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Saturdays With Gingerbread

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This is the pen and ink start of an illustration of the novel I am working on, Recipes for Gingerbread Children.

I admit that my obsession with the benefits of gingerbread is mostly in my head.  Specifically, in my sinuses.  I find products with ginger in them, diet ginger ale, ginger teas, and especially gingerbread cookies, help reduce the tightness in my COPD-laced lungs, clear my sinuses, and make breathing mercifully easier.  Gingerbread cookies are also seasonally wonderful in that they are slightly Christmassy and help bring my family together.

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So, yesterday, a Saturday, my daughter the Princess and I executed a perfectly evil plan to commit evil acts of gingerbread and whip up some wicked little gingerbread men in a frenzy of deliciously evil bakery.

Okay, maybe not evil exactly…  but I have diabetes and the Princess desperately wants to lose some weight, neither condition being one that benefits by having the temptation of wicked little gingerbread men around.

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And, as with any evil plan, many things proceeded to go awry.  We did not have any actual flour available to make the gingerbread dough less butter-and-egg sticky.  All we had was some corn starch… which had bugs in it.  After struggling to craft sticky little bodies a few times, we decided to go ahead and use the tainted corn starch.  After all, a few little larvae that get overlooked and not picked out will only add a bit of extra protein, right?

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And we had the added bonus that you can make just as much mess with corn starch and margarine as you can with flour and butter!

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But we did get the corn-starchy little buggers baked.  (And they were probably literally buggers due to the potential for having bugs in them.  Oh well, it should fortify the old immune systems.)

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The only decoration we had was chocolate frosting, since someone ate all the sprinkles and sugar dots we bought last year for the gingerbread house.  (Don’t look at me.  I have diabetes.)  So we frosted them, prompting the Princess to begin calling them “little burnt souls blackened in hell”.

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So then the cookie cannibals could allow the eating to begin.

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Mmmm!  Good cookie!

Okay, I know it looks like the Princess did all the work, and all I did was eat them.  But somebody had to do the hard work of taking all the pictures, right?

 

 

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Filed under bugs, fairies, family, humor, illustrations, imagination, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Family That Slays Trolls Together…

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As a family, we play Dungeons and Dragons.  Well, all of us, that is, except Mom.  It’s basically against her religion and means the Jehovah’s Witness version of Hell for us. (Which is a spiritual condition where God refuses to talk to you, and play checkers with you, and then you die.)  But let’s not discuss that here.  I don’t need her to start thinking about reasons to divorce me.  She accepts that it is a thing we do and like and keep mostly to ourselves.  (I just rolled a 15 on a twenty-sided dice to succeed in that charm-enemy spell and avert disaster.)

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As a family we have chosen to use the Eberron campaign available from Wizards of the Coast, the company that now publishes all official D&D stuff.  It is a medieval/Renaissance sort of setting where magic is every-day common and takes the place of science in the real world.

I get to be game master and creator of the basic plots and stories.  My three kids, Dorin, Henry, and the Princess are the player characters who interact with the world and determine the outcomes of the adventures through the rolling of Dungeon Dice.

I want to assure you at this point that my eldest son does not actually have a watermelon for a head.  Maybe metaphorically, but he is easily the smartest and most likely to be a leader of my three kids.  His character routinely pursues ideas like replacing his arms with magical metal arms, or grafting additional arms on his body.  He has chosen the phoenix to be the symbol on his personal flag and coat of arms, but his artifice roll to create the magical ship’s flag turned out to make it look more like a pigeon that someone set on fire.  (You have to watch out for those rolls of “1” on a 20-sided dice.)

Henry, my middle child, likes to play a halfling.  The little hobbit-like character is the one called upon to disarm all the tiger traps and poison-arrow traps that line the dungeon tunnels ahead.  He is a problem-solver in real life.  And he wants to be an architect.  In D&D games, he is often the first one to run up to danger and look it in the blood-shot eye.

Every D&D group needs a wizard or some other magic-user.  Ours has Mira, the Kalashtar mind- wizard.  My daughter’s character can use mind powers to float in the air, pick up and throw things with her mind alone, and figure out ways to do things using as little physical effort as possible.  Oh, and she loves to eat chocolate.  (The character, I mean… or is it actually the daughter?  I don’t know.  It is sometimes hard to tell them apart.)

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In our last adventure, we went to investigate the evil doings going in Evernight Keep, a castle in the country of Aundair.  We were able to not only defeat the evil mind-flayer, Dr. Zorgo, who had turned everyone into golems in the castle, but also to win the castle and the title of the Duke of Passage.  Now that they own a castle, my little band of adventurers will have to defend it, and I know of one old game master who will definitely throw all kinds of evil challenges at them.

