Tag Archives: football

The Persistence of Memory

February 27, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A brilliant band of wildflowers will soon bloom in Kelsie Hollingshead’s garden. Forget about the fact that she’s an apartment-dweller with no plot of land to call her own. And never mind that the fresh tendrils of her vibrant harbingers of spring will push through the soil of a garden that is a full 20 miles from where she lays her head at night.“My grandfather planted those wildflowers,” she says, wiping a tear from her cheek. “He planted them the year before as we planned our wedding so that they would be beautiful for the reception,” she says, reflecting on her August 2013 nuptials to Sean Hollingshead. “Those flowers remind me—reminded all of us that night of the reception—that a little part of him was still with us.”

Her grandfather, Patrick Clarke, founder of NorthStar Financial Group, had perished in a plane crash along with one of his sons, Dr. Scott Clarke of Springfield, Mo., nine months before the wedding.

Clarke’s wildflowers still thrive on a majestic hilltop near Schramm Park State Recreation Area. The site offers a panoramic view of the Platte River far below, and the 50-acre country retreat is known to the Clarke clan simply as The Farm. Its main structure, The Barn, is home to family gatherings most every Sunday. The rustic, 4,600-square-foot lodge was built in 2009 by Curt Hofer & Associates. Downhill from The Barn is the sleeping quarters known as The Bunkhouse.

The subtext of any story on these pages is a testament to how our homes reveal who we are, how we live, and what we value. Such stories are usually accompanied by words-words-words on architecture, landscaping, appointments, and interior design. There will be none of that here. The accompanying photos will have to suffice as a substitute for the customary narrative dedicated to descriptors of the floor-to-ceiling variety.

Instead this home story will keep the focus where it should be—on one family and how the persistence of memory creates a legacy.

“My dad didn’t built this for himself,” says Todd Clarke, Kelsie’s father. “He didn’t even build it for his kids. He built it for the grandkids, and one day, for their kids and generations to come. Each and every member of the family has a different way of remembering him. His presence is always particularly powerful when we are here at The Farm.”

Memories can sometimes be triggered in unexpected ways. What kind of 14-year-old boy would list a common household chore, for example, as one of his favorite weekend activities?

That would be Todd’s son, Brooks.

“I don’t get to see my cousins much during the week,” Brooks says. “Out here we get to play foosball, ride ATVs, and play indoor football. Those are all fun things to do, but cleaning out the shed is my favorite.”

A raised eyebrow is the only signal Brooks needs to realize that he has just introduced something of a disconnect.

“Oh, you don’t understand,” he continues. “Those are grandpa’s things out there. That’s where he kept all his tools. Playing with all the stuff in the shed reminds me of him and how we used to…” his voice trails off as a pensive expression creeps across his face, eyes averted.

“Patrick and I were blessed with a terrific family—beautiful kids and beautiful grandchildren,” says family matriarch Lana Clarke. “This was his dream. It’s our place where memories are made. I count my blessings every day we gather here. I know he’s looking down on us, smiling.”

Each of the coming days will grow longer as the eagerly anticipated progression to spring breaks into a trot and then a gallop. Gardens slowly thaw and bide their time awaiting attention. The flowerbeds on a certain wind-swept hill overlooking a ribbon of water are no exception.

That’s where you’ll find Kelsie Hollingshead tending to her wildflowers.

The 
Theatrical Design of Jennifer Pool

January 24, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jennifer Pool is a tad hoarse. “I’m recovering from the football game.” She was in the stands for Ron Kellogg III’s Hail Mary pass on Nov. 2, a Husker win that will go down in history. “I must have screamed for three minutes straight.”

The mind boggles, but football just might be more important than fashion to this freelance clothing designer from Papillion. Case in point: The second time Pool showed at Omaha Fashion Week, her collection was chosen for the finale. “But they announced it the day after my sister got tickets to the Washington/Nebraska game in Seattle. So I was like, hey, cool, I’m not gonna be at the fashion show cuz I’m gonna be in Seattle at a football game.”

