Saturday, February 18, 2012

Emily Wiebe: The Winner of the Mildred and Ruthie Flash Fiction Competition

Every time I run one of these competitions.  I find it's always tough to make a decision on who story.  I like the best.  Nevertheless, I need to choose a think at least one because there's only one drawing, so for this competition I chose Emily Wiebe’s story.  I think that the reason why I chose Emily story is because I have the strongest emotional response to it.  I literally got a little choked when I reached the end. However, that's not to say that the rest of them weren't really good.

I think that some of the issues concerning gender and identity were very compelling for me.  Almost all of the stories dealt somewhat with the relationship between two women and some of them dealt with relationships that were friendships.  Some dealt with relationships that had to do with little sisters and some don't even with lovers.  One that really stands out for me is Liz Hodson’s story.
 

Another one of the other pieces that I had a strong emotional response to was Ron Slattery’s prose piece.  Ron's writing is a little bit like a poem and it's also a little bit like a short story and I think he really gets what I'm trying to do here on this blog and with this writing project. Something I hadn't expected, which I found very pleasing was that some of the stories actually had a strong historical perspective.  As you read each one of these stories.  I think it's up to you to decide which story you like the best because there wasn't really a bad story in the whole group.

More competitions posted on my website at: http://www.kenney-mencher.com/
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Two Weeks Before The Wedding by Emily Wiebe

The silence settled awkwardly; we both knew I couldn’t attend Ruthie’s wedding and that it wasn’t my fault, but I still couldn’t help but feel like I was abandoning my little sister—and after the guilt of all the pain I’d caused her, it felt like worms crawling through my guts.  The glow from the lamp on the bedside table accented the shiny tracks trailing down Ruthie’s beautiful face.  When I was younger I had taken a sick satisfaction from making her cry, so jealous of her apparent perfection that it made me happy to know I could mar that angelic face with red eyes and splotchy cheeks.  Now all I wanted was to never see her cry again.

“Don’t cry, Ruthie.  You know I would be there if I could.”

“There’s nothing they can do?”  Her desperation almost brought my own tears, but I swallowed them down.  The silence was heavy; we both knew the answer to the question.

I clasped her warm, slender hand.  “You’ve found a good man.  Move on and be happy.”

Despite all the heartache I had caused her, my stubbornness was the only barricade to admitting that I knew she deserved him, because he made her happier than I had ever seen her.  I could still envision the way her eyes glowed the day of the engagement announcement- I’ve never seen a star in the heavens that could match it.  She meandered through the house in her elegant yet fun patterned pink dress, smiling enthusiastically, twirling and flaunting her shoulder-length auburn hair.  Now I was glad I’d had the chance to stand beside her that day, in my own plain gray suit jacket and high-necked white blouse, so glad I could stand beside her and smile and let her enjoy herself without worrying about me.  I’d hated seeing the worry on her face after she discovered I was too weak to leave the bed.

“Ruthie…” I hesitated, though I knew it had to be now; this was my last chance to truly reconcile, for though Ruthie had reaccepted me despite all my faults long ago, my cursed pride had always frozen my tongue before I could apologize.  “I never said I’m sorry for… for everything I did” —I turned my face away, into the worn pillow under my pale cheek— “when we were younger…”  I felt the tear slide down my cheek, drip off onto the pillow.

“You know I forgive you.”

“Yes.”  Two more teardrops followed the first one.  “I just wanted to let you know.  I am sorry.  So sorry…” My voice trailed off, pathetic even to my own ears.

“Thank you.”  Ruthie’s soft words pierced me, straight through the worms writhing in my stomach.  I turned my head to see her bowed one.  Taking a quiet, deep breath, I wiped the tears off with my feeble, trembling hand, the one not holding hers.

“Thank you,” I replied.  “Now stop crying.”  Some of my old abrupt harshness clouded the words.  “This is not a time for tears, silly girl; this is a time of happiness.  You’re getting married!  So I don’t want to see any more crying.”

A half smile pulled at the corner of her soft lips, her shoulders sagged as much as they ever did on her sophisticated figure; hearing my usual callousness relaxed her; her unease at my uncharacteristic tenderness had been obvious.

