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Aeroquest… Canto22

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Canto 22 – Flying by Pinwheel

The Conference Room onboard the corsair flagship was spacious.  It was one of the largest in Tron’s fleet.  The most famous corsairs in the Imperial Rim Worlds were gathering there for a meeting.

“I missed you, Uncle Goofy,” said a cherub-faced little boy to Trav Dalgoda.

“I missed you too, Artran.  I wouldn’t have left, but two of my very best friends from Questor needed my help.”

“The Aero Brothers?” asked Artran, eyes opening wide like brown blooms in a sunny field.

“Yes,” Trav nodded.  “And your father got rather mad at me too.”

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“He’s always like that.  He always forgives me, though.”

Trav nodded at the boy.  Artran was no more than seven years old.  He was a very open-faced, trusting little man.  It was difficult to believe his parents were two of the most infamous space pirates in known space.

The sour-faced pirate known as the King of Killers came into the room and sat down opposite Trav.  He was a thin, bitter man with no sense of humor.  Trav liked him anyway.

“How’s the pirate business, King, old Jester?”

“Shut up, Goofy, or I’ll rip your head off and stuff it in your… er…”  He looked at Artran, “mouth.”

“That’s not very nice, Mr. Killer,” muttered Artran softly.

“Oh, I know, boy.  I don’t mean it.  It’s just that this clown and thief has caused us too much trouble.”

“I apologize, King.  I had to help my friends, didn’t I?”

“I respect Ged Aero,” shot back the King.  “If you’da said that he needed the artifact, I’da voted to give it to him.  You don’t just steal stuff from Tron.  Where’s your sense of honor?”

“I’m not sure I ever had one.  If I did, I probably sold it and forgot about it.”

“The Aero Brothers are colonizing a planet?” King asked for conformation.

“No.  It already had a really cool civilization on it when we found it. They are merely taking ownership.”

Just then, Elvis the Cruel walked into the room, his guitar slung over his back.  He walked with a swagger and wore a dirty white muscle shirt.  He was combing his greasy black pompadour with a practically toothless comb.  Beside him walked the gorgeous lady pirate called Sheherazade.  She wore a Princess Leia-style bronze slave bikini, though no one remembered why the heck such clothing was called that.  It had something to do with a former emperor’s favorite comic book or something.  Her skin, and she was showing practically all of it, was a deep ebony color.  She sat down next to Artran and motioned Elvis to sit beside her.

“Thank you, thank you very much,” said Elvis.

“So, Trav,” said the sultry Sheherazade, “How did you get Tron to let you live?”

“Oh, Sheherry-baby, you know I’m Tron’s best buddy.  The old Jester could never kill me.”

The beautiful lady laughed with a charm made more elegant by her tawdry companions.  She seemed a regal Egyptian goddess.  The King of Killers watched her longingly.

Elvis took out a cigarette butt and lit it, letting it hang on the slack part of his lower lip.

Pirates from other corsair fleets began to arrive.  Razor Conn of the Black Hawk fleet showed up wearing a white cowboy hat and sunglasses with his second in command, the mysterious oriental, Shad Blackstone, by his side.  The Degenerate, one-eyed Captain of the Corsair Frigate Palace of Foul Odors showed up in his crusty Lancer Battle Suit.  The dwarf that traveled with him was named Stinky because of his unique ability to produce overpowering flatulence on cue.  Several other Lancer Corsair captains were also there.   Fez Amin of the dreaded Monopoly Brigade was there.  His bald, tattooed head was skull-like and menacing.  Arkin Cloudstalker was there with seven of his beautiful Lady Knights, captains of the White Sword Corsairs.

Tron came in with both his beautiful wife Maggie the Knife and Dana Cole.  They both sat with him at the head of the conference table.

Tron held up a hand for silence and attention.  All eyes fixed on the man with the scar.  He had a commanding presence above and beyond the many forceful personalities gathered on the ship.

