How to build a better mosquito trap


English: B/W-Photography of a female Culiseta ...This spring has been an especially bad year for mosquitoes here in Michigan. After multiple sessions of trying to garden and just plain enjoy being outside, only to be nearly carried off by those pesky biters, Best Husband and I decided to take action.

And so it was, to the interwebs. Searching under “mosquito traps” led us to YouTube,  where Hiten Patel, an Asian gentleman and self-described “mind therapist and holistic healer” has a hilarious how-to for making a mosquito trap. Patel elucidates each point of the process of taking an ordinary soda bottle and turning it into a mosquito killing machine, as if he were teaching us how to install guidance chips into sidewinder missiles. At one point he switches the camera to Grandma, who sits cross-legged on the floor while demonstrating the intricate process of assembling the two-piece mosquito trap, all the while solemn-faced, and making Vanna White-type illustrative gestures, while Patel narrates in the background. If you have eight minutes (!) to spare, be sure to watch this gem.

Next, I searched for a recipe for the mosquito killing solution. Patel gave his recipe in gibberish metric, which was completely unhelpful, especially since I had never heard anyone speak of measuring water in milligrams. I found an American recipe that was quite detailed for something which only included three ingredients, including measuring the water temperature before adding the yeast. How many people really do have home kitchen thermometers, I wonder?

Next, the fun began. Best husband and I, with three college degrees between us, spent a lively hour arguing debating the best way to assemble the mosquito trap, with each of us believing that our way was best. In the end, there was no agreement, which led to the only logical conclusion possible: to make several mosquito traps, each with a little different configuration, and see which one works.

How to build a better mosquito trap

1. First, buy a two-liter bottle of soda, and drink it down as fast as you can. (or, dump it down the sink, as we might have done, but I’m not admitting to it.) In fact, buy several soda bottles, because chances are, you’ll need want to make more than one, because it’s such fun.

2. Follow the recipe for making the mosquito-killing secret sauce, which, it turns out, makes more solution than will fit in the bottle. Then, start over, and make up your own recipe as you go along.

3. Next, cut the soda bottle into two pieces. Grandma eyeballed this and dove in with ordinary scissors, which was much too simple for us. Instead, you’ll need a black marker, utility knife, tape measure, and GPS. Eyeball the spot where you will dissect the bottle. Then, to be sure, measure and mark, then debate the pros and cons of why you selected this spot to slice in. Best husband posits that the top should be significantly shorter than the bottom, allowing a gap between the liquid and the opening, thereby insuring room for the little buggers to drop in. I contend that the bottle should be cut into nearly equal parts, as this will prevent the mosquitoes from having any dead space to use for escape, and seemed closer to the way that Grandma did it.  Debate this endlessly if possible, but for at least an hour.

4. Tape the two ends of bottle together, then cover the bottle with black paper. Or green paper, because we didn’t have black. And argue about discuss whether it’s better to cover the whole bottle for improved effectiveness, or leave part of it uncovered, so you can have the satisfaction of seeing the floating mosquito carcases in bottom.

5. Add the killing solution, and discover that it won’t all fit, and the leftover part contains most of the yeast, which is the crucial ingredient.

6. Place the extra killing solution in a cup and store in the refrigerator, where it promptly ferments in record time, and oozes yeasty goo all over your refrigerator. Then, in disgust, dump the rest of it in your mosquito trap, which is what at least one of you wanted to do in the first place.

7. Hang your mosquito trap in your yard, and in no time at all, enjoy a peaceful, mosquito-free environment. Or, conversely, hang the damn thing in your yard and check it every few hours to see how many dead mosquitoes have accumulated, so you can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your environmentally friendly couples-project rid your property of insect Armageddon. We’re still waiting for that part.

© Huffygirl 2013

Save a dying art: sew your own throw pillows


Do not be alarmed. You have not accidentally stumbled onto Pinterest. Huffygirl’s Blog is not turning into a DIY site. This is temporary.

