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Musings

  • We were about ten minutes out from the vet’s office when the doggie downers hit Moonshine.  He slowly turned his head away from the view of the countryside whipping by and looked at me as if to say, “We can’t stop here.  This is cat country.”
    • He’s fine.  He just slept for about 8 hours after we got home.
  • Strategic thinking – Waiting until you’ve taken both dogs to the vet before doing the summer vacuum and scrub of the truck.
  • There’s just something so romantic about walking up behind your wife and wrapping your arms around her, then bringing your lips close to her ear and softly whispering, “I bought you a new weedwhacker.”
  • I’m not saying that we put out a lot of stuff out on the curb this week, but I’m pretty sure the garbage man put an ancient and powerful curse on the next few generations of our family.
  • New house rule – If a book exists for a given movie, Boo must read said book before he is allowed to watch it.

100 Years On – Belleau Wood

Alternate Title – “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”

In early June, 1918, elements of the American Expeditionary Force, including the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments,  halted an attack by several German divisions that threatened to cross the Marne River and threaten Paris.  By the end of the month, at a cost of almost 2000 dead, the Marines had cleared the Germans out of Belleau Wood.

Fighting was close, vicious, and intense.  On multiple occasions, combat was reduced to fists and bayonets.  In one instance, an American attack went the wrong way in fog, got cut to pieces by German defenders, yet still managed to wreck the units opposing them.  Several American units lost most, if not all, of their officers and sergeants, yet the soldiers and Marines fought on.

On June 26, Belleau Wood was finally cleared of German resistance, ending a protracted, bloody battle.  Allied casualties came to almost 10,000 dead and wounded, while total German casualties are not known.

 

Musings

  • Every time we use it, the pressure washer becomes more and more of a good investment.
    • Of course, since it was Irish Woman using it this afternoon, it seemed like an excellent investment to me.
  • Irish Woman has exquisite timing.  She finished planting the last plant in the garden just as the first peal of thunder broke the afternoon quiet and the first drops of rain splatted down upon her head.
  • In related news, there’s nothing like trying to grill hamburgers during a thunderstorm.
    • If you came to my cookout during the Louisville NRAAM a couple of years ago, it was a lot like that.
  • What does it say about me that I was happier about a new pair of high-top Chuck Taylor Converse tennis shoes than a new iPad today?

Thought for the Day

Escort Duty – Part 22

Olo, the sergeant of the gate, watched as the brightly painted wagon rattled to a halt on the paving stones in front of him. He waved his oaken rod at the flies humming around his head, which bothered him almost as much as the rivulets of sweat which ran down through his beard.

“Where’re you going with that rolling calamity?” he called sarcastically to the driver.

“We’re the entertainment for the festival next weekend!” the rotund man with a pointed beard replied, “His lordship wants to hear the finest music in the world when he celebrates the first day of summer!”

“Entertainers?” said the sergeant, motioning to his men, who moved to surround the wagon.

“Yes,” the man said nervously, “Singers, jugglers, you know, entertainers.”

“And what’s in the wagon?”

“Just our costumes and instruments. The rest of the troop will be here tomorrow. We’re just here to get things set up.”

“We’ll see what that means when you pull it all out, now won’t we?”

The driver clambered down from his perch behind the horses.

“Please, sir, it’s all packed in there good and tight! It’ll take hours to put it all back without breaking something!”

“Well, that’s too bad, because I didn’t see you on any list to be exempt from searches, now did I?”

The driver considered the soldier for a moment, then said quietly, “And what would it take to be put on such a list, my good sir?”

The sergeant’s face broke into a knowing grin. “Why, a little donation to his lordship’s budget might suffice to make that happen,” he replied.

The driver reached into his pouch and pulled out two silver coins. The sergeant flushed at that, and pointed to the guards.

“Haul all of that junk out so I can inspect it, and be quick about it! Two silvers! I’ve never been so insulted!”

The driver took three more coins from his purse and held them up. The sergeant cocked his head and thought for a moment, then smiled again as he took all five coins.

“Nice to meet someone in the service of the duke, sir,” he said, “Enjoy your stay in Booda.”

The driver said nothing as he remounted the wagon and snapped the reins at his mules. The wagon started with a rattle and made its way through the gates. After they crossed the plaza beyond the gates, he turned into a side street, reining his horses to a stop. He handed the reins to his wife, and climbed down, looking about for soldiers and anyone curious about the strange wagon on their street.

Walking to the back of the cart, he pulled up the canvas cover and hissed, “We’re inside!”

Simon and Hollo slipped out from under the cover and onto the cobblestoned street. Hollo immediately started looking around for danger, while Simon reached back into the cart and removed a couple of items.

Handing the driver a sack that jingled with coins, Simon said, “Thank you, good sir. You’ve done us a great service today.”

“Just mind that you forget how you got in here and where you got those things, and I’ll call it even,” the driver said, snatching the purse from Simon and climbing back onto the wagon. While it clattered down the street, Simon and Hollo hurried down a narrow side street toward the first tower.

