The Family that Freezes Together Stays Frozen Together

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Family that Freezes Together Stays Frozen Together

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” -Mark Twain

(As I often do, I took this blog topic from kiradault.  Really, you should check out her stuff.  It’s rather delightful.)

I have been known to wear short-sleeve shirts when it snows.  My standard jogging attire varies only slightly.  The tennis shoes that adhere snugly to my feet are required.  In addition, I can be counted on to shun sweatshirts, jackets, or anything with a sleeve that dares to infringe upon the space beneath my bony elbows.  A large factor behind this is that I do not like extra fabric rustling against my arms.  However, another very key reason is that after the family vacation of 2000, short sleeves are all I really need.

December is never my favorite time to travel to the eastern part of the country.  I rather enjoy the northwest climate and our typical one day of snow every other year.  However, my parents, who I am sure were aided and abetted by my sister who lives just up the road from them, thought my brother and his then-girlfriend should all trek out there for Christmas.  I had a break from school and they were paying for airfare, so I packed my winter jacket, gloves, and submissive attitude.  Off to frigid Pennsylvania I went.

The first part of the trip was rather typical.  We had our little family Christmas-time together.  There was my mom, my dad, my sister and her soon-to-be husband, and my brother and his not-quite-as-soon-to-be-as-the-other-sibling-but-they-were-married-not-too-long-after-them wife.  Oh, and there was me and… uh…, well I had my Duct Tape Pro hat.  It was a very nice, black hat with white letters that I had adorned with comic book-related pins.  So I had that to keep me company.  (Shrugs)  All was cozy in a home that invoked Rockwellian scenes of dinners around a large wooden table and fireplaces that beckoned to all who wished community and warmth.  Then my mother dropped the bombshell; New York.

Now, I understand why people want to live in New York.  They want the excitement, the drama, and the fast-paced life that only that city can provide.  The only allure that New York could ever hold for me is the building that houses the offices of DC Comics.  I’m not a city sort of fellow.  So I admit that my enthusiasm for this family trip was a bit lacking.  However, I was told we were going to go see The Rockettes.  I didn’t actually care for the dancers as much as for the show itself.  Trust my mom to know she could sucker in her youngest son, the drama minor, with a visit to the famous theatre.

Admittedly, it was a rather nice show.  I don’t recall being blown away by it.  The whole thing was pleasant.  The theatre was nice, the dancers were in synch, and there was a general merriment to the whole thing.  It was not a life changing moment, but I certainly was not bored.  In fact, I would have had only pleasant memories of the entire trip had my family not uttered those now infamous words, The Statue of Liberty.

I work rather close to the Space Needle so tall buildings have lost much of their power over me.  As I mentioned, I am not a city type of guy so a view of the water is all well and good, but I’ll take snowy mountains over skyscrapers any day.  If others like their long-lasting reminder of liberty and hospitality, I say go for it.  But as we got on that ferry on a cold December twenty-sixth, I had other matters on my mind.  I was more focused on the matters at hand.  Mostly I was wishing I could feel the fingers on my hands.

Honestly, it was the ride away from the island that got to me.  We didn’t feel the need to go up the statue itself.  We strolled around the island, took some pictures, and hopped back on the ferry.  We all sat on the same bench along the side window of the ferry.  This is where my being a weather wimp did me in.  It was eighteen degrees outside.  That was not including the wind chill factor which was blowing off of the ocean.

My sister had lived in Chicago for four years.  My parents were raised in the middle of America.  My brother spends his free time in the mountains sleeping in the snow.  I had no such experiences to toughen me up.  I don’t know if I had ever been in twenty degree weather before, wind chill or not.  I can tell you, with utmost certainty, that to this day I have never been as cold as I was that day.  The hat pulled low, the gloves, the winter coat; they certainly took some of the frigidness away.  I was still miserable.  It was the only time I have ever wished for a pair of long johns.