Nevertheless, her collection still walked that fall 2010 runway. Theater friends stood in as her wardrobe crew.

The combo of theater and fashion has been in Pool’s blood for years now. She started sewing when she was 8. “And when we played pretend,” she adds, “it was very important to me that we all knew what we looked like. We are princesses, and you are wearing this colored dress, and your hair looks like this…very important that we got that clarified right up front.”

While she was finishing her master’s in costume design at University of Georgia in 2003, some friends began an alternative theater group at Blue Barn Theatre called Witching Hour. But Pool took her expertise first to the Indiana Repertory Theater before coming back to Omaha to fall in with the group. “I started out there as a helper, worker-bee type person.” Ten years later, she’s now Witching Hour’s artistic director.

“We’re kind of nonlinear,” Pool explains. “We’re experimental. We can set up some rules and then break them as soon as we set them. It’s not like watching a sitcom. We jump in and out of narrative theater.”

Witching Hour will only have two shows this season, due to a smaller ensemble (Sineater played in December, and How to Be Better runs Fridays and Saturdays from Feb. 28 to Mar. 15 at 11 p.m.). That’s it for fully mounted productions by Witching Hour on stage at Blue Barn, but there’s still their second annual Christmas Rumpus in July.

An out-of-season holiday observation is, frankly, right up Witching Hour’s alley. “Naysayers will say we reinvent the wheel a lot,” Pool says. “But we simply start with no rules.” Consider that a note to be open-minded if you’re planning to attend a performance.

“I think the best shows are the ones you need the thickest skin for,” Pool says. It’s a frame of mind she kept while constructing her fall 2013 collection for OFW.

“This was a very Witching Hour collection,” she says. “I approached it in much the same way I approach a show. What can I push myself to explore in an unexpected way? I felt stuck, trapped. I love to do crazy, avant garde things, I design costumes for drag queens. And the last two shows I did were contemporary.” Which, the history lover admits, isn’t her favorite style to design.

Bloodied models clothed in different stages of confinement—body cages, hoop skirts, neck braces—evoked a battle for release. “It’s about the struggle,” Pool says, “the getting out. Not whether or not you end up a beautiful butterfly.”

She’s interested in continuing the story for her next OFW collection. “If the first one was about breaking free and getting loose,” Pool says, “then you’re left with a chaotic mess. And the next collection might be about how you make sense of that.”

It might also be a response to the one negative comment about her fall 2013 show that stung. “Someone said I didn’t know how to sew,” she recalls. “And looking at my collection, yeah, there was a lot of design but not a lot of technique. So I feel like the next thing I’m going to do is going to be really structural. That’s the only thing I’m interested in responding to. Because that is wrong. Yes, I can.”

Fall in Nebraska

September 24, 2013 by

Since I’m from Texas, we are thankful to have several friends and family visit us here in Nebraska. Even though you and I know it really is “The Good Life” (wink, wink), it turns out Omaha is not everyone’s number one vacation destination.

My favorite time to have visitors in Nebraska is October. Guests get the crisp fall at the zoo, the fun pumpkin patches, and if they look around anywhere, they’ll witness Nebraska football.

No one does harvest celebration better than Omaha-area pumpkin patches. From corn mazes to hayrides to campfires, eventually you’ll get to the pumpkins. We all have our own favorite pumpkin patch cuisines. My daughter, Lucy, likes caramel apples. My son, Max, goes straight for the fresh cookies. My husband, Chris, however, usually picks barbecue. And I get succotash.

I train my visitors to do it right. Getting extra kettle corn on Monday to take with you to the zoo on Tuesday is practically a rite of passage.

Whether they have kids or not, they have to experience Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. I explain that there’s no need for a workout; we’ll be burning plenty of calories (consumed at the pumpkin patch) while walking through the zoo. I like to guide friends through the shark tunnel in the aquarium and mention that scene in one of the Jaws movies when the aquarium breaks. When we’re right in the middle, I point at the glass and ask, “Hey, is that a crack?”