Last week I managed to clean and organize my sewing room enough to, well, unearth the sewing machine. After slogging through a pile awaiting  alterations, where I discovered that if it sits there long enough, you can just give it away because it’s no longer in style, or no longer fits, I decided to take some time out for something fun. For a little bit of time and money  (around $8.00 each) I made throw pillows to match the new colors in the sewing/guest/computer room. Here’s how to do it. You’ll need fabric (half a yard for a 14 inch pillow,) thread, pillow forms in whatever size you want, and a sewing machine. You can also recover  a throw pillow you already have instead of using a pillow form.

1. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise. You will be cutting through two layers of fabric at once. Mark the fabric with chalk or a pencil – one inch wider around than your pillow form. My pillows were 14 inches square, so I marked and cut a 15 inch square.

2. With right sides together, pin your fabric on three sides, and about one-two inches on each corner of the fourth side.  You’ll sew the rest of the fourth side later. Sew a 5/8″ seam around.

3. With the fabric still wrong-side out, put your pillow form inside to test the fit. If it is too loose, pin the seams to fit, remove the pillow and sew around again until you have a very snug fit. Leaving the fit too loose will make the pillow look sloppy.  Trim the seams to about 1/4 to 3/8 inch. Fold over and iron the open edge so you’ll have a finished edge to sew up later.

5. Turn the pillow cover right side out. Use a pencil eraser end to push out the corners. Iron the fabric, then insert your pillow form. You’ll have to fold or squish it a little to get it in.  Fit the pillow form into the corners for a nice smooth fit.

6. Pin the remaining opening, and sew it closed  by hand, sliding the needle and thread under the folded edge so the stitches will barely show.

7. You are done! Start using your new pillows.

© Huffygirl 2012

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A quick primer on floppy tulip syndrome just in time for Valentine’s Day


Don’t want your tulips flopping over in the vase? Here’s the quick skinny on what to do.

Buy good quality tulips – buds tightly closed, brightly colored, without any fraying on the edges.  Protect them from extreme cold or heat on the trip home. Don’t leave them sitting in the car while you’re running errands.

Add glass floral marbles and a couple of old copper pennies (prior to 1982) to the bottom of the vase. The marbles support the stems; the copper from the pennies, at least in theory, supports stem strength.

Arrange the tulips one by one, gently placing each stem within the support marbles.Cut at least 1-3 inches off the stems depending on the height of your vase. A short vase and tall tulips will guarantee flopping.

The tulips may look a little floppy at first, but should straighten up after a little time in the water.

Voila!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Huffygirl: How to cure floppy tulip syndrome

© Huffygirl 2012

The most pressing conundrum of 2011?


When I started this blog two years ago, I was hoping to inform, and to  make people think and laugh. I wanted to discuss important issues, but not be so heavy and pedantic that reading this blog would be like doing homework. So I put in some important information on health, exercise, and how-tos, mixed in with some lighthearted satire, and smatterings of my own hapless struggles through life.

So did it work? Depends. People have come here over the past two years for laughter, and in some cases, for answers to pressing issues. And in my own  small way, I’ve been able to address what has turned out to be one of the most pressing conundrums of the twenty-first century. Something that has troubled, puzzled and bewildered people to the point that they’ve gone to the foremost expert on the topic, Google, to find the solution. And find it they did, right here.

So what is this issue, so important, so relevant, that has people worldwide confounded? It’s (drum roll) how to get tulips to stand up in a vase, also known as the solving the dreaded floppy tulip syndrome. Yes, not quite as impressive as curing cancer, but still a burning problem for many, and I’ve been able to solve it here. My work on earth is now complete.

So how do I know this? Thanks to the WordPress Stats Monkeys (their name for themselves, not mine) I have my finger on the pulse of what internet search terms have led people to Huffygirl’s Blog. At least once a day, often more,  someone searches on the terms “floppy tulips” “why do tulips flop over” “tulips won’t stand up in vase” “tulips flopping over” “tulips flopped over after cutting” “tulips flopping down” and so on. You’d think that political candidates would be promoting their floppy tulip policy, congresspersons would be passing laws against floppy tulips, and world summits would be convened to solve this pressing problem, as it clearly is an issue for many, that does not ever go away.

Tulip bouquet

So, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, and all the folks who ordered tulips instead of roses needing to know how to get these things to stand up in the vase and not look like they brought home cheap flowers, I am once again coming to the rescue. Take a look at my solution here, and more on this pressing problem soon.