“I’ll cry as much as I want,” she retorted gently, even as she wiped the tear tracks from her cheeks.

“Then don’t do it here; you’re getting on my nerves, and goodness knows I haven’t much of them left.  Go cry over wedding cake selections.”  I almost winced at the gruffness in my voice.

“Maybe I’ll do just that.”  Ruthie rose gracefully from the bedside with a teasingly arrogant—but inwardly good-natured, I knew—flounce.  But at the doorway to my stark little bedroom she paused to look at back at me lying there, saying seriously, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  The unasked question in her eyes told me how concerned my openly emotional moments had made her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I lied.

With a satisfied half-nod, she turned to go.

“Ruthie,” I choked out.  She paused again and gazed at me.  “I love you.”

Her responding smile almost brought back the tears.

“I love you too, Mildred.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” I replied, as firmly as I could manage with tears in my throat. 

Then my gentle little sister closed the door behind her.
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The Hibiscus by Carlo Jesena  

She decided she earned herself a drink, after a long day of dressing wounds and lifting spirits. "Now it’s time to dress my insides with a Mai Tai", she thought to herself. Ruthie was a quick witted brash kind of girl; she enjoyed her occasional cocktails and her smokes when she can get them. She pulled up a bamboo bar stool and set her clutch on the bar, leaning over to get the bartenders attention. "Can I get a drink before the war ends?" she hollered at the bartender. Most of the time she got her way, since she was easy on the eyes and this just happened to be one of those times. Within a few minutes she had her tropical beverage and a cigarette against her red lips.

It was December 6th, 1941 on the island of Oahu. Ruthie had been a nurse and assisting with operating phone lines for a few months. She was cynical most days and the only time a smile crossed her face was at the Tiki Lounge, a cliché bar that filled every Saturday night with limbo, luau's and Long Islands. . .courtesy of the New York bartender. On that humid Saturday night, Ruthie noticed a young blonde at the end of the bar. She seemed timid and unsure of herself but interesting enough to stare at. She noticed she wasn't the only one finding her interesting. A regular bar fly seemed to be harassing her, or offering to buy her a drink, she couldn't tell. But the blonde’s body language was obvious. Ruthie usually takes it upon herself to let a guy know where he stands, regardless of etiquette. She guided her toes into her heels as she likes to lean her feet barefoot on the bar stool. Grabbing her drink and putting out her cigarette, she walks over to the seat next to the blonde and makes herself comfortable. "Hey pony boy. . .take a hike," leaning into their conversation. He jabs back, "Listen. . .I'm not into brunettes sweetie. . .mind your own." Ruthie glares at him and responds. . ."Well I'm not into suckling pig but I have no problem shoving an apple in your mouth and lighting your ass on fire." He studies her for a few moments, "Pfh. . .you ain't worth it," and walks off. Ruthie now directs her attention at the blonde, "Are you good?' She focuses on Ruthie and exclaims, "yea. . .thank you. I'm not very good at that sort of thing." "What’s your name?" Ruthie asks. "It's Mildred" she responds in a soft mousey tone. "Well Mildred, I'm ordering you a Long Island, maybe it'll calm that temper of yours" she chuckles.

Ruthie hadn't had any close friends for a while, she didn't feel the need to open up to anyone. But after an hour, Mildred kind of grew on her and so did the Long Islands. They found themselves laughing at the silliest things, and also realized they both enjoyed the art of people watching. After snickering about fellow nurses outfit, Ruthie noticed a photographer fixing his camera at a table. She looked at Mildred and said, "Let’s take a picture." 


"Now?" Mildred replied.
 

"Yes. . .right now, be right back." Ruthie popped out of her seat, without slipping on her shoes and used her looks to get a free photo. "C'mon Millie. . .he said he'll take one picture!" As they got ready to pose, Ruthie ran to the side of the bar and plucked a pink hibiscus. She shook off the dew and slipped it behind Mildred's right ear. "Now you're lookin' like a real Hawaiian," and she smiled to Mildred. Mildred squeezed her arm and leaned in close waiting for the flash.