The beauty of our zoo is the accessibility to the beautiful animals. The gorillas, the Desert Dome, or dining in the Lied Jungle—it’s all a unique experience. The kids like to take our family friends to the Kingdoms of the Night. They think it’s cool and spooky. And they like to show their friends how Mom freaks out in the bats section. Real funny, kids!

Still, the best part about Nebraska in the fall is football. I’ve been telling friends back in Texas (who think they are crazy for football) about Husker football, but they think it’s bigger there. So we make them come up here and see it for themselves. My friends are always surprised at the positive spirit of football, the tailgates, and warm welcome given to opposing teams’ fans. I make them watch the news the whole time they are here so that we can see how many facets of football is worked into the news: weather, traffic, recruiting, news reports, segues, etc.

Just remember, Omaha—fall is, in this writer’s opinion, the best time of the year to introduce out-of-towners to our home.

Read more of Murrell’s stories at momontherocks.com.

Gridiron Hero Becomes Mentor and Coach

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Eric Francis Photography and Ted Kirk

What former Nebraska Cornhusker Steven Warren remembers most from his days playing football is not a particular game or plays, but rather the camaraderie among his teammates—along with key tenants such as persistence, integrity, and trustworthiness. These were experiences and traits that would serve Warren well later in life.

Recruited out of Springfield, Mo., he recalls Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne paying Warren and his family a visit in their living room the same week Big Red won the 1995 national championship. Warren accepted a UNL football scholarship and packed his bags for Lincoln.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

“Nebraska football was No. 1; it was everywhere,” Warren recalls. “And being a part of it was like being a part of The Beatles.”

Freshman year was both a culture shock and an athletic shock for Warren: rigorous practices alongside the fame of being a Cornhusker. “There was so much temptation because of what you were part of. But you also had to learn time management,” he adds.

While playing for Nebraska, Warren found himself developing close friendships with other players and families in and around Lincoln. Oftentimes, parents would seek Warren out to speak with their children about setting goals, planning for the future, and living one’s dream.

Warren left Nebraska as a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2000 NFL Draft. Thirteen weeks into his rookie year, Warren was sidelined with an injury and told he would miss the remainder of the season. He stayed in Green Bay, undergoing rigorous rehabilitation and training. He returned to the Packers for one more season before moving to the AFL, first playing for the San Jose Sabercats and, later, the Arizona Rattlers. At each of his AFL stints, Warren suffered separate injuries. “That’s when I realized my body was trying to tell me something,” he recalls.

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Warren returned to University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished his sociology degree in 2004. After graduation, he had a decision to make. His wife, Heidi, is from Columbus, so staying in Nebraska certainly seemed like an option. And being a Nebraska alumni opened many doors for Warren. Former Huskers often pursued successful careers after leaving the field.

But a sales job or related opportunities just didn’t feel right.

“I always liked helping others, and I worked with mentors while at Nebraska,” Warren shares. At his Lincoln home near 30th and Y streets, some of Warren’s fondest memories were sitting on his porch and talking with children and teens who lived in the neighborhood.

That feeling never left him, which is why today he is president and founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Relationships through Education, Athletics, Mentoring). It’s an Omaha-based nonprofit mentoring organization that reaches out to young men enrolled in middle school.

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“Seven years ago, everything for D.R.E.A.M. just fell into place: the pieces, the people. It was meant to be,” Warren says.

D.R.E.A.M. began in 2006 as an after-school program at Walnut Hill Elementary School at 43rd and Charles streets. Five volunteers met regularly with 20 at-risk students. Today, the program has expanded to several Omaha schools and added a chapter in Springfield, Mo., Warren’s hometown. In all, the program serves about 300 boys.

D.R.E.A.M. finds its success from 40 volunteers who spend three to five hours each week at an assigned school throughout the academic year. The theme is simple: becoming a man.