I can understand why my parents did it.  Now that I have three nieces and a nephew, the thought of the entire family getting together and strolling down the city streets seems laughable.  Have you ever visited a strange city with ten people and tried to see tourist spots; all without losing someone?  No thank you.  I am sure the thought had entered my mind of, “Why now?  Why not some other year?”  But next year would have been completely different.  Next year visitors to The Statue of Liberty would have had an entirely altered experience.  The year after there would not have been The Twin Towers in the background.  A year can make a huge difference, whether it’s the number of kids in your family, or the state of a nation.

I don’t regret that vacation.  It’s the bitter cold that I disliked.  I like my family just fine.  They do an admirable job of trying to offset the weather with hugs and cheer whenever I visit.  There was talk about all of us going out to Yellowstone.  I am quite fine with this idea since they want to go in the summer when it’s warm.  Plus they have cabins there instead of ferries, so how cold could it really get?  (Don’t answer that.)  For now, I shall continue to wear my short sleeve shirts year round.  For a dozen years Seattle folk have questioned my sanity for that reason (and many others).  I think back to that day, remember just how cold I was, and shrug it off.

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I apologize for the quality, but it’s a scan of a print-out of a scan of a glossy. 😐
Oh, and Mom took it.

A Childish Lesson

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Childish Lesson

Sam was hardly the greatest uncle his family had ever produced.  A single, rather introverted fellow, Sam remained content with the busy schedule that he kept.  While his siblings were up late nursing small children, Sam was out late acting childish with other single adults.  He wasn’t a bad person, he wasn’t even a terrible uncle; it simply wasn’t the first activity that he marked on his calendar.  He had made it a habit to visit his nieces.  He had even attended their dance recital.  However there were plenty of times he could have visited Stephanie and Susan that he had opted out of.

The girls were both quite cute and the eldest was well aware of just how cute she was.  The youngest had yet to learn this lesson; she mostly just did what Stephanie told her too.  They looked enough like sisters that people guessed as much without being told.  They had round faces, blue eyes, and blonde hair.  Stephanie’s hair had lost the springy curls that Susan still had, however that meant that she had less tangles to worry about.  

Sam had spent enough time with the ankle-biters to know that Susan was his favorite.  He refused to give a reason as to why, but he insisted that it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Susan looked just like him when he was born.  That was a complete coincidence.  None of the family really believed that, not even Sam.

Along came the birthday party.  Like any other family, Sam’s brother and his sister-in-law had thrown birthday gatherings before.  This year, Sam’s parents were in town to see their grandchildren so he felt that reuniting the family was probably a good idea.  Stephanie and Susan were considerate enough to have their birthdays within a week or two of each other (give or take three years), so it was really just one more visit added to his schedule. 

Sam was wary of small children having birthday parties.  He was at a point in his life where he was trying to get rid of stuff.  He was trying to stop accumulating and start simplifying.  The notion of a gathering where two youngsters acquire even more toys did not entirely appeal to him.  Without meaning to, Sam showed up at his brother’s house without any gifts.  Only upon entering the front door did he realized the faux pas that he had committed.  His relatives shrugged it off and soon the girls were ready for their gifts.

Stephanie, as always, went first.  She was the oldest and the bossies.  No one really seemed to mind.  Soon, and with much ripping of paper, she beheld a doll just a tiny bit smaller than her.  It was intricately decorated and designed, with clothes carefully crafted and a face that looked lifelike enough to endear itself in to any girl’s heart.  “It’s just what I wanted”, Stephanie replied with a smile.

Sam sat, unmoved physically or emotionally.  He was there to support the family.  He felt no need to get emotionally involved.  It was a nice gift, his seven year-old relative was pleased; everything was fine. 

Next it was Susan’s turn.  She was handed a similar sized box and her eyes went wide.  She approached cautiously.  She looked at the box that her mom was offering her.  She looked at her mom.  She looked at her grandmother.  Then she looked back at her mom with a declaration of surprise and awe in her eyes.  “For me?”  The words came out of her tiny mouth with excitement and disbelief.  She struggled with the box that was the same size as her.  She tried hugging it, which proved to yield no results.  Stephanie tried to help.  She held the box to the ground while Susan pulled at the paper and lifted the lid with a mighty heaving action.  Soon, a similar doll to Stephanie’s lay in the box in front of her.  “Thanks!”