© Huffygirl 2012

How to cure floppy tulip syndrome

Hardy Mums


In the UK, hardy mums are mothers with great resiliency, but here in Michigan, they’re colorful fall flowers. Mums can be planted as perennials, which will come up year after year, but require a lot of summer maintenance to keep them looking full and bushy. That’s why many people here use them as fall annuals. We plant them in September and October, when summer annuals and perennials have begun to fade and look scraggly. This year I bought a flat of small mums for about $15 that had tightly closed flower buds, and planted them in my window boxes and flower pots. It took awhile for the plants to fill out and grow, but now I have a beautiful riot of colorful mums that look fresh from the greenhouse.  Local greenhouses here usually stock mums  into late October and early November, in all stages of bloom, so I’ll often buy a couple late in the season and use them indoors for a cheery burst of fall color, or for Thanksgiving decorations, if I can still find good ones that late in the season. 

The other hardy mum.

Hardy mums prefer cool temperatures, which is why they thrive long after summer flowers are gone. They will remain alive until there is  a hard frost. If planted in the ground, they can be cut back and will come up the next year, but usually never look as good and full as the first year they were planted. Container mums can be thrown in with yard waste compost once done blooming.

Many people pair hardy mums with pansies, another cool weather plant. The  squirrels in my yard religiously dig up any fall pansies I’ve ever tried plant, so I’ve given up on them, but  the mums also look great alone or can be paired with late ferns, perennial sedum, or pumpkins and gourds. Hardy mums come in brilliant colors of yellow, orange, rusty red, maroon red, purple, light yellow and white. I like the yellow, reds and purples best, which make a nice compliment to the fall landscape.

Brilliant! (© Huffygirl 2011)

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 © Huffygirl 2011

Scan me: Huffygirl’s guide to exciting airline travel


Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac)...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m standing barefoot, holding my shoes. This can only mean one thing. A long walk on the beach? No, I’m in an airport, silly. Did I mention that I’m also holding my belt, laptop, coat, purse, carry-on bag, ticket, and photo ID, while pushing my briefcase along with my feet and trying to grab three scanner trays? Time for another fun trip through airport security, otherwise known as the portal to Hell.

 With the beginning of the holiday travel season approaching, I thought I’d offer a few tips to make your next trip through this portal more enjoyable, at least as enjoyable as mine was. After all, I just did it, without being randomly selected, at least this time anyway, for personal screening, so I must be an expert.

1. Be sure to arrive at the airport two hours prior to your flight. This allows you extra time to jump out of the way of the other people who are pushing past you on the escalator and people mover, the majority of whom did not arrive two hours before their flight.

2. For a full experience, choose your security screening line wisely. I recommend getting in line behind the guy wearing lace-up hiking boots and cargo pants with a water bottle stuck in his back pocket. It would be even better if he had a laptop in a locked briefcase. Standing in line behind him ensures a maximum amount of time in the screening line, to get the ultimate experience.

3. Choose your seat assignment based on your travel preferences. Do you enjoy having strangers climb over your lap? Then go for the middle seat. Do you find that it just doesn’t seem like vacation unless your elbows are constantly bumped by perky strangers pushing carts? Then you’ll want the aisle seat. Or do you enjoy the intimacy of struggling over the laps of people you’ve never met? Then the window seat is for you. Whatever seat you choose, getting in and out will be a lot like a fun game of Twister.

4. Choose your seat mates wisely. Well, you can’t really choose an interesting seat mate, unless you’re bringing your mother-in-law along, but what if you could? Don’t go for the boring slender business person who sits quietly playing with their phone the entire trip. That wouldn’t be any fun. Look for someone with a little flair, a little different. For instance, on my recent trip, I had the good fortune of being seated next to the female Milton. For those who don’t know, Milton is the somewhat dim, obsessive character in the movie Office Space. I knew right away that I would have a fascinating seat mate experience, when I sat down, and Miltonette proffered a grubby-looking zip-lock bag of potato chips and asked me what nationality I was. The rest of the flight was truly entertaining. Every few minutes Miltonette would randomly blurt out whatever gem had popped into her head. “My sister has strawberry blond hair.” “I paint pictures but don’t sign them.” And my personal favorite: “My whole family uses bar soap.”