The next day, December 7th, Pearl Harbor was attacked. The photo of Ruthie and Mildred remain, but their where abouts unknown. But whether it was their last night on earth or the first night of long lasting friendship, this photo will always survive along with the memory of carefree Hawaiian night.

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 My Wedding Day by Donna Nguyen

14 September 1946

Today was the best day of my life. I'm now a married wife! Yesterday I was Ruth Lindermier, and today I am now Ruth Lindermier Johnson; married to Everett Johnson, the love of my life. It was not too long ago when Everett asked for my hand in marriage. Our smiles were euphoric as my parents accepted him to the family.

Months passed as Everett and I prepared the wedding, we had chosen the songs to play before the ceremony which were “At Dawning, Oh Promise Me, I Love You Truly, and Lohengrin.” We had about one hundred friends and family attending the ceremony and the reception.

For my wedding, I wore a silk lace dress of the color blue. The length of my dress reached to my ankle with pink taffeta sash at the end. I held blue delphiniums as my bouquet and wore baby’s breath. In fact, my bridesmaid and my sister wore baby’s breath too. My sister wore a white organdy dress with embroidery design of yellow flowers as my bridesmaid wore a white organdy dress with embroider design of pink roses.

As my father walked me the aisle down the ceremony, “To a Wild Rose” was playing. It was mine and Everett’s favorite song. When I looked at the end of the carpet, I could see the best man and the groom’s man. I looked up higher and saw the love of my life, Everett Johnson. I glistering eyes as I smiled when Everett placed the ring on my finger. Then I put the ring on his finger. As the priest cited, “you may kiss the bride,” Everett and I whispered to each other, “I love you.” We kissed as the whole room cheered with excitement.

After the ceremony, we took the limousine to the reception where we had our toasts and dinner. Our parents, sister in law, brother in law, and friends all toasted, as we drank our wines. We cut our two story vanilla bean wedding cake and served each other a slice of our cake. After dinner, we danced to our song, “To a Wild Rose” and after the song was over, everyone at the reception had joined in for the dance.

“Our wedding night is not over yet,” Everett said after he came out of the shower. He kissed my cheek softly and he gently pulled me into his arms as we make our way to the bed.  

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Mildred and Ruthie by Laura Gosalvez

Mildred and Ruthie were best friends. They met working in the shipyards of Alameda, California during World War II.  Ruthie was to be married on September 14, 1946. Her fiancée, Everett Johnson was discharged from the Army after service in New Guinea. Ruthie and Mildred were very supportive of each other during the war when Ruthie’s fiancée and Mildred’s boyfriend were overseas.

They would always be glued to the radio every time the news flashes played to see if they could get any information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones overseas. After working on a Russian ship at the Alameda shipyards since the U.S. was aligned with Russia during WWII, Ruthie once got a rash of unknown origin all over her body and had to go to the hospital for over one month and Mildred was there to visit Ruthie every day after work. The doctors never did figure out what caused the rash but it eventually went away. Mildred’s boyfriend did not make it home after the war.

He was captured on the island Saipan and became a prisoner of war and was then later declared missing in action. Mildred took this very hard and had a difficult time coping with the reality of losing her boyfriend, Hank Vieira. Planning for Ruthie’s wedding helped keep Mildred’s mind off of her loss but also brought back better sweet memories of Hank. 

Mildred:  "What memories.  Let me live in your shows"

Ruthie: "No honey there are the wrong size, you just need to find another pair that fit you"
 

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Love, Lies, and Betrayal by Liz Hodson

In 1942, I met the love of my life, only she did not know it at the time. Ruthe was her name; she was vibrant, fun, and beautiful, she glowed in shades of pink. She was everything opposite of me. I met Ruthe while working for the Women’s Army Corps. We were both married to soldiers in the Army, and we were doing what we had to do to make ends meet. Women were called in to the United States Army to perform all of the tedious duties that men did not want to do, women’s work they called it. Ruthe and I were assigned to laundry duty. When I thought of the military, I thought of the symbolization of red, and I am sure the Government saw nothing but green.

“Good Morning, Ruthe”,

“Hey there Millie”, she replied with a huge smile on her face.

“Say, Ruthe, do you want to go out and get a drink tonight”?