Sam found himself taken aback.  This was a moment he had not expected to have with the four year-old.  She was not a child who assumed that things would be given to her.  She hadn’t expected anything.  Susan probably would have been happy to see Stephanie get a gift so long as she got to play with it once in a while.  The entire moment could have been described in one word; joy.  She was thrilled because someone had thought to give her something and she was ecstatic that it was something she had wanted.  There was no attitude of being owed anything.  She couldn’t have been upset that she didn’t get what she wanted because she had never expected to get anything.

Sam found his manly exterior cracking.  He was relieved that everyone was thoroughly enamored with the two girls playing and accessorizing their new dolls.  Their distraction gave him a minute to swallow the lump in his throat and contain himself.  Yep, Sam thought to himself, definitely my favorite niece.  He then sat up and considered scratching his chest or burping.  After all, he had his reputation to think of.

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Dressed for the Dirty Duty

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Dressed for the Dirty Duty

(Over at her site, kiradault suggested that folks write about a funny memory.  If this story amuses, you have her to thank.  If it’s just all kinds of odd, then blame me.)

As I was growing up, my two siblings and I had our share of pets.  My mom had her birds here and there, my dad was indifferent, and there seemed to always be a fishing floating around in a glass container somewhere.  There was the giant fish tank that I had no desire to ever clean.  I still remember Jamie, the fish that I kept in a small bowl on top of my dresser.

Jamie met his end at the paws of a cat.  I know what you’re thinking, but Jamie did not die in the typical fashion.  Our cat at the time felt it deserved a more unique kind of death.  Instead of putting her paw in the bowl, catching Jamie, and eating him for dinner, our cat took a more sadistic option.  She used what kitty-strength she had and knocked over Jamie’s bowl.  There we found Jamie, gasping for air (or in his case, water), as the cat looked on.  Maybe she was gloating about her triumph and was going to eat Jamie but we interrupted her?  It seems possible, but I always figured that cat simply wanted all the attention for herself.

ImageI, being the youngest of the three, thought I should get all of the cat’s attention and none of the effort.  My brother, much like my dad, did not really have any interest in our cats.  So I happily let my sister do all the dirty work.  One day, for a reason I do not remember, I was assigned the task of cleaning out the litter box.  Thinking back on it, this was not the greatest hardship that could befall a small boy.  But for me, this sort of smelly task required reinforcements.

First and foremost, I donned a pair of woodshop glasses.  You know; those flexi-plastic light-green things that hug to your face to keep the sawdust out.  For some reason, I thought it was imperative that I have those over my eyes.  Quickly added to my supplies list were gloves.  Now, one hears “gloves” and thinks perhaps some food handlers gloves or maybe some mittens.  Nope, I once again raided my dad’s woodshop and got the thickest, roughest, most industrial gloves one could ask for.  One never knows where a cat has been or what trouble they have gotten into; clearly their poop required extra protection.

You would think that would be enough. Perhaps this eight year-old in his hyper-color t-shirt (tie-dye orange, thankyouverymuch) would wear a bandana to cover his nose.  For some reason, that was the one part of me I did not cover.  No, in the middle of summer I decided to don my winter coat as protection against the two or three pithy clumps that needed to be scooped.

So there I was; a young fellow with combed-“enough” hair decked out in jeans, the aforementioned tie-dye shirt, a puffy winter jacket, green worker glasses, and burlap-like gloves.  I of course felt the need to top it all off with a hardhat.  Bright white; to contrast the black winter jacket, I’m sure.  And I did it.  I comically held my breath long enough to get those three little pieces of pee and poop into a milk carton.  I made quite the show of exhaling the now “clean and refreshing” air.  I am not entirely proud of this overly dramatic show of wackiness.  I would like to just scoop it up, toss it in a carton, and pour some cat litter over it.  But I cannot.  There is one obstacle standing in my way; my family.

I have a family that remembers far too much.  Should my family ever forget?  They have photos of the whole thing.  So whenever I get too full of just how spiffy I am, they have the perfect ammo to deflate me.  Darnit.