5. Hope to find a delightful surprise when you pick up your bag. Suppose your TSA lock is missing. This leads to a fantastic brain teaser that will engage your mind for days, maybe even weeks. Did the TSA search my bag, or did a rogue baggage handler cut off the lock?  Has anything been disturbed? Is anything missing? Did they look at my underwear? You’ll never know. Your own unsolved mystery.

Unfortunately, your exciting airplane trip is over, but why let the fun stop now. For a bonus experience:

6. Chose an off-brand rental car. Sure you could pick National or Avis, but where’s the adventure in that? Pick some place you’ve never heard of, say, Fox Rental. Just finding the place is an event.  After you’ve traveled blocks from the other, ordinary rental car places and landed in some back-alley warehouse, you get to stand in the “special” complaint line for what seems like hours, just because the fun rental agent finds some secret invisible “damage” on your car. But hey, you saved $30, and now  you get to practice your people skills too, so why not? This is a perfect end to your exciting trip.

Travel is fun. Anyone can see that by watching a few episodes of “Pan Am.” Why miss out? Book your trip today.

© Huffygirl

Passing on a family tradition: Making pasties


Okay, first, it’s pah-stee, not pAy-stee. I’m talking about food. Pasties, or Cornish pasties, are self-contained meat pies. Legend has it that the pasty was brought to this country by immigrants from Cornwall, England, who came here to work  in the mining industry, in the upper peninsula of Michigan and upper Minnesota. The miner’s wives made this tasty delicacy with a mix of meat, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga, wrapped in pie crust. The miners would tuck a towel-wrapped pasty into their pockets and take them to work, where they would stay delightfully warm until lunch time. Right.

I can’t speak for Minnesotans, but anyone raised in Michigan, or anyone who has traveled to the upper peninsula, should know what a pasty is. Michiganders know that the best pasties are found the farther north you go of the Mackinac bridge. In fact we all heard the expression growing up “you can’t get good pasties this side of the bridge.” Today you CAN buy pasties south of the bridge, usually at local diner-type restaurants, but I contend the best ones are still north of the bridge (Houghton maybe) although we have found good pasties in St. Ignace, just across the bridge, at a mom and pop store that sells pasties, fudge, magazines and bait.

My husband’s family got their pasty traditions from the family roots in Duluth, Minnesota. Shortly before we were married, my future mother-in-law schooled my husband and me in the art of making pasties, thinking she couldn’t let her first-born son starve to death with a wife who didn’t know how to make a pasty. There was no recipe – just Mom’s tutelage in making and rolling out the dough, spending what seemed like hours dicing up meat, potatoes and carrots (no rutabaga in this family’s pasties), filling the crust, trimming and baking.

Since that day many years ago I’ve added my own refinements – I no longer trim the dough into a neat half-circle as my mother-in-law did – it just wastes dough and time and adds nothing to the finished product. I now use one pat of margarine instead of two (cholesterol conscious I guess) and cut the prep time at least by half by chopping all the ingredients and making the dough in the food processor. Things aren’t diced as evenly and prettily, but hey, I’ve got better things to do than standing in the kitchen dicing half the day. And it still tastes great.

Recently, best husband and I passed on the tradition by teaching our first-born son how to make pasties. Besides explaining the basics, we passed on all the little tips that we’ve gleaned from making pasties over the years. I feel better knowing that someday when I die, I will have at least passed on the secret nuances of pasty-making that one will never learn  from reading  a recipe, hopefully to be passed on again and again, so the family pasty tradition will remain alive.

Recipe to follow.

Two generations of pasty makers: husband and first-born son.