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Dows, Iowa

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Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background

There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood.  You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are.  Dows is not the town where I grew up.  But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them.  It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.

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You have no idea what this is, right?

Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives.  My cousin and her second husband were there.  Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there.  We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!)  The experience taught me a simple lesson.  We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.

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You don’t order Coke here.

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We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives.  So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.

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The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.

We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us.  We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe.  We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead.  It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.

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There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.

We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us.  Nothing lasts forever.  Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing.  A simple word for that is “farming”.  Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after.  But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond.  And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.

 

 

 

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Filed under autobiography, family, farm boy, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies

Travel Troubles

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My wife visited her home in the Philippines as a consequence of her father passing away there at the beginning of the month.  It has been a mixed bag of treats and tragedies.  Yes, there was a funeral involved.  But it has been years since the six sisters and one brother have been together.  They were able to re-connect with friends and family, eat their favorite foods from the old days, and gain weight.

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Here’s what they looked like once upon a time before anybody came to the United States.

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They are a bit bigger now.

But things always happen to complicate simple happiness-es.  Somehow, before she left she managed to put her green card in the wrong pile while sorting stuff to go and stuff to stay.  As a resident alien for more than twenty years, she absolutely had to have that green card to get back into the country.  So, my daughter and I tore the house apart for three days trying to find it.  Then, after throwing my hands up in despair of ever finding it, I managed to sit on a pile of stuff near her bed in the bedroom and realize with my very intelligent behind that I hadn’t searched that pile yet.  There it was!  I rushed it to UPS with the carefully copied address triple-checked against the text my wife sent me with the warning that it should be written exactly as it appeared in the text.  But, naturally, the clerk at the UPS Store was confused by the idea that the zip code had to come before the name of the province.  I should’ve asked to see how he wrote it down.  The green card finally arrived there two weeks late because the Filipino UPS couldn’t find Tatang’s house.  They called the US twice asking for other ways to contact the household.  Of course, on our side, we had the advantage of there being no convenient phone in the neighborhood.  I finally had to send my wife the tracking number, and she tracked down the package herself.

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Of course, we were not home free on the whole return trip thing either.  During her journey home, my wife encountered a flight delay in Shanghai that made her miss a connecting flight in Los Angeles.  It was a gift of an extra day of travel courtesy of terrorists in Turkey.  So, it was a huge relief when yesterday, we were finally able to pick her up from the airport.  Of course, now her luggage is missing.  Virgin Air had to comb through their entire inventory of lost bags and still didn’t find it.  So, there’s a continuing battle we didn’t particularly need either.

Still, in spite of the fact that so many things went wrong, and it was all about a loss of a treasured family member, the adventure has ended, and she is back home again, safe and well.

 

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Secrets of the Muck Cave

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I recently revealed the existence of a new superhero in Dallas, the Magnificent Muck Man, master of muck and mud and maddening stench.  Remember, his superpower is the ability to produce smells so awful they paralyze, neutralize, and even euthanize every opponent.

Now, every superhero needs his secret lair.  Batman has the Batcave.  Superman has the Fortress of Solitude.  The Avengers have Avenger’s Mansion… oh, uh, maybe they’re not all secret.  But, anyway, Muck Man has the Muck Cave.  Yes, it is based on my house.  I am old.  I have six incurable diseases.  So cleaning is difficult.  And I don’t always smell that good myself.  But I am not trying to claim I am Muck Man’s secret identity.  The fool almost revealed his secret identity by smelling bad in an elevator… so I have to be more careful not to out him.

Anyway, the Muck Cave is Muck Man’s secret lair and base of operations.  It is a normal-looking residential suburban house, on the outside.  Inside, it is a hideous maze of garbage piles, discarded soiled laundry, random dog poo from Muck Dog, and a layer of wetness from incessantly overflowing toilets.  Okay, there is another secret out.  Muck Man has kids at home.  How else do you explain how an ordinary house becomes an unnatural flowing fountain of filth?

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Muck Man is not alone in his fight against evil.  He has a couple of sidekicks that haven’t left the Muck Cave in disgust yet.  They are teenage swashbuckling Mucklets that aspire to one day become Teen Titans.  In fact, Muck Woman has a huge crush on Robin, such a huge crush that she refused to take the name that Dad… uh, Muck Man… suggested.  She did not want to be called Muck GIRL.  She did not particularly want to hang out with trained muck-rats either, but for a chance to hang out with Boy Wonders on weekends, well…

Muck Lad, however, likes his name… almost as much as he likes living in the Muck Cave.  Teenage boys and filth-laden rooms in the Muck Cave are simply made for each other.  And Muck Lad can’t wait to use his patented stink-saber on evil.  It’s like a Star Wars light saber, except it creates a blade of solid stink that can cut through anything.