“You’ve heard the word circulated already,” began Tron.  “News travels fast among the Corsair Brotherhood of Gentlemen Adventurers.”  Everyone laughed at the high-tone name for the scum of the universe.  “I have come here to declare war.  We have been double-crossed by the smuggler prince and planetary duke of the planet White Palm.  Count Nefaria tried to take us all out by acquiring ancient artifacts of incredible power.  The Pinwheel Corsairs intend to take him on in his own system and take him out.  I am not asking you to help me, though help is welcome.  I am asking you to refuse any call for help he might make.”

“And what happens if we decide we like Count Nefaria more than we like you?” growled Fez Amin.

Elvis stood up and glared across the table at Amin.  “Then we bust you up like a bunch of Louisiana hound dawgs!”

Fez Amin laughed.  “What does that mean?”

Tron stared at the Monopoly Brigade’s tattooed leader.  “Are you taking me on?”

“Naw,” said Fez Amin.  “I’m just asking what if?  Goober there gave me a funny enough answer to satisfy my need to laugh.”

There was a lot of nervous laughter.  Everyone feared Fez Amin.  He was dangerously insane and full of bloodlust.  They feared Tron and his ace pilots as well.  Few openly laughed at the eccentric behavior of a pilot like Elvis the Cruel.  The possible consequences of such disrespect made everyone with a sane brain nervous.

“You tell me now,” said Tron to the group, “Who has a contract with Count Nefaria?”

No one raised a hand.

“Who is against my plan?”

Again, no hands went up.

“We hear you met a group of Corsairs called the Wraiths,” said Razor Conn.  “You know much about them?”

“No,” said Tron.  “But we beat them hard.”

“Let me give you this to help your cause,” said Conn, tossing a computer log core onto the table.  “That is proof that the Wraith Corsairs work for both Nefaria and Syn Corporation.”

Everyone gasped but Tron and Maggie.

“Robots?” asked Tron.

“That’s my guess,” said Conn, smiling beneath his mirrored sunglasses and white cowboy hat.  “It cost me forty fighters and one Black Hawk Frigate to get that bit of evidence.  I’m not gonna help you kill Nefaria, but I mean to bet on you and the Pinwheels to succeed.”

“I thank you for that,” said Tron with a gracious nod.

Arkin Cloudstalker spoke up then.  “We hear you helped Ged Aero escape the Imperium in return for your so-called Crown of Stars ancient artifact.  And we hear Ged now owns a planet.”

“I won’t deny it,” said Tron.

“What part does that Crown play in all of this?” asked Cloudstalker.  “That’s what I’d like to know.”

“You know the Crown has the power of the Ancients,” said Tron.  “If we knew how to use it, we would tell you what we plan, but we need to research it more.”

“So, if we throw in with you, does that mean we are also supporting Ged Aero?”  Cloudstalker’s face was grim as he got to the crucial question.

“I haven’t negotiated with the Aero Brothers yet.  You can see I have their friend Trav Dalgoda as a member of my team already,” said Tron, indicating Goofy who was playing with Artran and oblivious to all around him.  “I think it’s safe to say we respect Ged Aero and intend to throw our support behind him as he opens new systems in unknown space.”

“Well,” said Cloudstalker, “I believe Ged Aero is the one man who can solve our problems with the Imperium.  I believe only true integrity can undo the Gordian Knots of Galtorr.  I’m adding the White Swords to the Pinwheel Corsairs in this attack on Nefaria.  I say one less nasty old spider in the Galtorr Imperium is a good thing!”

Most of the corsairs applauded Cloudstalker.  Fez Amin growled.

“Ged Aero is a Werewolf!” shouted Amin’s tattooed second in command.

“Your foolishness is good for business!” mocked Fez Amin.  He jabbed a large polished knife intao the conference table.  “If you kill or capture Nefaria, Admiral Brona Tang will be hunting you down like the dogs you are.  The Imperial Navy hasn’t paid any attention to you before now.  That will change.  I’ll be the only corsair still operating with a reasonably valid Letter of Marque.  I’ll be laughing at your cold, dead corpses floating in endless space!”

Fez Amin and the Monopoly Brigade stormed out of the conference as if in anger.  Tron frowned.  It was more likely a tactical retreat.  Amin was now part of the enemy.