“Sure, I could use the company”. Ruthe was always easy to talk to.

At 5:00, Ruthe, and I were out the door, to go get a drink.

“Hey Millie, do you mind if I we stopped at my place so I can feed my cat”?

“No, that’s okay, I would not mind freshening up before we go out”.

When we arrived at Ruthe’s house, I went to use the bathroom while she fed her cat. I walked out of the bathroom, and did not see Ruthe anywhere around the house.

I walked towards the front door, and saw her sitting on the porch.

“Ruthe, are you okay”?

“Yes”, she replied. “I just love watching the sun set, it’s something that Aaron, and I used to do all of the time together before he was shipped off”.

“You know, Ruthe, I get lonely sometimes too, but our men will be back soon enough”, I tried reassuring her.

“What if I do not want to wait until he gets back”? I was baffled to why Ruthe would say that.

“Is your marriage in trouble Ruthe”?

“Can I help you in anyway”? I was trying to be as supportive as possible, but Ruthe seemed be closed off. Ruthe looked at me, and smiled; she placed her hand on my thigh and then leaned in to kiss me. I was frozen like a rock; I was angry, and confused. I did not know what to do or say,

“Ruthe, what are you doing”?

“I am filling the void, trust me, right now, that’s all this is”.

“I think that we should go inside, I don’t want the neighbors talking about this, and having it get back to our husbands”. Ruthe chuckled and proceeded to follow me into the house. I was nervous, shaking even, but I did not want to leave. She is beautiful, and I felt curious.

“So, what do you want to do”? Ruthe asked me.

“How about a drink, as planned, I could sure use one”, Ruthe pored me a vodka on the rocks, and I drank it as if it was water, I started breathing heavily.

“Calm down, Millie, if you don’t want anything to happen, we can just talk”. I wanted something to happen more than I even knew. I wanted her to touch me more; I just did not know how to say that, so I leaned over and kissed her. I pulled back and waited to see if Ruthe wanted to keep going.

“Do you want to go to the bedroom, Millie”? Ruthe asked me with such confidence.

“Yes, I do”. We spent all night together, and it was wonderful, I felt different, but in a good way. In the morning, I woke up next to her, and I felt like I was home, but I thought about our husbands, Aaron, and Bob, and how they were doing.

“Good morning, Millie”.

“Morning, Ruthe, how did you sleep”?

 “I slept great, I am going to make a pot of coffee, and do you want some”? Ruthe asked. I replied, “Sure, I will help you”.

“Ruthe, I want to say something to you, When I was little girl, I could not see colors that well, my father took me to the doctor, and I was prescribed lenses, when I went outside, I could see all the colors more clearly, and that’s how I feel about you. You are lenses that allowed me to see all the colors in my life”. Tears of joy rolled down my face.

“Millie, it is 1942, and no one will accept our relationship”.

“I don’t understand, Ruthe”.

“Millie, we are good friends, and I hope that never changes, but last night I told you this, was a void of loneliness”.

“We can make this work, Ruthe”. I hoped she would change her mind, because I really thought we could make this work.

“No, Millie, we both married men, before god, in a church, as intended. Anything else we did, or do is and will be a lie”.

“No, Ruthe, what we did last night, that was the truth, but when our husbands come back home, and we return to being a house wife, that’s a lie”.

“I’m sorry, Millie, I can’t”. Ruthe replied. I looked down, and knew where I stood. I just found out that I am more interested in women than I am men, and I found a mutual partner, but Ruthe would only appear, as society wanted her to. Ruthe was worried about how she would be viewed when her husband, Aaron got home. I left Ruthe’s house, and did not see her since our last night together. I heard that Aaron made it back to Ruthe in July 1944, but my Bob never returned home, Bob died in France, and I never did re-marry. I thought a lot about colors, and every time, the season changed, and the leaves turned shades of orange, I thought about Ruthe.