The Unborn Child

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

The Unborn Child

Picture a girl like many other girls.  She was born to a quiet family; complete with siblings, fish, and every now and then a cat.  She lived in the suburbs, sledded down the hill when there was snow, and shared lawn-mowing duties in the summer.  She wore leggings as pants in the eighties, had her share of toy horses, went to church each Sunday, and her room was painted in light pink.  She didn’t become overly involved in school, but she had excellent grades and spent much of her summer reading books until three or four in the morning.  In short, her childhood was pleasant.

Then she left the home and went to college.  Being the nice, quiet gal that she is, she made friends with her roommates.  Nothing terribly sordid or untoward occurred at their Christian college.  She studied plenty and came home each summer.  She worked the typical cashiering jobs but always exited the workforce when college season rolled around again.  Of course, she excelled and graduated on time.  She moved in with her parents and looked for a job that would suit her.  Not long after, she found a rather special guy.  She took her time, waited until she was absolutely sure, and then the two of them got married in a nice summer ceremony.  As was usually the case with her, it was a bright and sunny day.  There would be no rain on her parade; that would come later.

Sure enough, the two bought a house.  They had a son and eventually added a few cats to the mix.  There were a few surprises added to their lives.  Giant potholes opened up in the street, winter storms unlike anything she had been used to as a child were commonplace, and their son was more of a handful than she had first expected.  However, theirs was nothing to complain about.  They liked their lives.  They loved their son, so they thought they would have some more children.  He wanted four to six little ones while she would have been happy with two to four.  So they tried and waited.  They waited.  The waiting wasn’t going well.  That rainy day had come around for them.

Medical assistance was sought.  Tests were run, procedures were attempted, and things got hairy.  Over the course of several years they tried their best and prayed.  They had moments of hope here and there.  But along came a miscarriage.  They mourned, slowly recovered, and got up the courage to try again.  Then came the news; twins.  But, because things don’t always go as we would like, those lives ended in another miscarriage.  After more suffering and more praying, it was decided that there was only so much that they could take and they tried the adoption route.

Raising a child that someone else birthed proved to be just as challenging.  This was not the storyline of a sitcom that they had been shown.  There were the fees to be paid, the applications to fill out, and the interviews to be presentable for.  The couple had a lovely quality to them, yet they hoped and waited to be found perfect for the perfect child.  Parents met with them.  Feelings and gut instincts were taken into account.  Each time, the result was the same.  They usually felt some peace with each child that was not to be theirs.  However with each disappointment they started to wonder if they weren’t thinking big enough.  They considered adopting internationally.  Skin color wasn’t an obstacle that would stop them; why not give a child who was struggling an opportunity to live with them?  In the end, this didn’t sit right with them either and they abandoned the notion.

That was how things were.  For all their attempts and all their work, they found their house emptier than they would have like.  Sure, their son was pretty fun.  He liked to watch construction work happen and enjoyed being outside with ducks and ponds.  The cats did their neurotic thing that felines do, the child went to school, and the parents worked at their jobs and with the church.  They decided that the life they had was enough.  They could work and toil and continue making themselves miserable by hitting their heads against brick walls, or they could let the world turn as it would.  They would be content with what they had.

Now imagine the joy they had when they found out they were pregnant last fall.  Picture how nervous and concerned they were when it had all happened unexpectedly.  The first few weeks were a test on their trust and their hopes.  They didn’t want to see yet another child taken away when they just wanted to love them.  They wanted this child to survive and be healthy.

She is.  She was born yesterday.  And I’m very happy for this couple I care about.  I’m glad that their seven years of waiting ended the way I always thought it should.

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The Hungry Game

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Hungry Game

Julie was going to win.  It was that simple.  She could feel the urge building up inside of her.  The competition was fierce; they were all motivated to win.  But Julie was going to come out on top.  Victory would be hers.  She wasn’t above inflicting a little injury here or there to take the coveted prize. 

Things in the Sholm household had gotten a little intense over the years.  In retrospect, Susan Sholm never should have created pie-night each Sunday.  It had all started out so benign.  Jeremy, the oldest was on his way to college.  He only had a few months left as a high school student and his parents had run out of ways to get him to eat meals with them.  Jeremy was always making plans with his girlfriend or taking drives in one of his friends’ cars.  It wasn’t until Susan had been taking a pie out of the oven one opportune Sunday evening when Jeremy’s olfactory senses won out over his desire for independence. 