Trav reached across the table to retrieve the fancy toad-sticker.  “Sorry about the table, Maggie,” he said sweetly to Artran’s fierce mother.  “I’ll just keep this cool knife.”

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Role-Playing Games in the Classroom

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Zeus, the god of Storms and the Sky

In the early 90’s a fellow teacher became acutely aware of the effect the role-playing games I was playing at home after school had on the cognitive abilities of the fatherless boys I was constantly entertaining.  She suggested that maybe, if it was working at home with a few students and former students, it could also work in the classroom with all students.

This, of course was a daunting classroom activity to carry out, but enough of a creative challenge to my story telling abilities that I simply had to try.

I began with a cheap RPG book about adventuring D&D style with characters from Greek Myth.  This was an opportunity not only to play adventure games, but to teach a little bit about history and a lot about mythology.

So I created generic character sheets using my own personal copier, my own copy paper, and my own overhead projector plastic overlays.

I created adventures that could be conducted on the overhead with dice and each kid having their own set of skills and useful items.  We conducted Olympic games and included mythological creatures like Tritons and Centaurs as player characters.  We learned about the city of Olympia, the city of Argos, the city of Corinth, Athens, Sparta, and even Atlantis.

I let students draw their character from a hat on strips of paper that contained a boy option and a girl option.  I even let students trade for the character they wanted and we learned negotiating skills along with problem-solving skills.

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                                                                                     Demeter, goddess of fertility (which you can’t say in a junior high classroom, so goddess of crops and farming.)

Most of the stories were driven by a kidnapping where the beautiful daughter of one of the players was kidnapped immediately after the Olympic medals were awarded.  The villain would take her to his evil island base, and the players would have to work together to buy or steal a boat.  Gods and goddesses could be called on to intervene, and sometimes they actually did.  Another story line began with the sack of Troy, during which the players either murder or witness the death of a young Trojan boy who just happens to be Heracles’ son.

That story took the players on a quest of penance to visit the underworld and retrieve the boy in the same way that Orpheus tried to rescue his lady love Eurydice.  Potentially, Heracles would even join the quest himself if none of the player characters were the actual killer.  And, of course, all sorts of encounters with monsters would ensue.

 

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I ended up using about as much of my personal resources as a story-teller and a cartoonist to create those adventures as I had available.  But I had students tell me that the week of classroom time spent playing that problem-solving myth game was one of the most memorable learning experiences they ever had.  I never tried it with a high school class, only middle school, and then mostly with 7th graders.  But I think the experiment was very successful from about 1992 to 2004, and it taught me even more about teaching than it ever taught them about mythology.

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Grandma Frozenfield

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In order to understand this story, you have to have a little bit of background first… a solid sense of context, in order to avoid anyone feeling that I might be ridiculing someone in an unfair or unloving way.  So here’s a bit of context.  I was a teacher for 31 years.  I was considered a good teacher, in fact, a master teacher by something like 28 different principals and assistant principals, while only 3 felt like I was an incompetent mess, and two of those were eventually fired themselves.  I only got fired once.  So it can be safely assumed I know what incompetence in teaching is and can reliably identify it in others.  Further, incompetence in teaching does not make you a bad person.  Far too many people who believe they could be a good teacher have traits that would torpedo their own boat if they actually set sail on the sea of education.  So, even though Grandma Frozenfield was a horrible teacher, she was actually a very nice and caring person, and makes a wonderful character for stories that lovingly make fun of bad teaching.  And I should remind you, I don’t use real names when talking about people from my past so that their privacy is not violated by whatever my artist’s eye might reveal about them.  The portrait I added to this post does not even look like her.

Grandma Frozenfield was a mid-year emergency hire who filled the position of 8th grade math teacher during my first year of teaching.   She was already sixty-eight years old when she came to Cotulla, Texas, and she had five years of previous teaching experience in schools up north.  How she survived five years in schools more competently run than Texas schools in the 80’s, I will never be able to figure out.  She was able to hang on in our school for several years only because we were desperately strapped for warm bodies to teach Math classes in Texas junior high schools.  Only idiots and coaches ever took on the job willingly.