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“Our volunteers work with seventh- and eighth-grade students each school year teaching them the positive attributes of being a man: respect, responsibility, relationship building, establishing rapport,” Warren says. “All of these lessons I learned from football at Nebraska and our peer counseling.”

D.R.E.A.M. teaches young men that it’s okay (even encouraged) to be successful in school. College-age mentors serve as living, breathing examples of the success that comes with hard work, dedication, and diligence.

Teena Foster, an Omaha Public Schools site director at McMillan Magnet Center Middle School, has worked alongside Warren and his college-age volunteers since last fall. Foster says she continues to see growth in the seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in D.R.E.A.M. each week. And she knows Warren is the driving force.

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“Steve is dedicated to mentoring these young students,” Foster explains. “He’s always smiling, is always pleasant. So are his volunteers. They build great relationships with our students. Mentors are extremely important in these young lives.”

Warren’s belief in mentorship yielded a second program that also occupies much of his time. From his experiences as a student athlete, Warren launched Warren Academy in 2010. It’s designed to provide students (from elementary and middle school to high school and college) with leadership skills and character-building through athletics.

Warren Academy, however, isn’t just for students. Coaches and other leaders also participate to improve and refine a variety of leadership skills, both on and off of the field. Warren Academy programs include training sessions, camps, coaching clinics, nutritional counseling, education assistance, and mentoring. The athletic training component features speed, strength, and agility training programs. Warren says that once the organization has its own facility, Warren Academy’s offerings will expand to include fitness for adults and children of all ages.

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“Our goal is to become the primary training resource for field sports,” Warren adds. “That includes baseball, football, track, soccer, and lacrosse.”

Seems Warren’s best playing position is that of teacher. And he’s loving every minute of it.

Concussions and Young Athletes

August 16, 2013 by

Here’s a question for parents—Can you describe a concussion? It’s more than a headache or a momentary blackout. Doctors consider it a traumatic brain injury, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a blow or jolt to the head. With young athletes back on the field, Kody Moffatt, M.D., a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, wants parents, coaches, and trainers to know the signs.

“We know much more about concussions today than we did even a year or two ago. A concussion in a child or teenager is different than in an adult. The impact on the developing brain can be a real problem,” says Dr. Moffatt.

Football poses a risk, particularly when players tackle with their heads down.

“I tell parents that football, in general, is a safe sport as long as young people don’t lead with the head,” he explains. “Coaches in our area have been really good about teaching young, developing players to use the shoulder or chest as the first point of contact.”

Symptoms of a concussion are as individual as children themselves. Visible signs of a suspected concussion are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow to get up
  • Unsteady on feet, falling over, or trouble balancing
  • Dazed or blank look
  • Confused, not able to remember plays or events

Dr. Moffatt says athletes with a suspected concussion should not return to the field. They need to see a doctor. Immediate emergency care should be provided when the player is vomiting, has a seizure, experiences neck pain, is increasingly confused, or is unable to stay awake.

Nationally and across all levels of play, from professional to recreational leagues, the emphasis has been on “return to play.” This focus surrounds the safe return to the game following diagnosis and treatment. This fall, “return to learn” will receive increased attention, too.

“Before young athletes are returning to play, we need to get them back in the classroom symptom-free and able to learn like they did before the concussion,” says Dr. Moffatt. “We have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a brain injury. This can result in learning problems that impact a student athlete’s academic performance.”

The new Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center will work with student athletes, their families, and teachers to customize a “return to learn” plan. Dr. Moffatt considers it to be an important part of the recovery process.

“Return to learn is a significant step, in my mind. We’re considering cognitive function and how we help the brain heal,” he says. “We’ll work with schools to help kids get back on track in the classroom.”

The Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is open to families by appointment. No physician referral is needed. To make an appointment, call 402-955-PLAY (7529). For more information, visit ChildrensOmaha.org/SportsMedicine.

