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So a few weeks ago, there in my neighborhood I got to watch a house literally torn asunder with an excavator. It was a pretty crazy event to watch from my front window. A company named Indiana Recovery Services plopped some equipment down in literally a matter of a day, and then in around a little over a week they had ripped the house down, torn the septic system up, and laid flat to the entire lot.

It was something to watch really, on how efficient we can be when it comes to destruction. Being the curious one I am though, I was super inquisitive on how this lot came to be and what was going to become of it given it sat on the corner of my street and had some pretty wide open green space available.

If you read beyond the orange squiggle here, maybe I can regale you on how this suburbanite is reclaiming space where one can find it.

So once they were done and the excavator was gone, the lot was left empty. Literally empty, they had even torn up the well spout and laid top soil down with grass seed.

This lot that I am speaking of was owned by a woman of late age, her husband past long ago. Those of us in the neighborhood interested in keeping our little burb looking good, had looked after her property as she slowly became a shut in. We took turns mowing the lot, taking turns weeding, and the occasional trim. So it was really no surprise that many of us in the area we were curious as to what might have happened when we saw the excavator show up.

Turns out she had finally passed, gone to where one might believe. However she had no next of kin and the house had went to an estate auction. This lot however was unique though.

In our neighborhood, there runs directly through it a high tension electrical system. The plots are strategically placed around it because our local power company, Indiana Michigan Power, legally owns a 75 foot egress space around said wire. However this particular lot was well within said 75 foot space as it had been built well before said towers went up, or the egress law had went into effect.

I feel bad nagging on the public sector because I used to work for it, but I wanted to find out who might own this open land and see if it could be used for some type of community garden space, or even maybe a playground of sorts. Or heck, as much space as the lot provides a garden and even a baseball diamond slash football field. My catty corner neighbor across the street even joked to me that if we could flatten the space a little that it would make a nice practice spot. Not my choice, but hey community spaces are for the community right?

Anyway, once the house was cleared I had started to make calls. My first stop was the county assessor. They had no idea and directed me to the code enforcement department. Code enforcement said that technically because there are utility lines in the area that it is not under their jurisdiction and directed me to the Right of Way area of the County Highway department. Once I got to them however, I had reached a dead end. They had no answer for me for who actually owned this lot now.

As much as I am a pusher of public in a red state sometimes you just reach wits end. I called my mother in law who works for a realtor, and asked her to please just find me who owns this lot so I can call them and ask if we can get some plants in the ground. Planting season was getting at the end in our area here.

She finally found out for me that it was indeed our local utility that had purchased it, and for the exact reason I laid out earlier. They would rather not have to deal with structures, trees, etc... if they can avoid it.. when it comes to their high tension wires.

So I looked up the community relations department for our local utility, locally here called AEP but technically Indiana Michigan Power, and found a number. The gentleman I reached was incredibly helpful but could not give me an answer for a yay or nay on using the space. However he did say that they do these things all the time and put me in touch with the guy who handles it.

A lawyer...obviously.

I swear lawyers don't run the world, they just make sure those who do can be sued if things go south.

In any event, the man I spoke to in the property slash legal department told me that the space can be made available to use for community long as no permanent structures were in place. I also talked with my home owners insurance, and they reinforced to me that there are limits and liability points, but it would never go beyond my deductible and would extend to the free lease agreement that the utility company was offering.

In short, I was able to free lease this lot from our utility company for community use.

So last weekend, I dragged the neighborhood kids over and planted a lot of seeds after clearing and tilling some space. Some amenities were tilled in, mostly left over fish whatnots thrown away from the local Asian market place, but all in all I really had no expectations that any of the seed would take given we were so late in the planting season.

The kids had fun however, they enjoyed the ride in our local HillBilly Sled (truck bed liner reinforced with lumber towed behind a tractor). They also had a heck of a time watering the seeds initially as we had to drag water to the site using said HillBilly Sled. Needless to say, it was mostly the kids getting dirty and wet along the project, and really that was the fun part. Watching the kids getting involved, trying to the get the right amount of soil over a seed, watching them accidentally over water, and really ultimately...maybe getting an appreciation of the land that gives them life.