© Huffygirl 2011

The grateful deadheader


The Deadhead Basket (© Huffygirl)

I’m going around the  garden with my deadhead basket in hand, gently snipping or pulling off spent blooms. This is my most soothing time of day. I AM the grateful deadheader – the one who pulls and snips off dead flowers, so the plant can bloom anew. I wish I had coined this phrase, grateful deadheader, but I can’t take credit. Years ago I read an article in a gardening magazine about a couple with extensive gardens, and how they divided up the work to maintain such a huge landscape. The wife pointed out that she did the deadheading and was thus the grateful deadheader. The term struck a chord – I’d never thought of deadheading as something to be grateful for. It seemed like thankless, constant work. In fact for years I purposely avoided planting anything that needed deadheading to thrive, thinking my time was much too important to spend it bringing out the dead. But, if you don’t want to deadhead, you’re severely limited in what you might plant in your garden. Begonias, Impatiens, any lazy plant where the dead blooms just fall off – these I  find too uninspired and prosaic for my garden.

Petunia transformed into a dramatic spiller. (© Huffygirl)

So, I decided to try it. I pulled out an old basket and an inexpensive pair of scissors, and left them  by the back door where I could grab them easily. And I started deadheading. Whenever I had a few minutes, I’d creep around the garden, clipping, pulling, filling my basket with dead blooms. Eventually, two things happened. My gardens really, well, blossomed. And I relished in the quiet moments I would snatch here and there to perform a task so mundane, yet so important, Why this is soothing, I still don’t know. When I’m going from plant to plant, tenderly checking for dead blooms, I get the same feeling I used to have when sneaking in to peek at my sleeping children. That sense of quiet nurturing. Plants produce flowers as their seeds; once the seeds are produced, the plant feels its work is done. Seeds ready to go, no need to put out any more energy. But clip off the seeds, the plant says “Oh, my seeds are gone, I need to produce more” and voila’ – the plant thrives, blooming like crazy, filling out, adding branches. Do not our children do the same with quiet daily nurturing? So deadhead I will. And gratefully.

Deadheaded zinnias grow from a spindly stem to a multi-branched bush. (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl 2011

(Disclaimer: In no way does Huffygirl mean to offend persons who plant begonias, impatiens and other self-deadheading flowers.)

I’m spring cleaning – well sort of


Feather duster, dustpan and broom, and upright...

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I enjoy having a clean home. And I used to enjoy housecleaning.  Until now. Maybe it has something to do with getting older, but I’m now at a point in my life where I feel like I should be out seizing the day  instead of doing mundane tasks like dusting. After all, I don’t have that much time left. I figure 30-35 years at the most, and the last 10-20 of those will probably be wasted going to early bird specials and taking bus trips with other old people at some “retirement community.” Depressing. So I feel like I should be getting as much out of life as I can right now, and  that no longer includes dusting.

Yet, the house gets dirty, and I want it clean. What to do? I could hire someone to clean, and I did try that for a while. It seems that the cleaning company’s idea of clean and my idea of clean did not quite mesh. The “cleaning lady” could clean my whole house in three hours, while it takes me six.  Plus, I keep thinking,  “I could be doing something FUN with the money I’m spending to pay someone to sort of clean.” That whole seize the day idea again. Maybe if I hired an illegal alien to clean, instead of an American from a cleaning service, I could get more for my money and get them to clean exactly the way I want it done, but hey, I’m above that.

So, back to cleaning. I’ve resorted to the age-old method of cleaning that college students and a lot of other people use – clean when you’re having company. That works okay, but you either have to have company a lot, or put up with a dirty house. After all, we only have so many friends. I’ve also tried guerilla cleaning, or blitzing. Notice my use of sports and war analogies related to cleaning  – it IS a war on dust after all. My husband and I buzz around the house as a team, picking up, me dusting, he vacuuming. It works, but again, you need some motivation and the time to do it. You can’t be out hiking the Rockies, and say, “Gosh, better stop now, have to go home and clean.”

So today, I’m trying a new tactic that’s called – “hurry up and dust, move furniture and vacuum, because the carpet cleaning guys will be here in an hour” method of cleaning. The principle is this: everything needs to be dusted. And it’s time for the carpets to be cleaned. But I don’t want to be dusting furniture and risk pushing the dirty dust onto the newly cleaned carpets. So I’m dusting the lamps, tabletops, pictures, etc now while I’m also moving the smaller furniture out of the way before the carpet cleaning guys get here. The carpet guys will come, clean the carpets, and when I move all the freshly dusted things back – voila’ – the entire room  will be clean. Brilliant. Except it only works when I’m having the carpets cleaned. And it doesn’t take care of the rooms that don’t have carpeting. And it’s exhausting to be running around like a madwoman, while being tired from all the seizing the day I did yesterday, and trying to get all this done before the carpet guys get …

Sigh. Never mind, they’re here.