Passionate about pediatric sports medicine, Dr. Kody Moffatt is a highly regarded, well-known expert in the field. An athletic trainer turned pediatrician, he holds a Master of Science degree in orthopaedic surgery and is a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Moffatt helps shape sports medicine policy on a state and national level as an advisor to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Nebraska High School Activities Association.

The Ralston Arena

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While Ralston’s new $36 million arena is impressive, drawing big crowds and solid reviews, it isn’t getting too big for its britches.

“We’re not going to target the U2s or the Bruce Springsteens,” said Lynn Higgenbotham, marketing director for the arena. “But it’s a good size, a good fit.”

Modesty becomes it. The state-of-the-art arena can host 3,500 guests and easily accommodated the crowd for its October 19 opening concert with country singer Rodney Atkins.

Upcoming events include rodeos, UFC (Ultimate Fighting) matches, high school games, and trade shows. The arena will also host the USHL Lancers (attracted by not one, but two sheets of ice), the UNO men’s basketball team, the IFL Omaha Beef Football, the Omaha Roller Girls, and the LFL (Lingerie Football League) Omaha Heart. “They draw about 16,000 in other venues,” Higginbotham said of Omaha’s own LFL team.

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The arena sits at 73rd & Q streets in Ralston.

So the arena, at a quarter of that size, is hoping for a sell-out?

“That’s the goal, of course,” she said. While no event is too small for the arena, Higgenbotham said that its main purpose is to host major events. Direct competition with larger local facilities such as the Mid-America Center is, of course, out of the question. Such venues are able to seat twice as large a crowd. “The larger places can adapt themselves to a smaller theater setting,” she explained, but Ralston Arena is poised to set itself apart. “We want more diverse entertainment and sports events,” Higgenbotham said. “The Ralston residents really took ownership of this venue.”

That could be because, previously, there were no other event facilities in Ralston, according to Curtis Webb, general manager of Ralston Arena. “People would drive into Omaha for entertainment,” he said.

The arena, which broke ground June 29, 2011, on what used to be Lakeview Golf Course, is Ralston’s answer to a need for taxable income. Since 2008, Mayor Don Groesser had been attempting to attract a retailer onto the space with little luck. “We started talking with the Lancers about an arena,” Groesser said. Due to the scarcity of ice time in Omaha, the hockey team was excited about the idea of an arena with a few thousand seats.

“We want more diverse entertainment and sports events.” – Lynn Higgenbotham, marketing director for Ralston Arena

“Now that it’s here,” Webb said, “the venue should drive sales tax in the form of tickets, food, and beverage.” To pay down the debt of building the arena, LB 779 (or the Ralston Bill as it was known by the time it passed in 2010) puts 70 percent of the state’s portion of sales tax from any retailer within 600 yards of the arena toward the arena’s bill. As Groesser put it, “That’s basically how we’re going to pay for the building.”

As a result of this legislation, Groesser and Webb are encouraging more businesses to build within that 600-yard range of the arena. “We just got Menards to build on 72nd and L,” Groesser said. He also plans to introduce a new four-story hotel next to the facility, the first floor of which will be shops along the lines of salons, clothing, and convenience. “So another 10,000 square feet of retail,” he said. Add that on to the 4,600 square feet leased by The Dugout (clothing store) inside the arena, itself.

“We need all the new retail we can possibly get,” Groesser explained. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to make sure of that.”

For more information about Ralston Arena, visit ralstonarena.com.

The Budge Porter Story Comes Home

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Budge Porter lost many physical capabilities when he broke his neck tackling a teammate in a 1976 Husker football practice. The catastrophic injury left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.

What he’s never lost is determination and, remarkably, a positive outlook. It’s what helped him build a successful stockbroker career, woo and marry his college sweetheart, and start a family when many doubted he could do those things. He and his wife, Diane, are parents to three children.

His will has continued carrying him through recent setbacks.