In any event, I had no hopes and aspirations that anything we planted would come up. Even with the cool spring, we honestly here in Northern Indiana were at our last possible planting window. However just this evening, I decided to take a walk and see if we had any sprouts and wouldn't you know it...just about everything we seeded has come up. Everything from watermelon to carrots, to onions, to heck.... We planted probably a half pound of seed across this half acre lot and damn near everything is coming up. So I've asked the neighbors in the area to start saving their grass clippings, as I think I'm going to start composting and mulching to try and start teaching the local kids about the cycle of nutrients for plants.

I'm getting long winded at the moment, the point is that I would encourage you to own your spaces, and evidence by my experience technically you don't even have to legally own them to 'own' them. Get out there and research, see what you can use and grab the moment.

If the crop comes in the way it looks so far based on the sprouts, honestly it looks like the local kids and I will be donating a sizable chunk to our local foodbank and homeless shelter.

Maybe, if everyone looked at the spaces they owned, and even they don't own. And just started asking questions of use, of what they can do by, things that they can use in their community, things that can be shared. Maybe just maybe we could start to use this little blue mote in the cosmos just a little better. And just maybe we could pass that importance to the following generation so they can continue on.

6:59 AM PT: Wow, didn't expect a spotlight and given that I wrote this last night didn't even think to take pictures.

Have to take the daughter out and about for some errands and then pick up the son from the in laws. Once I get back, I'll get them outside and over there and take some pics then update.

You're going to laugh at how random the kids planted some of the seeds!

Updated with Images!

The lot from my front porch

As you can see, the kids were a little enthusiastic in their seed placement
And then sparse in others lol
Unfortunately the grass they sowed in is still coming up despite me tilling for hours on end, so we'll have to contend with that
And this is just a portion of the space we have to work with, so like mentioned below. Hopefully everyone realizes the potential and we can build something big for the community and share.
Just as a bonus, I figure I'd drop in some pics of my personal garden. Only two years in doing this growing stuff and I'm hooked already.
This is my first row, I plan on next year doing another one just next to it spaced out just wide enough to get a mower into. First box is onions, I hadn't planned on it it was just the first box I built and grew in. I planted onions that last year and this year they decided to own that box. New to gardening, I guess once somewhere has onions...they always have onions. Next box is cucumber, followed by broccoli, then peas and beyond that you can see in this next shot is beans and carrots.
Thanks again everyone for the spotlight, I hope it encourages others to give it a try since like I said...this is only my second year at growing stuff. Who knows what next might bring?

Originally posted to Hoosier Progressive on Sun Jun 08, 2014 at 10:56 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Congratulations. I hope you keep us posted about (23+ / 0-)

    what is growing there. And stick in some pictures! Growing food is wonderful :D

  •  This is a great idea! (27+ / 0-)

    Congratulations, you've discovered "guerilla gardening"!

    These folks are doing it in Texas and this guy is doing it outside Pittsburgh. He's doing it by himself, but Food Is Free has subgroups around the US.

    It's a terrific idea, and can really bring a community together, plus being a great learning experience for the kids. It's transforming neighborhoods already, and has great potential as a movement.

    Good on you for doing this!

    Reality has a well-known liberal bias -- Stephen Colbert

    by ItsaMathJoke on Sun Jun 08, 2014 at 11:48:22 PM PDT

  •  Fabulous (21+ / 0-)

    And if anyone in your neighborhood likes to cook, they could do a picnic for the kids that planted the seeds at harvest time.  It never hurts to show kids what real food tastes like.

    •  The free lease agreement (15+ / 0-)

      Essentially allows us free access to the property to do whatever we want with it, so long as there are no permanent structures above 3 feet.

      Already have plans in place to build a playground like space next to the garden with simple stuff like corn hole, horse shoe, etc...

      And my neighbor this morning commented how we could use that instead of his yard for our yearly cook outs.

      My thought in writing was that if people thought of the spaces around them as more communal, maybe we could come together even in some place typically considered distancing like a suburban neighborhood.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:50:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  OK so you can put in raised garden beds and such. (4+ / 0-)

        That answers my question. If I was nearby I would offer you some lilac trees, lily bulbs and that. I bought an old house on over an acre sized lot. I have flowering shrubs and perennials everywhere. I hate to run them over with the lawn mower.

        “You think You're frightening me with Your hell, don't You? You think Your hell is worse than mine.” --Dorothy Parker

        by Ice Blue on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:00:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yep, the rule stipulates (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ice Blue

          That so long as it can be removed within a moments notice, no harm no foul. Got the confirmation from their community relations department last Friday.