Grandma Frozenfield had seventeen dogs and ninety-nine cats at home.  That right there tells you something about which stereotype she easily fits into.  But she was also a woman of great mystery.  Her father had been a famous college professor in Minnesota.  She had inherited a number of very valuable books from him, and kept them in random boxes stacked in dusty corners of the old run-down house she bought in town.  She was actually quite bright, and though she would have spells of foggy thinking and confusion, she could capably discuss mathematics and physics and other sciences with me.  She had a daughter who showed up during her third year of teaching at our school, and the daughter had a cute little son of about seven years old.  Neither she nor her daughter had ever been married.  In fact, rumor had it the daughter was telling people she was adopted.  And her daughter and grandson disappeared from her life about four years after they started living with Grandma.

But the old lady was a spectacularly bad teacher.  As bright as she was, she could never talk to kids or relate to kids in ways that kids could understand.  She seemed to sincerely hate kids, calling them bad names in the classroom and telling them in detail how they would one day die in prison (a prediction that unfortunately came true for a couple of them).  She would come into the teacher’s workroom after class plastered with spitballs on her back and in her hair.

A couple of the sweeter and more pro-active girls in her classes tried to protect her a bit from vandals and explained lessons to others in class to mitigate the chaos a bit.

She did not engage with students.  Other than a few of the sweeter girls, she did not talk to them about anything but math.  They didn’t understand her, and so they didn’t like her.  She did not know how to monitor a classroom, so the infidels were on a rampage all the time in her room.  It would definitely have felt like being in Hell to be her, teaching in that classroom.  Why she ever wanted to be a teacher, she never said.  I know it was in her family history.  I know she was a caring, lovely individual.  But when she died of throat cancer at 77 it was a lonely and sad thing.  She had been forced to teach until two years before the end because of medical bills.  She was never happy as a teacher that I observed.  But she never missed a day without good reason, either.  Good people don’t necessarily make good teachers.  But she taught me things far beyond the 8th grade math she tried and failed to teach to students.  I don’t think of her often.  But I do think of her.  She and her 17 dogs and 99 cats are all gone now.  But not forgotten.

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Aeroquest… Canto 3

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Canto 3 – A Game of “Bridge”

 

When Ged and Trav reached the bridge of the Leaping Shadowcat, Tron’s angry face already filled the view screen.  Next to him stood the flame-haired beauty known as Maggie the Knife with one hand protectively shielding their small son, Artran.

“So!  Ged and Ham both?  How could you both be so stupid as to take up with that worthless clown?” growled Tron in a gravelly voice.  His somewhat handsome face was marred not only by anger, but by a hideous laser scar that ran from the top of the left side of his forehead, through the eye socket of his artificial left eye, down to the left side of his lantern jaw.

“Tron,” said Ged as diplomatically as he could manage, “You know me.  You know I would never take up with a swindler and a pirate like Trav willingly.  You must also know that I have troubles of my own about now.  If you leave us in peace, I can promise Trav’s presence aboard this ship will result in banishment for him.  You will never see his face in Imperial Space again.”

“Ged, I respect you more than any other space man I know.  Your word is good, and you never lie.  I wish your worthless brother and I both had your integrity.  We’d be kings among men.  But Goofy stole a priceless treasure from us and both Slimeball Harris and Blue Death Jones just died trying to get it back.  Both of their corsairs were destroyed by that rotten space barge Goofy was flying.”

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“You’re moaning about Slimeball and Old Blue?” asked Trav in an incredulous voice.

“Well, those corsair ships were very valuable!” growled Tron.

“Oh,” replied Trav.  “Sorry.”

“What if we give you the treasure, Tron?” asked Ham.

“No!” cried Trav.  “You have to let me explain that to you in private, first!”

“Yes,” growled Tron.  “Give me the blue metal box and the Nebulon slave girl. You can keep the rest. And you can keep Goofy forever, for all I care.”

“Now, wait!” interrupted Ged.  “Slavery is just plain wrong.”