“Every step of our lives we’ve been told this can’t be done,” says Budge. “We have the character between the two of us, working together with great friends and family, to beat all those odds…”

“Disappointments are not foreign to us,” Diane says. “There were many hopeless feelings and times of despair through all this, but I think so often what’s saved us is that you get to the point where you’re either going to laugh or cry, and we’ve chosen always to laugh. You kind of know in your heart of hearts it’s always going to work out, and it always does. It’s like you’ve got to throw it up to God or whatever and just say, ‘Whatever happens, it’s going to work out, and we will survive.’”

Budge Porter Project

That indefatigable spirit is what’s motivated friends and well-wishers to build a completely barrier-free home for this never-say-die warrior and his family. The nonprofit Budge Porter Project is a volunteer, donation-fueled effort led by Omaha home designer-builder Brad Brown, whose company Archistructure has supervised construction of the rustic ranch-style home at 13522 Corby Street. The home is expected to be completed by year’s end.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him,” says Brown. “You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity. I don’t think it started off that way, but it’s led him to a sense of inner peace.

“He’s a very open and caring person. When you’re around him, you feel like a breath of fresh air.”

The 1,900-plus square-foot home includes an elevator, a therapy pool, a tracking-lift system, ramps, and various features built at wheelchair level and wherever possible, subtle and aesthetically pleasing. Those are big-ticket items the Porters could never afford themselves, but donations in excess of $120,000 have purchased them.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him. You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity.” – Brad Brown of Archistructure

Subcontractors and suppliers have given time and materials. Consolidated Kitchens and Fireplaces owner Sam Marchese donated all the cabinets and countertops. He also co-signed Porter’s home loan and hosted an August 15 fundraiser. Steve Reeder gifted the lot.

Accepting help doesn’t come easily for Porter, who hails from a long line of orchard and farm owners. They’re a tough, independent lot. His father and grandfather both played at Nebraska. When Budge and brother Scott carried on the football legacy there, the school had its first and only three-generation athletic family.

“He feels somewhat embarrassed and undeserving,” says Brown, “because he’s always made it on his own. I told him, ‘This is a hand-up, not a hand-out, and it’s something these guys are tickled to give back.’ It makes us all feel so good.”

To customize the home to Budge’s specific needs, Brown had to ask personal questions and view Budge in intimate situations. Diane says Kent Pavelka’s public relations company made a video documenting what Budge contends with daily.

“I looked at Kent and Sam and Brad, and they were all crying,” says Diane. “They didn’t realize what the simple act of getting in and out of bed is for Budge. He’s so good about downplaying all the stuff that goes with his injury, and he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him. But I’ve often said if people really knew what it takes to be him every day, it’d be very hard to keep positive because it’s exhausting. A lesser man would not handle it as well as he has.”

Budge Porter Project

The experience gave Brown a deeper appreciation for Budge’s “courage” and bonded the two men even more. “We were really good friends, but we’re definitely brothers now,” says Budge.

The Porters have always managed dealing with the challenges of paralysis, but then Budge lost big in the 2000 stock market crash, which also cost him many clients similarly hard-hit. Osteoporosis forced him to retire in his mid-50s and go on disability.

A stretch of the Papio Creek behind the family’s previous home eroded, causing such severe damage to the property the home’s value plummeted. Health scares resulted in long, expensive hospitalizations. Finally, Budge swallowed his pride and filed for bankruptcy. The family gave up their home. Getting a loan and finding a new place to live proved daunting.

It seemed like more than one family could bear. “I don’t like to make excuses,” Budge says.

He’s heartened by how others have responded to their plight. “We’ll never be able to repay all these people other than just to tell them we’re forever grateful. We’re rich beyond compare with friends. We intend to be good stewards of these benefits.”

Budge views the home as “a legacy” for Diane and the kids when he’s gone. He hopes to inspire and assist others through the Budge Porter Project.

“I would love to see us form a foundation to raise future monies to help others in need along these same lines. There’s a lot of people far worse off than us, and we feel for them and pray for them and we just hope they’re as fortunate someday to have the type of friends we’re blessed with to give them a hand.”

Donations are still being accepted and may be made at budgeporter.bbnow.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.