          So, yeah thinking next year some simple 4x4 ceder boxes and anchor them down with some patio bricks or something.

          --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

          by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:50:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Foot by square foot; (16+ / 0-)

    Take it back! I love this story. I am a 32 square footer myself; seed only...SSK

    "Hey Clinton, I'm bushed" - Keith Richards UID 194838

    by Santa Susanna Kid on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 05:08:33 AM PDT

  •  Many communities have abandoned lots. (18+ / 0-)

    Some have rundown houses, some just have weeds.

    It is often quite easy to learn who owns it. Use Teh Google to find the website of your county tax assessor. Use the property search feature to bring up a map of your neighborhood. On many assessor's websites, you can click on adjacent properties to see who owns it. The information usually includes their last known mailing address. You're not invading anyone's privacy by doing this; it's public record.

    In many cases, the owner of that abandoned lot simply wants to get rid of it. You can buy it for next to nothing.

    Sometimes the city or county has seized the lot for back taxes. It'll be harder dealing with the bureaucracy, but you might be able to buy or lease the land.

    Turning abandoned lots into gardens...everybody wins!

    •  Shockingly, this is true (10+ / 0-)

      even in areas with sky-high property values. A local "co-housing" (Google it) development got land under the BART tracks (local rail mass transit) in North Oakland basically for free and could afford to start a little community there.  

      It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

      by karmsy on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:36:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I was surprised to find from my MIL (8+ / 0-)

      At the number of technically vacant areas in and around me that could be used as such if you just approached the owner.

      That and many owners like your utility companies are more than happy to free lease the property so long as you maintain the space.

      I guess the way they look at it, saves them money from having to send a yard crew out there from time to time, and it builds community support for the business.

      Now if I could just convince the Indiana legislature to allow laws to pass allowing us to feed power back into the grid, I'd put up that windmill and solar panels.

      Bad part is, even our utility is on board with the idea. They like the idea of reducing stress on the network during high power loads.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:55:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Come on.... you want a Circle K (7+ / 0-)


    Legal means "good".
    [41984 | Feb 4, 2005]

    by xxdr zombiexx on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:19:14 AM PDT

  •  Closest community garden to me (13+ / 0-)

    (which I feel guilty for having abandoned in these months I've been so busy!) sits on a lot owned by a non-denominational Protestant church. The secretary at that church thought planting a garden would be a great idea, apparently, as a social outlet and food source for the church community. Then neighbors started sticking their heads in to see what was going on. Soon, the garden was thriving, although few people working to maintain it actually belonged to the church. The church secretary, interestingly, is still the point person for that garden.

    Lots of these community projects take shape, thus, "by the back door."

    Thanks for the diary.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:31:17 AM PDT

  •  This is the kind of small action (8+ / 0-)

    that is going to change the way our society works... Good for you!  

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~ Edward Abbey

    by SaraBeth on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 07:16:51 AM PDT

  •  Thank you so very much, for the planet, the hungry (7+ / 0-)

    people you will feed, the children you taught important lessons that they will never forget ... in short, thank you for being a wonderful, part-of-the-solution human being.

    Plutocracy (noun) Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; 1) government by the wealthy; 2) 21st c. U.S.A.; 3) 22nd c. The World

    by bkamr on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 07:44:45 AM PDT

  •  Cold, hard reality. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, ZenTrainer, ColoTim

    OK, it seems this party needs somebody to come along & put a damper on the merriment, and I guess (today, at least) I'm that guy.

    Glad to hear everything's sprouted.  Hope you've put up some fencing, to keep the local wildlife out, because if not, you've just created a wonderful "snack bar" for them.  The first 5 years we were in our house, we planted a veggie garden in our backyard - it WAS fenced, and the pests STILL got in & claimed most of our produce as their own.  We'd come out of a season with a handful of tomatoes & a few overly large zucchinis - the rabbits, groundhogs & deer beat us to the rest.

    We have since moved our tomatoes, beans & squash onto the porch, where beasties fear to tread, and now we actually get to eat what we grow.  Fencing your garden will likely violate the agreement with the power company (a fence is probably among the kinds of structures they don't wanna deal with), and so the remainder of your growing season will likely be a lesson in which of your local fuana prefer to eat what kind of plants.