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Ruthie and Mildred by Doruk Onvural

There was a field past her house with wild grass and a lake and by the lake was a willow that had been hunched over ever since she could remember. Its leaves were halfway in the water and, as much as her father told her not to be, she was always afraid of going near there. When she was a child her aunt told her that there was a monster in the lake, and that he liked to sleep in the shade of the great tree. Her aunt told her many stories in that field. They would walk hand in hand after the day's lunch, and she would show her how to string flowers together to make a crown and put grass between her thumbs and whistle. Her father always said that Mildred was a different kind of woman, and to not take anything she said too seriously. But Ruthie always felt different too, and with her mother being the way she was, she latched on to her aunt and did anything she told her.

Mildred had married young, about the age Ruthie was now. She was a good wife, but she could bear no children. Her husband was resigned to it eventually, though it was a blow to the entire family for a while. But Mildred wasn't one for self-pity and she said that if it can't be fixed there's no point in worrying about it. She read many books. Books about the world, about life, love and people. She enjoyed the ones that ended all of a sudden the most. Something about them stuck with her, and when she was at the store or cooking or helping her husband with his ledgers, she felt as if the book, its settings, the weather and characters were all inside her, as if they were a permanent tattoo on her soul.

She passed her love of knowledge to Ruthie, day by day in that field after lunch. She told her stories of the world, of love. She told her how she had met her husband, and of their first kiss, the first moment she realized she loved him, and their wedding. Ruthie loved to hear about the wedding. She was a young girl and, like other young girls, thought about her wedding constantly. Of course in the nature of the times, Mildred's wedding was modest. The theme was very traditional. It was autumn. The leaves were changing and Mildred had had this fantastic idea to decorate the church with all the reds, yellows and browns of the trees. Her husband could tell, in the way that a husband knows a wife, that she was all taken up with that leaf theme, and so he ordered decorative leaves to be lined around their wedding cake without Mildred knowing. Ruthie loved to hear that story. She also loved to hear about Greece and India and China and Peru. She borrowed her aunt's books and often dreamed about the foreign lands and people, the food, the action, the commotion and drama she read about. She loved her home, but life here was always the same. Her father didn't understand her emotions, and chalked her restlessness up to being a woman. She spent much of her time in the field by the lake.

Mildred died when Ruthie was just coming of age. The doctors didn't know why. It didn't take too long for her husband to remarry, and pretty soon he had the kids he always wanted. Ruthie was broken though. Her father had been pressuring her to marry the Johnson's boy down the street, and she liked the boy, she told everybody that she did. But she thought she was going to travel. She thought she would take her daddy's car across the country with her auntie and her puppy and see the world—or at least part of it. And then she would come back and marry and have children and be the good wife. But once Mildred was gone she no longer had the heart for anything. She couldn't even read. But she was a great wife, a fantastic wife. And her wedding was everything she imagined it would be. She had it in autumn, too. In a church. And her father walked her down the aisle, and everybody commented on how beautiful she looked, and she loved the man she was marrying—she really did. And when it was all over and she had moved into her husband's home, they unwrapped the few presents their families had given them, and in a small box that could have held nothing more than her necklaces and rings was a note from Mildred and three of the decorative leaves from her wedding cake. She cried when she saw it. She cried right there on the floor and didn't think about anything and didn't feel anything except that she wanted to cry. And her husband, whose mind was really on the Dodgers score, mistook her tears for joy, and put his arms around her shoulders and said, "Yes, yes. It's a good life."

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The Brush’s Stroke by Royce Ratterman

Ruthie carefully opened the mailing tube, unrolling the canvas memento with the care of an Egyptologist preparing to examine an ancient scroll.

“Beautiful,” she thought, “just beautiful.”

Tears of sadness intertwined with tears of joy crept slowly down her rosy cheeks, their gentle salt stain trails remained.

September 14, 1947 – Aunt Mildred’s wedding – leaves from her cake . . . more tears.

The former Anna Ruthe Lindermier had lost the Sixpence her aunt had placed into her shoe on the day of her June wedding. She was certain it had fallen out during her Processional walk down the soft green grass of her parent’s backyard that warm summer evening. She pictured it rolling away and being quickly snatched up by one of the children attendees as fast as a pirate’s gold coin would be from the sands of a Caribbean Sea’s island. Her ‘new’ Colonial wedding bouquet was fiercely grasped by one lucky leaper while onlookers clapped. Her pale ‘blue’ silk lace wedding dress hung meticulously tucked away with her other keepsakes; those keepsakes one retains in the darkened corners of closets and bottoms of old attic chests, those invaluable items brought out on special occasions for the treasuring of their memories, pictures of the mind that have all but faded away into obscurity. But those ‘old and borrowed’ leaves, the leaves from Aunt Mildred’s own wedding cake now gifted to her, graced this artwork so appropriately.