“Is that… pie?” Jeremy had cautiously asked.

“Yes it is”, Susan replied, an idea had already started forming itself in her head.  “Why don’t you stay and have some with us?”

“I don’t know”, he hesitated.  The plans he had tempted him.  But were they better than pie?

“Say, look at that”, said Roger as he hugged his wife.  “Is that strawberry rhubarb?”

“Uh huh”, Susan quietly affirmed as her face beamed.  She could see from the look on Jeremy’s face that she had won the battle.  It had been so long since she had made the pie that she had forgotten her mother’s old truism; there’s no beating strawberry rhubarb.

“I guess I could stay for a bit”, Jeremy said as he shrugged off his letterman’s jacket.  No sooner had the back of his t-shirt been laid bare when his little brother Joe ran and jumped on. 

“Piggy back ride!”, Joe demanded.

“Get off your brother, Joe”, Susan said.  She tried to pretend that she was upset at her youngest for clinging onto his older brother.  Still, part of her cherished the way the two boys played together so happily even though they were seven years apart.  She watched as Jeremy plucked his brother off his back and carried him, wiggling and laughing, under his arm and to the dinner table.  Julie, the middle child and the only daughter, sat down at the table and sighed at her brothers.  She slowly and reluctantly pulled off her headphones but didn’t stop her music that was blaring out of the speakers.

“Mom”, Julie asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s strawberry rhubarb pie.”

“But we never have pie”.

“I’ve been making that complaint for years”, Roger added.

“Don’t you like pie?”, Susan asked.

“I can’t remember the last time we had any”, she said with wide eyes.  She flicked the power to her music player off, her fingers fumbling with the switch while her saucer-like gaze remained fixed on the pastry. 

And thus, pie night was born.  Each and every Sunday there was a different kind of pie waiting to be ravenously consumed by the Sholm clan.  It had all started out so innocently.  Then, as always seems to happen, things got interesting. 

Joe had gone to a week-long camp over break and had returned with a new activity.  “Spoons” had been quite the craze around the log cabin table and Joe had taken right to it.  Everyone sat around a circular table at a pile of spoons lay at the center.  The catch was, there was always one less spoon than there were kids.  Each time the call was made, the kids scrambled to grab the spoon.  With each round played, the kids and spoons dwindled down until there were only two left fighting for the one spoon.  And that spoon had power.  The person holding that spoon got their first pick at dessert.

Susan had been wary when Joe excitedly regaled the family with how the game was played.  She thought it was a recipe for injuries, but Roger had suggested that they could all use a little reckless fun in their lives. 

Soon, every member of the family had their strategies.  Roger was the sneaky one.  He would often acquire a spoon in the first few rounds as he quietly and stealthily palmed a spoon when no one was looking.  Joe’s plan was quite frantic.  He would pull himself up onto the table so his belly was rubbing against the edge and flail about until he got his hand on a spoon.  Sometimes he would end up with two or three and he would do his best to hold on to as many as possible.  Jeremy was the quiet show of force.  He shot his arm out with all its muscles and tight skin and seized the spoon that he wanted and brought it home.  It was this single-minded, powerful move that almost always assured him the dessert of his choice. 

Julie was no slouch.  She was the schemer.  If she saw someone fumble a spoon or if she thought she could sneak her dad’s spoon away from him, she would strike quickly and efficiently.  Like a coiled cat, she sprang out of nowhere and pounced on the stray.  Susan, her daughter’s mother, was also after any spoon that happened to come her way.  Typically it was a spoon that got accidently sent sliding to the floor in all the chaotic rushing around.  Most nights Susan would tell herself that having her family around was enough for her.  If she had wanted pie that badly, she would have just made her own and not told anyone.  (Susan was actually not obsessed with pie.  Happily for her, no one had yet to discover the secret compartment in her breadbox that always hid a dozen or so baked chocolate chip cookies.)