As the new superhero team prepares to get into crime fighting, I have it on good authority that they plan to go see the new Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War tonight.  I believe they plan to take notes on how it all works.

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What You Should Know About Filipino Families

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Not everyone pictured in this post is actually a family member by marriage, but my wife has a big family and everyone who is even remotely related to a Filipino family… or even imagines that they are… is family.

I am about as much of a white-guy WASP-type as you can find in Middle America, having grown up in Iowa and teaching for my entire career in Texas.  But I know a thing or two… or three about other cultures.   I taught in South Texas for 23 years with students who were over 85% Spanish-speaking.  And then, in 1995, I married into the Pinoy culture of the Philippine Islands.

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Me and my Filipino-American familia… circa 2003.

There are some things I have learned about this other culture that you should probably be aware of.

#1.  The United States is being invaded and colonized by the Philippines.  They are coming here in waves, getting jobs in education and medicine that not enough of home-grown America are willing to take up.  My wife came here with a placement company as a teacher.  Three of her group of Filipino teachers landed in our little Cotulla school district.  When she got here, she was met by her cousin and her cousin’s family.  There was a Filipina woman and her young son in the Valley that also took an interest in helping her get settled in Texas.  All of these people… and all of their friends and relatives are still a part of our lives.  My wife’s sister and her family lived in California where dozens of cousins also lived.  They and my wife’s parents have since moved to Texas, along with two other sisters and their families.  You get the idea.  They are taking over.

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#2. As you can see, Filipinos love to take pictures.  Above is a picture from class where my niece goes to school back in Floridablanca in the Philippines.  People complain about pictures of food on Facebook.  My Filipino family puts the Food Network to shame.  Sometimes I can’t tell if they are eating another exotic Filipino dish with rice and meat or they’ve been putting firecrackers into fish and exploding them.  And the fish eyes are a delicacy.  Eeuw! My sisters in Iowa won’t even let me talk about the food at Filipino gatherings.  I have to be extremely careful of what I share on Facebook.

1013267_10201161984785458_2113452340_n #3.  To know about Filipino culture, you have to understand what Jollibee is all about.  Jollibee is the Filipino MacDonald’s.  Of course, it is cheaper… and better tasting.  There are a  few of them around the country here.  California has more than Texas.  They are like a giant Filipino magnet.  You go there to find the Filipino community in any American city.  But other people love the food too.  You have to sort the Filipinos from the Hispanics and white folks that are not too proud to eat cheap and delicious.

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Well, those are only about three things that you should probably know about Filipinos and Pinoy culture.  I haven’t even gotten into the thing about Matrilineal social orders or the evils of Karaoke addiction… but enough is enough for one day.  I have no idea how much trouble I am now in for revealing cultural secrets.  It could be a long cold night in the dog house.

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Table Talk on Sunday

“What will future people think of our culture if the only archaeological artifact they have to go by is a spork?” Henry asked over Ramen noodles.

“A spork?” asked Mom.

“You know, one of those spoon/fork thingies, the plastic ones?”

“It won’t be a problem,” I said.  “In the far future the people will all be cockroaches.  They will know what a spork is because of racial memory.”

“Euuw!” said Mom.  “Not cockroaches!”

“Yes,” said the Princess, “cockroaches can survive nuclear winter…  They said in school that they are radioactive-proof.”

Donner n Silkie“I don’t think they can ever become intelligent,” said Mom.  “They don’t die when you cut their head off.  Um, well, they don’t die until they starve to death because they have no mouth to eat with.”

“But nuclear winter will make food harder to find eventually, and the smarter cockroaches will evolve,” I suggested.

“I don’t believe in evolution,” Mom said.

The kids looked at me and grinned, shaking their heads.

“And if it is true, they will run out of food with all the people and animals dead,” the Princess suggested.

“Ah, the cockroach population will boom with all the dead things to eat, and the rotted stuff will grow mutated plants and fungus that they can learn to farm,” I said.

“And the smart ones can eat the stupid ones,” said Henry.  “There will be lots and lots of those.”

“So we are all agreed that cockroaches will rule the earth, and it won’t matter if they know what a spork is or not, right?” I concluded.  So we basically solved the problem of repopulating the Earth after Armageddon.  Of course, Mom is a Jehovah’s Witness, and believes in a Paradise on Earth for forever, so we wish her well getting along with the evolved cockroach civilization.

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