    Educational if approached correctly, I guess - but not, I'm sure, what you had in mind.

    OF COURSE the New Right is wrong - but that doesn't make WRONG the new RIGHT!

    by mstaggerlee on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 07:56:20 AM PDT

    •  I planted garden beds on my property for the first (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim, Yonit

      time last year.  At some point something got in my garden and got the zucchini and watermelon. I don't know why but I was convince it was elk. (It was rabbits.)

      I found some maybe 2' high fencing on sale at KMart and put it around each box. That helped.

      The next time I plant I am going to use the pie pans on a stick trick.

      The kids might like to build a straw man to put in the garden.

      Watch out for the compost. One of our community gardens was closed down because it was not tended to properly and the compost heap ran wild.

      Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. I scroll with my middle finger.

      by ZenTrainer on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 08:51:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, about the only critter we have her are (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      rabbits. And funnily enough since I started to use fish emulsion and planted onions they tend to leave my garden alone on my own lot, and its within 10 feet of a woody, brush area.

      Something about the smell of dead animals keeps the little critters away.

      Also helps that I planted and encourage a field of alfalfa in the retention area behind me. I guess why eat my corn when there is yummy stuff there right?

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:53:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If critters invade, and fences aren't allowed (7+ / 0-)

    You could net.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 08:29:31 AM PDT

    •  So long as we can move the fencing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      6412093, foresterbob, Yonit

      They will allow it.

      Hopefully the way I did it, its around 50 feet from the actual tower itself, and some distance from the roadway. I can't imagine them needing to get heavy equipment that far into the lot.

      Gonna go the non fence route for now though, in my own garden like I said above. Something about fish guts keeps the only varmint we have here (rabbits) at bay.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:54:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  GREAT JOB!!!!! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cantelow, ColoTim, idbecrazyif

    good for you and for your community :)

    Finally people have gotten sick and tired of being had and taken for idiots. Mikhail Gorbachev

    by eve on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 09:02:32 AM PDT

  •  Best of luck to you on this in the long term (4+ / 0-)

    In the area in which I live (Northwest Suburbs of Chicago), the local power company used to have such agreements you mention in this article.  There were several communities who had gardening clubs which had nice tracts of gardens laid out under the high tension wires which ran overhead.  Unfortunately, after many years, said power company unilaterally withdrew any and all permissions to the land under their wires -- all under the "legalese" of even the gardens and plantings interfering with their right-of-way to the high tension wires.

    Hope you get to enjoy your green space for a very long time, though!

    -9.88, -7.44 Social Security as is will be solvent until 2037, and the measures required to extend solvency beyond that are minor. -- Joe Conanson

    by wordene on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 09:05:15 AM PDT

    •  Thats a shame, have you tried to petition (0+ / 0-)

      Your local county about changing that?

      Seems to me some local political pressure might change their minds, especially since it sounds like it was something that was thriving well.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:55:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm sad the well head was torn out. (3+ / 0-)

    That could have been very helpful and wasn't hurting anyone by being there (so long as it wasn't a well that someone could have fallen down).

    I'm sure next year's efforts will be 10x the result of this year from all the lessons you'll learn and increased participation from the neighbors.

    •  Me Too! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim, foresterbob

      It wasn't even a large well either, just your standard single dwelling 4inch pipe down. Course the utility had no idea we'd be interested in doing this either, their standard operating procedure in these instances is to either sell it to the HOA or if no HOA exists to parcel it out to the lots nearby.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:57:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Success at the hardest part of gardening! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    idbecrazyif, smokey545

    Seriously- the hardest part of gardening is not the plants, bugs, and other critters. The hardest part of doing anything against the grain are other humans. And it seems that you have a knack for overcoming many of those obstacles.

    If I may offer a few suggestions for your up and coming project while my dinner gets going:

    1) Study some agroecology. Find out how water, soil, and plants actually interact and not how people say they should.

    2) Give back to the natural world what it deserves by understanding that 100% of that space should not be cultivated for direct human consumption. We are but a part of an entire web of life, but we are the only part of that which continues to draw lines in the sand and say: "you are allowed here, you are allowed here, and this is all for me." Nature will not respect those boundaries because they are entirely imaginary.