Susan liked seeing her family huddled around the table, even if their attack modes were set to “annihilate”.  At least we’re all gathered together.  We’re having fun as a family; that counts for something.  I hope.  She assessed the crowd around her recklessly scratched up dining table.  Joe, naturally, was climbing all over Jeremy.  Tonight it was holding onto Jeremy’s wrist while his massive older brother lifted Joe up and down with one arm.  Roger was finishing up some article that he was reading on his phone’s screen.  Julie was the one that seemed a bit odd. 

For one thing, Julie wasn’t wearing her headphones.   She had taken them off earlier and earlier on pie night so as not to damage them in the tussle, but this was early even for her.  Julie looked like she was staring at the pie a little too intently.  Susan was about to say something when her husband’s voice broke the silence.

“Okay, what say we get this pie night started?”  All eyes quickly turned to Susan expectantly.  She tried to put her concern for Julie aside as they resumed their weekly ritual.

“Tonight we’re having apple cinnamon”.

A agreeable chatter filled the air and the three serious competitors rubbed their hands together (Julie wondered for the umpteenth time if they consciously knew that they all did that) while Joe ran to get four spoons. 

“I had an idea”, Julie offered.  Joe took his hand out of the silverware drawer and looked to his sister with a confused face.  “What if”, she continued, “the five of us all just went after one spoon?”

“You don’t think that would be a bit too challenging?  I mean, all those limbs in there; Julie I think it might be a little much”, Roger offered.

“Oh, well Dad, if you’re afraid you’ll lose then we don’t’ have to.”

“Afraid, Julie?  I taught you how to drive, that should prove I fear nothing.”

“Not even being beaten by your only daughter?  I know those other pie nights you’ve been trying to wear us down; maybe you just know you couldn’t take us when we’re all in peak condition?”

“You, young lady, have just talked yourself into a world of trouble.”  Roger cleared his throat and adopted his father-knows-best- voice.  “There shall be one spoon tonight, and the number of spoons shall be one.”

“Roger, maybe we should…”

“Mom”, Julie interrupted.  “If Dad thinks he can handle this, why don’t we give him a shot?”

Susan looked around to the other sets of eyes gathered at the table and saw the hunger building up.  They were already pushing their chairs away and leaning towards the table. 

“All right”, she said.  “But I’m not playing this round.  I’ll just to get the pie.”

“Fine, then you can be the one to call ‘Go’.”

Susan sighed.  “Go”.

No sooner had the word left her mouth than Julie leapt forth.  Her body half glided, half flopped onto the table.  Susan hoped that the table would hold her, and it did.  Susan shook her head at all the rough-housing her furniture had undertaken. 

The rest of her family grabbed and clamored to acquire the spoon from Julie’s grip.  But her nights of coming in second to the rough-housing men of her family had toughened her up.  She tucked the spoon into her stomach, rolled up in the fetal position, and felt herself fall to the ground.

She squeaked a sort of “oorf” noise as her body bounced of the cold linoleum, but she held fast to her trophy.  She had fought and planned for this symbol of power and wasn’t about to give it up for anyone.  Eventually, after Jeremy had tried prying her arms loose and Joe had tried tickling, the men conceded defeat.  Julie scrolled her eyes back and forth, saw that everyone had granted her victory, and stood up with her smile broad and cheerful.

“I won!”, she exclaimed.  “You are all slow.  I, am fast.  Like speed in human form.  This is me.  You are slow.  Simple.”

“Uh huh”, Roger commented as he tried not to laugh.  “The first pick of pie is yours.  Quite the plan you had there.”

Julie smiled as Susan set the pie in front of her.  She rubbed her hands together but stopped when Susan put a compass and ruler by the knife. 

“What’s this?” Julie asked, quite confused.

“Oh, I just thought we’d cut the pie into five pieces of the exact same size.  That way you get to pick, but we all get the same amount.”

“Uuuuuuuhhhh”, Julie exclaimed exasperated.  Her planning had given her victory, but Susan had still thwarted her.  Julie was the reckless one, but both of them were capable of planning ahead.  It was no surprise that Julie had schemed up a way to win.  She was, quite simply, her mother’s daughter.

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