be at least two feet high and made of a smooth material. Recently, residents of some small towns have been effectively using boom boxes and sound systems playing hard rock music to divert the moving swarms away from crops and houses, as the insects seem to be deterred by it, although it is unknown if the result is due to the music or the heavy vibrations.

An article from the first year of the infestation:

Mormon Crickets Devour Crops, Turn Roads ‘Blood Red’

June 14, 2003
By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – Mormon crickets, the plague of the western United States, are on the march again, ravaging farms and turning roads “blood red.”

Farmer Duane Anderson said the bugs are at times so thick that he could kill 10 crickets with a single step on his 3,200-acre spread in Dog Valley about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada say this year’s infestation may be the worst in recent history.

The grasshopper-like insects have become a traffic hazard, rendering some hilly roads impassable as they become caked with crushed bug carcasses. During one recent drive in his truck, Anderson said he came upon a road that was “blood red from smashed crickets.”

But for Anderson and other farmers, the bigger concern is economic. Mormon crickets and grasshoppers have for six years in a row wreaked havoc in Utah and exacerbated the drought of nearly the same duration.

“They’ve raised hell with my livelihood,” said Anderson, 72, who has spent a lifetime farming in the state.

He has already has lost 15 percent of his crops to this year’s invasion. In recent years, due to lack of water and sparse crops he also has been forced to cut his herd of cows to 60 from 135.

“Last year I had a total disaster. Nothing was green: the drought, and then the crickets,” he said.

FARM LOSSES

This year’s cricket infestation already has caused $25 million in damages from lost crops in Utah, officials said. Last month, Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt declared a statewide agricultural disaster based on the triple-whammy of insect attack, drought and high winds.

State officials said a single Mormon cricket, which is actually a katydid, during its lifetime can consume 38 pounds of plants — targeting everything from sagebrush and weeds to alfalfa and vegetable crops.

Utah has been afflicted by Mormon crickets and grasshoppers throughout its history, as many parts of the state are ideal breeding and hatching grounds.

Mormon crickets were so dubbed after the chewing insects destroyed the crops of Utah’s Mormon pioneers in 1848. According to state history, their unrelenting attack was finally shut down by thousands of sea gulls, which answered the religious settlers’ prayers by consuming the crickets and sparing their crops.

The insects, which cannot fly, vary in color from light green to red-brown and may grow to 2 to 3 inches in length.

Ravenous adults can cover a mile a day and up to 50 miles in a single season, devouring everything in their migration path, according to the Grasshopper Hotline Web site operated by Utah State University and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

“It’s a serious problem. The crickets eat in the field until it’s bare and they move on,” said Jeff Banks, who advises farmers as part of Utah State University’s Extension Agent Program.

From Wikipedia again:

Tradition tells of a story where the first Mormon settlement in Utah was saved from famine by gulls eating hordes of Mormon crickets that had been destroying their first wheat crop; hence the name of the insect. California Gulls are known to relocate to desert areas to feed on Mormon cricket swarms, although their effectiveness in controlling infestations is thought to be minimal.

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References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_cricket

http://www.bryantmcgill.com/radio/news-archive/~C/Cosmic/%282003-06-15%29-Mormon_Crickets_Devour_Crops,_Turn_Roads_Blood_Red.html

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Warning

In case you haven’t guessed from the title of the most recent plastic mayhem post, it contains barbie soft porn, so please don’t click on it if humping barbies make you nervous or offend you.

Of course, it also contains violence and graphic imagery, but you should already expect that from plastic mayhem posts.

This has been a public service announcement.

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The whole world watched as Sarah Palin left her family home while pursuing her rabid ambition. The result was family chaos. Babies born to teenage daughters, husband sleeping on the couch, Trig left with Todd and Piper and the babysitter. Sarah has once again been away from home, in an undisclosed location, while ghostwriters spew nonsense on her Facebook page and Todd takes care of the kids. Megamouth has been strangely silent, right up until the recent denial about another blown off speaking engagement.

Chapter One
Todd, tired of the whole mess, left Piper with Trig and went off into the woods with the babysitter for a bit of hanky panky. His timing sucked though, because Sarah finally came home, fresh from her rehab and plastic surgery gig, with Megamouth trailing behind.

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Todd and the babysitter have been making goo goo eyes at each other for a while.

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They finally manage to sneak into the woods and do something about it.

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Oh you big hunk!

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I want you babe.

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I want you too!

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You are sooo sexy!

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I’m going to rip your clothes off.

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oh please!

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This rock will do fine.

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You are so hot!

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You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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I could drown in your eyes!

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Uh, oh, they don’t see Sarah watching them.

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They are too engrossed in each other.

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Sarah is pissed.

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Megamouth is watching too.

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They don’t see her.

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Take me, Todd!

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Bend over, baby!

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They hump like bunnies while Sarah and Megamouth fume.

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ooh ooh ooh!

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take it baby, take it!

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Sarah and Megamouth snap and go after them in a rage.

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Megamouth grabs a big rock.