    3) Diseases exist. There will never be a place, nor should there be a place, that is entirely sanitary. This doesn't mean we shouldn't treat disease, but it offers a realistic approach to garden health management that acknowledges the role of disease in evolution.

    4) "Pests" exist. And they also exist in large numbers in gardens and many human managed areas precisely because of our other cultural methods that actually promote their presence over their predators. Predatory species are slower to reproduce, require more niche requirements (especially overwintering sites and nectar sources, which many deem to be "ugly" and so then "tidy up"), and are perceived to "arrive on the scene" too late because of their typical evolutionary approach of waiting for prey to be available before reproducing. If you meet their niche requirements and provide plants with what they need (living soil, not tilled every year- which continually sets back the self-structuring that occurs when soil organisms are allowed to work relatively undisturbed [and are fed], plenty of water when appropriate, and protection from the elements), then you will over time create a balanced ecosystem. Which doesn't mean that pests will be gone completely! We live in a world which is alive, it should not be sanitary.

    5) "Weeds" are plants in unwanted locations. Nothing is really a "weed." Learn what each plant is and what its niche requirements. Oftentimes, our cultural practices- once again- promote so-called weeds because we constantly keep the soil in a state of disturbance. This is an ecological period of time where many easily dispersed, short lived species like dandelions and chickweed thrive. Nature abhors a vacuum, so only disturb the soil when you plan to actually plant!

    6) The parts of the garden which are not for direct human consumption should be sizeable. When I say not for direct human consumption, they should still be places which provide other benefits, or "ecosystem services," for your garden. These can be multifunctional hedgerows which are designed to keep large herbivores out and provide habitat for many beneficial organisms. These can be low lying places which are often too wet for many of our annuals. You said that this was flat, but no place is perfectly flat. Watch it carefully when it rains and note where and how the water moves.

    7) Focus on water. Water carries nutrients and should be used in as many ways and as long as possible on every site. In permaculture parlance, we call this "slow spread and sink." Put water into the soil or into aquatic landscape features for extra habitat. Frogs, birds, predatory insects, and just about everyone else loves a bit of water in the landscape! Where water will inevitably leave the land, place plants which are very good at producing prodigious amounts of biomass (and can tolerate the water). Use these areas as nutrient nets by harvesting their biomass and using it back in the garden as mulch and feedstock for compost methods.

    8) Plant perennials! You can find many species which will grow into thickets so that they will not allow tall trees to get up into the powerlines. Many shrubs are incredibly useful and beautiful. Besides being able to provide habitat and food for us and others, their shade may also come in handy for your annuals. Yes, your annuals. As climate change accelerates and hot summers become the norm- your vegetables don't need 95 degree sun!!! If you plant and manage shrubs that have a low crown density, you can provide your permanent annual beds with shade during the hot portions of the day, saving them from the drying effects.

    9) Annuals in permanent beds. Double reach, keyhole beds that have established pathways of appropriate width for access will outperform and look better than simple blocks and straight lines. By having permanent beds, you can easily use a garden fork or broad fork to loosen the soil in preparation without destroying the mycelial networks (fungi) that should be developing in healthy soil. This is especially important with vegetables because many of our veges associate with endomycorrhizal fungi, which do not produce a mushroom and so are easily susceptible to the damage caused by physical breaking of the soil on a continual basis.

    10) If you choose to have bees, protect them for sun for crying out loud! Bee hives do not need to be in full sun during our hot, hot summers. They also should have access to some clean water. Yes, insects drink water (and native species of bees use mud to build homes) too.

    Whew- there are 10 tips for treating the earth with respect while still being able to enjoy her bounty.

    oh, one more sorry:

    Human beings don't produce food. We are not autotrophs. If you truly understand this, then what I have written makes sense: we must provide for those which do the work to make food for us. As soon as we eliminate natural players, we become responsible for providing whatever service (be it water, pest control, etc) was provided by the natural player. This means more work and a dysfunctional ecosystem.

    -- Cheers from Finland

    •  I think I have the garden beds for my use down (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FinchJ, gmats, Yonit

      This gardening in open space is a new venture for me though, and I am hoping to take the kids in the neighborhood on that venture as well.

      You are correct though, we as humans don't technically produce food. We just modify the existing environment to our betterment. However we also must take stock of only modifying to the point of what is really necessary and being a good steward with what is given to us.

      As Carl Sagan so eloquently had pointed out

      "The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:17:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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