Massage: the new torture


Massage in Frankfurt, Germany

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Yes, here I am, lying on a heated massage table. Now before you get too jealous and think “Huffygirl, you lucky dog” you need to know: this is not yo’ mama’s massage. There’s no soft music, no candles, no aromatherapy. Just Mark, the incredibly muscular massage guy, and the heated table (really the only perk of the whole deal) in a drab room in an even dingier building of post World War II brick. 

So no candles, no aromatherapy, no soft music – what kind of massage is this? A Nazi torture massage? The Gitmo special? No,  I’m having a deep tissue massage. Mark, who is about 5′ 5″, 130#  and one-hundred-percent muscle, is working his strong fingers into my tight muscles and tendons, aka myofascia, and looking for “the burn.” The principle of this massage is to find the tight, restricted areas, and apply deep pressure to the point that it’s burning more than painful, until the myofascial fibers relax or release. But it’s not always easy to find that point. “Is this pain or burn?” asks Mark, as he grinds his fingers into my upper trapezii (shoulder muscles). It seems like the grimacing I’m doing and my answer through gritted teeth might give him a hint. “No, pain, keep looking.” Mark probes the same spot from different angles and with different pressure, until he finally finds “the burn.” Or maybe I’ve just become inured to the pain and have given up, hoping he’ll leave me alone. But, it’s working. The pain/burn fades after a couple of minutes of intense pressure, the myofascia releases, and Mark is on to the next torture, er trouble spot. The funny part is, that despite the probing and pain, the whole process is strangely soothing. By the time my hour is up (finally!) I’m almost asleep and feel  relaxed and renewed. And sore. I feel beat up and sore the next day, and the day after that too. Good thing I don’t do this every week.

So why am I subjecting myself to this torture? There are all kinds of massage and different massage therapists specialize in different areas. Probably the most relaxing kind of massage, the one that comes with candles, aromatherapy and soft music is Swedish massage. This massage is the spa treatment kind of massage that relaxes, relieves stress, and feels good, but in the long-term does not have much benefit for tight, sore overworked tissues, according to Mark. I picked Mark (yes I actually LOOKED for this) for his expertise in deep tissue massage, which uses a variety of deep, probing methods to release tight, overwrought myofascial fibers, because I tend to be chronically tight and inflamed and wanted to see if deep tissue massage would help. This type of massage may be great for athletes, persons with chronic pain, and people with tight musculature like me.

There are so many different kinds of massage that to describe them all would be beyond the scope of this post. If you think you might benefit from massage for whatever problem areas you might have, try this:

  • Discover your goals for massage therapy. Do you want stress relief, pain relief, relaxation, Chakra alignment, or something else?
  • Research the massage therapists in your area. Call several different therapists, tell them what you’re looking for, and ask if they think they fit the bill.
  • Get recommendations from friends, athletic trainers and health care providers.
  • Consider your budget. An experienced massage therapist may charge more than others, but if you get exactly what you need, it’s worth it. Beware the $20 chair massage – it’s usually 15 minutes, focuses on upper back and shoulders,  feels good at the time, then bam, it’s gone. For $40-$70, depending upon costs in your area, you could get a full hour of whatever kind of massage you want for your entire body. Part of what brought me to Mark is his 20 years of experience, but his fees are at the higher end of the local price range. Just like anything, you get what you pay for.
  • Check out your local massage therapy training school. It might take longer, but a massage from a student, under the tutelage of the instructor, might save you some money.

I intend to keep going back to Mark, because I think this kind of massage is just what I need. And how many people can say they have an extremely fit, muscular  guy to do their bidding? 🙂 (at least on the massage table that is.)

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to replace advice from your own health care provider. Seek your health care provider’s advice before beginning massage treatment, especially if you have prior injuries, surgery, chronic pain, heart conditions or other health conditions that might make massage dangerous for you.

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© Huffygirl 2011