“Poor Aunt Mildred,” Ruthie moaned within, “widowed one month after her own wedding and now this.”

“The seasons of life can be short or long,” she reflected, “They can be full of joy or crowded with sorrow, but they are always garnished with memories, those tokens of shadowy sorrows and glimmering joys we embrace so firmly, so dearly.”

She took a long, deep breath.

“Ruthie!” She could almost hear her aunt’s beckoning call, “Come, the artist is ready.” Two weeks had passed since the two had stopped in at the new art gallery three blocks from her parent’s home on Edmund street. They met a young artist there who agreed to compile Ruthie’s wedding memories into a “fresh and vibrant piece of artistic beauty,” as he had so proudly stated, “and I’ll include you two’s portraits on it to boot.”

It was the best $100 she had ever spent, for her dearest aunt had gone the way of all the living. This artistic compilation was but another token memory from one of life’s fleeting moments, a moment she so deeply treasured now.

The funeral for her aunt was small, mostly family. Ruthie’s former bridesmaid and lifelong friend, Margaret Lockwood, attended as did her husband’s former best man, Horace Johnson. St. Joseph Stock Yards Bank had sent a generous amount of flowers. Phi Zeta Club members hosted the post funeral luncheon at the same Grace Methodist church banquet hall where Ruthie’s informal wedding reception was held just a few short years prior.

Her teary eyes stared once again down at the artwork cradled in her trembling hands. The artist’s brush’s strokes had captured that day’s anticipation and joy so wonderfully in both her and her Aunt Mildred’s eyes. “One rarely captures the sorrows nowadays,” she pondered.

She pressed her nose against the three silk wedding cake leaves. She imagined a faint fragrance, allowing it to permeate her senses, like the sweet memories of her aunt.

“Everett will be home before five tonight,” she reminded herself, “I must frame this and surprise my dear husband during our dinner.”

Five o’clock came quickly, but not quickly enough. The familiar sound of her husband’s car door shutting resounded from the driveway.

With her newly framed memory safely hidden next to the china cabinet in the dining room and the dinner candles lit, Ruthie rushed to the door to greet her man. She peered briefly through its stained glass window. She opened it, smiling, “Hello, dear, happy anniversary!”

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Behind the Leaves by Ron Slattery

Announce Engagement. Her tongue clicked the t. She said it once more out loud. It felt like a warm embrace. She pasted it next to her confession. How does one hide a beating heart.

The scrapbook was almost finished. A cotton candy watercolor page and thoughts of us. Three words written. A statement of what could never be. What was unsaid soon to be read.

The day passed slowly. She walked in a dream.  The garden called her and so she followed. She knew the exact place. The bench where temptation found her.

She sat in the middle this time. Watching the wind blow the trees. When you're alone, you remember the times you had company. The bench, the kiss, she tasted like cotton candy.

A gust of wind set loose the leaves. In her lap lay three. She counted them twice just to be sure. One , two, three. She looked to the trees and saw no snakes. This sign came from another place.

In the house she opened her hand. The leaves trickled down to the table.  Slowly and carefully, each word was covered. One by one. The paste held fast her hearts desire. I Love Her lay behind the leaves.

Announce Engagement she whispered to the three.
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Come and meet me and most of the authors at:

Ohlone College, Fremont California 
February 7th -  March 9th
Reception, Saturday, February 25, 2012
6PM - 8PM
Louie Meager Art Gallery
Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Blvd.
Fremont, California 94539

 
Stories will be published in a vintage style newspaper catalog and the gallery will be converted into a 1930 or 40's cabaret set and students will be acting the stories out as monologues at some of the events at the college in the art gallery.

More competitions posted on my website at:
http://www.kenney-mencher.com/