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Sarah grabs a big stick.

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Get them!

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Oh no, it’s Meg and my wife!

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Help!

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No help for you, you cheating bastard and traitorous babysitter bimbo!

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They’re down!

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Yes!

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Take that!

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no, no, help!

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You don’t deserve to live!

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Sarah and Megamouth get more rocks.

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I’m going to smash you.

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Prepare to die.

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Megamouth finds a big rock.

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Your cheatin’ days are over.

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No more pretty face.

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No more cheatin’ parts.

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You two are toast.

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You bastard and bitch.

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You’re fired, babysitter!

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I’m burning the snowmachines.

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You were worthless anyway.

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And the psychos rejoice.

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Much rejoicing.

Chapter Two
Although the babysitter expired, Todd was just badly banged up. He managed to crawl out from under the rocks and get his cell phone out of his pocket. He called his pal, Greta Van Sustern, who is madly in love with him, and who happened to be in Alaska doing some interviews. He told her that Sarah and Megamouth came after him and a friend and that he wanted revenge. Greta, angry that her husband has been drooling over Sarah, has become disillusioned with her former girl crush and thinks Todd is getting a bum deal from his overly ambitious wife. So Greta made some phone calls to the Wasilla Women For Todd (WWFT) and rounded up some members for a mayhem expedition. They went out to where Sarah and Megamouth were gloating and planning Sarah’s next celebrity opportunity.

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Sarah, I think you totally outshine those blonde bimbos on Fox now that you’ve had plastic surgery. They will give you top billing.

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Yes, I am a babe and will be famous again.

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And your book will make millions. Now you don’t have to share with Todd.

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Yes, he was becoming a big weight around my neck, dragging me down.

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There are lots of men out there with real power and money who will treat you right.

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Todd was nothing but trouble.

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Hey, isn’t that Greta?

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And some of our friends from Wasilla?

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Greta and the WWFT are on a mission of mayhem.

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Sarah throws too many women under the bus, and now Todd too.

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We’ll fix her!

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She’s gonna be one dead bitch. Her and that Meg bitch with the bushy eyebrows.

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They advance on Sarah and Megamouth.

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Sarah and Megamouth are confused at the anger in their expressions.

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Why do you have sticks?

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Run Meg! They are going to get us!

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You can’t get away, Sarah! This is for Todd!

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Oh no! Run!

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Hurry, they are catching up!

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Greta and the WWFT continue to advance.

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Sarah and Megamouth are in total panic.

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Big sticks and revenge in their hearts.

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Two of the women circle around and cut off Sarah and Megamouth’s escape.

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Greta catches up with Sarah.

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I’m going to beat you to a pulp, you bitch!

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You had no right to hurt Todd!

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You are dead meat!

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Get them girls!

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Whack whack whack!!!

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Bash bash bash!!

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Smash smash smash!!!

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They’re down!

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Keep hitting them!

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This is for Todd!

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Greta and the WWFT rejoice.

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Much rejoicing.

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Ding dong, the witch is dead!

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Long live Todd!

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We can all marry him!

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Throw your sticks on them and kick them!

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Greta is pleased.

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Very pleased. She secretly thinks about how she will get rid of the WWFT and get Todd for herself.

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We are tired of pretending to like Sarah so she won’t wreck our lives.

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Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!

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Worth the wait

I am away from home visiting my friend in Oregon. I took my barbies with me in case a good photo opportunity arises. In the midst of a conversation we figured out that I could turn my Ken doll into Todd Palin, so I did. I now have the happy couple ready for an adventure, but I don’t have my camera download cable with me so everybody will have to wait until I get home. Stay tuned for a new photo essay on Saturday or Sunday.

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Earth art

Although I am a scientist by education, I have an artistic side that comes out when given the opportunity. Sometimes I just use what is at hand.

chesterThis is Chester.

solstice

This was my tribute to winter solstice.

hutland

This is just playing with toys in the garden.

invasion

More toys in the garden. I call this scene “Invasion.”

guardian

Guardian of the Garden.

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Heads up (updated)

Several years ago, an Internet friend gave me a present, a mannequin head. My mannequin head has been an endless source of entertainment for me ever since. She has been yard decor, garden decor, house decor, holiday decor, and political commentary. I think everybody should have a mannequin head.

Update: Due to Sarah Palin’s descent into complete and total irrelevancy, I have retired my Palin head and returned her to the regular world. She is now a pleasant, if overly made up lady. See last picture.

ramqueen

snow7

ladygarden

kickflower

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mr pointy

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Nubito Bandito

When I was at our county fair last week, I sat through one of the shows twice. It is called Doggies of the Wild West. All of the doggies are rescue animals, and the show is funny and entertaining. After the show, you can buy doggie bandannas and a few other doggie gifts. I got some for various doggies. All proceeds go to rescue organizations. Here are pictures of my mom’s dog, Nubie, wearing his western bandanna.

http://www.leapfrog-entertainment.com/Artists/Big/Doggies/Doggies.htm

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