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“Yes,” said Tron, “but this one is a princess among the Space Smurfs.  She is the first daughter to the Sinjarac Warlord, whatever that means.  We’re not just talking slave here, but a potentially valuable hostage for the Imperial Space Navy.  They would pay well to get their hands on her.”

“Why a hostage?” asked Ham.

“You didn’t see the Imperial Scout Data we intercepted,” said Maggie softly in a musical voice.  “A coreward border war has erupted between a huge convoy of Nebulons in their Space-Whale Cruisers and the Galtorr Imperium.  Nobody in the Imperium seems to know why, but there is a massive migration of Space Smurfs going on just beyond the Imperial Border.”

“You can’t have the girl,” said Ged.  “I’d be happy to give you the box, though.”

“No!” protested Trav.  “You don’t know what’s in it!”

“What is in it?” Ged asked Trav.  His eyes narrowed.

Trav blushed furiously.

“You have to give us what we want.”  Tron seemed too confident.  “We have corsairs blocking every jump route back into known space.  Soon we’ll have a hundred of them here ready to board your crappy little safari ship.”

“Yes,” said Maggie prettily.  “We will take the treasure anyway and you’ll all be skinned alive with a dull knife.”

“Oh, great,” said Ged.

“Are you ready with our little surprise?” Trav asked Ham.

“It’s plotted in the nav computer,” Ham answered.

“It’s time to hit it, then.”

Ham leaped into the pilot’s seat and slammed down on the jump button.  The jump into lightspeed-plus was jarring.  Space began to fold around the ship.  The surprised faces of Tron and Maggie the Knife faded away into white static, soon replaced by a red-and-blue-shifting starfield in jump space.

“What have you done?” Ged asked Ham with shock on his face.

“You didn’t think I would start this leap of faith without at least one jump already planned and programmed?”

“Trav?” asked Ged.

“Oh, yes.  I plotted a course to a planet almost nobody has ever heard of.  It’s a place with the silly name of Don’t Go Here.”

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The Care and Feeding of a REALLY BIG DOG

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My neighbor, Wendy Wackyname, is the owner of a really big dog.  I asked her how she managed a dog that was bigger than a moose and weighed more than an elephant.

“You have to be able to solve problems you never thought you could have,” she said.

“Problems like what?” I stupidly asked.

“Well, a dog that big not only chases cars, he often catches the littler ones like yours.  It became a real problem when he finished chewing on them and wanted to bury them in the back yard.  When we lived in Oklahoma, our back yard just wasn’t big enough, and the local police kept wondering about what might be buried there.  I guess they had a lot of missing persons cases.”

“Oh, that does sound bad.”

“Yeah, but moving here solved that problem.  We now live next to this nice big park with lots of room for a dog to bury stuff.”

“So he isn’t cured of chasing cars?” I asked nervously.

“No.  But that isn’t the worst problem.  Feeding him is really expensive.  We have to buy a truckload of dog food every week.  That problem has gotten worse since we left Oklahoma.  There used to be a cattle ranch nearby.  At least until the last of their stock mysteriously disappeared.”

I decided I should probably change the subject a bit.

“How do you walk a dog that big?”  I asked.

“Oh, I don’t.  I climb up on his neck and hang on to the collar as hard as I can, and we go for a run.  We ended up in Waxahachie, Texas last week.”

“Does your mother ever let the dog in the house?”

“Oh, no.  Foozy is an outside dog.  If he wags his tail indoors, he breaks all the furniture in the room.  Besides, the doors in this new house aren’t big enough for him to fit through.”

“Wendy, did you ever read those kids’ books about Clifford the Big Red Dog?”

“Oh, sure.  But life with Foozy is nothing like that.  Giant dogs are a much harder pet to take care of than people think.”

I remembered then how my little dog somehow managed to make five poops a day.  Did Foozy do that too?  And how did poor little Wendy go about bagging it and depositing it in the trash?  I finally decided I didn’t want to know.

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road

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For the past two weeks I have been battling the Wicked Witch of the Diabetes.  Her armies of flying blood-sugar monkeys have been snatching away my healthy hours and leaving me with pain, headaches, and depressing blues of worry.  I have been combating the disease up to now with diet and exercise only.  But even the miracle of a handful of peanuts filled with good diabetes-bashing niacin is apparently not magic enough to make me feel better.  I probably have to go back to the doctor and get put on insulin injections.  And that is probably more expense than I can afford.  Health insurance loves to collect ever-higher premiums from me, but they really hate to pay for anything.

In answer to my problem I have started a new art project.  Dorothy with a bit of attitude has flown in on the latest twister to start bashing heads and murdering witches.  It is probably the worst kind of magical thinking to believe drawing pictures can make health problems go away.  However, you don’t just let flying monkeys run wild.  The pen and ink will get a colored-pencil treatment and I will show it to you here on this blog as we proceed down that yellow brick road of life.  And I will get better somehow and someway, even if I have to pull that little con man out from behind the curtain and call him names until he cries.  He’s going to find something in that bag of tricks to help me.

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Holiday Mixed Nuts

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I know what this is.  This is Grandma Aldrich’s holiday nut bowl with nut-cracker and silver walnut picks.  It brings back fond memories of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas reunions that were filled with nuts.  And, yes, I mean that figuratively as well as literally.  I tend to really love nuts.

And one of the most insidious things about Facebook is the fact that it connects you to all the nuts from your checkered past, and memories like this can come back to haunt you any day or any month… not just at holiday family gatherings.

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I probably don’t have to remind you that the incredible spray-tanned intellectual-fartgas-container this country elected as its next leader is not, and will never be, my president.  I reject him in his every detail.  He is anathema to everything I stand for and believe in.  And some of my lovely Iowegian Facebook friends are responsible for for helping him win.  I have not unfriended anybody as they may have done to me.  I am still constantly amused by them and their families, even though their choice offends me.  But I do get tired of being bombarded with Brazil nuts of “He won, get over it!  We endured 8 years of your president!”  I hate Brazil nuts.  They are difficult to crack open, especially with the skinny, silver nutcracker you see in the picture above.  And after you go to all that effort, they don’t taste very good.  Brazil nuts are always the last nuts in the nut bowl because nobody actually likes them.  And besides, I don’t remember Republicans in Congress accepting defeat under Obama gracefully.  They kicked and spit and shut down the government in a hissy fit.  What do they have against the government trying to make healthcare affordable, anyway?  Still, I get those big, hard, oddly-shaped nuts in my Facebook feed constantly this time of year.

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My sister posted the meme you see above on my Facebook wall.  She says it is actually quite easy to become a complete master of doing what the meme suggests, by which she means me more so than her.  I like walnuts.  They are hard to crack, but not impossible like Brazil nuts.  And once you have split them into two haves, two separate turtle shells, you still have to pick the walnut meat out of a hard, spiky labyrinth of dastardly convoluted walls of interior shell.  But you end up with something delicious if you put in the time picking things apart.  I fondly remember singing goofy Christmas carols with my two sisters and half-dozen cousins at Grandma and Grandpa Aldrich’s farm this time of year.  Elaborate versions of “I’m dreaming of a pink-and-purple-polka-dotted Christmas…” and “Jingle bells, Batman smells…”  My sister is often critical of me and doubts my sanity, as a good sister should, but in the long run, we have some sweet memories to share, good times and incredibly goofy nonsense to look back upon.

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But, of course, everybody’s favorite nut is the peanut.  Those are the first to disappear from the nut bowl.  Holiday gatherings are mainly about eating, but the most important second-place thing is everybody’s self-generated house apes… the next generation of little Beyers and Aldrich’s and Fimblegrubbers and Pumblechooks (yes, I know I am not actually related to Fimblegrubbers or Pumblechooks, but I like funny names, and I have to live with the funny-named people who attend our family gatherings).  We all enjoy watching them play games of “infuriate your sister” or “chase Grampy’s dog till it bites you” because they are funny, adorable and cute.  Sometimes they even play with mutant toy Elmo-looking things like the one in the picture, though I didn’t draw this from a family member, and I added the mutant features to avoid questions of copyright infringement.

Anyway, holidays are notoriously full of nuts, both literal and figurative.  And we really have to learn to appreciate them all.

 

 

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