“So, what’s the plan?” Hollo asked.

“First we have to figure out which tower the princess is in.”

The two men approached the first tower. The courtyard in front of its gates was deserted, and only a pair of bored guards stood watch.

“Probably not here,” Simon said, “but it never hurts to check.”

He pulled the cloak he had taken from the cart on over his armor, then put a large, floppy straw hat on his head. He strode out into the courtyard and sat down near the gate.

Leaning his head back, he began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner,

With a hey down down a down down

His name is Arthur a Bland;

There is nere a squire in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid bold Arthur stand.

 

He continued with the ballad as the guards watched him, but neither made any move to stop him. After he had finished, he began it again. The larger of the two guards looked to the other, shrugged, and stuck his arm through the gates. He pitched a bronze coin at Simon’s feet.

“Here, now, take that and be off with you,” he said gruffly.

Simon stood and bowed, saying “Thank ye, sir, thank ye” in his best country accent.

The guard watched him walk back to the alley, then resumed his post.

“She’s not there,” Simon said as he rejoined Hollo, “Let’s go to the next one.”

They approached the second tower, which had a courtyard bustling with merchants and people buying their wares. All of this was watched by black-garbed guards, both at the gate and from within.

“More guards here,” Hollo said, “this must be the place.”

“Your turn,” Simon said, taking the hat off and handing it to his companion.

“Me?” Hollo replied, “I can’t sing.”

“Someone might notice if the same man sat in the courtyard of all three towers and sang the same song.”

“But I don’t know that song!”

“Nonsense, you listened to it for a month while you perched on top of that hut. Now go on. I’ll watch the tower while you sing.”

Hollo sighed and put on the hat. He kept his head down as he walked to the gate, then sat down with his back to the guards and began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a, uh, holly fanner,

With a hey down down a down, uh, down

His name is Walter, uh, Brand;

There is nere a flyer in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid old Walter stand.

 

Simon winced as he listened to his friend stumble through the verse, his voice a loud croak which seemed to carry and fill the entire courtyard. All of the merchants and their customers stopped to gawk at him, and after a moment, a clod from inside the gates landed next to Hollo.

“Get out of here, ya idiot!” one of the guards boomed, “Before I have my men come out there and kick your ass between your ears!”

Hollo quickly stood up and scurried back to the alley. Every eye followed him, and the noise of the market did not resume until after he disappeared into the shadows. Simon met him a few yards back from the plaza, trying to suppress a smile.

“Yeah, laugh,” Hollo hissed sarcastically, pulling the hat from his head, “I told you I can’t sing.”

“It was good enough,” Simon said, “Only one tower left.”

The last tower’s courtyard had but a few people in it, most of them either buying vegetables from one of the carts and stalls ringing its perimeter or drawing water from the well at its center.

Simon put on the hat as he walked casually to take a seat next to one of the stalls. After a moment, he began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner,

With a hey down down a down down

His name is Arthur a Bland;

There is nere a squire in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid bold Arthur stand.

 

~~~

Erika sat on the windowsill, looking down on the gates and the courtyard beyond. She was not dressed in the fine gown and jewelry the duke had sent for her, but it was a constant reminder that eventually she would be taken into his odious presence once again.

As she sat in the light of the setting sun, the sounds of someone singing down in the courtyard came to her. She began to hum along to the familiar tune as she idly ran a silver comb through her hair.

Soon, she realized that she recognized the song and the voice singing it, and her heart skipped a beat. She opened her mouth and began to sing along, her voice ringing down into the courtyard below.

“Marry gep with a wenion!” quoth Arthur a Bland,
“Art thou such a goodly man?
I care not a fig for thy looking so big;
Mend thou thyself where thou can.”

Then Robin Hood he unbuckled his belt,
He laid down his bow so long;
He took up a staff of another oke graff,
That was both stiff and strong.

~~~

Simon heard the sweet sound of Erika’s voice, and a smile came to his face. He continued to sing, finishing the song with a bow to the crowd that gathered to hear him. The guard on the other side of the gate tossed a couple of copper coins to him, as did several of the onlookers.

“Thank you, good people, thank you,” he said as he backed into the alley. Hollo waited there for him.

“This is the place. I knew she’d hear me and answer if she was in any of the towers,” Simon said, taking the hat off, but leaving on the cloak.

“Where is she?” Hollo said.

“Somewhere up in that tower, near the top, I think. Not sure how we’re going to get up there, but at least we know where she is.”


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Musings

  • Before the rumors start to spread, I need to make a few things clear:
    • Yes I climbed a tree.  I used a ladder to get into the branches and then went up about ten feet.
      • I was trying to bring down a fallen branch that was hooked up there so that it didn’t fall and impale somebody.
    • Yes, I fell out of the tree.  It was about 8 feet and I slowed my descent by catching the last branch and holding on for dear life.
      • I may or may not have bounced against several other branches on the way down, but that’s beside the point.
    • Yes, I landed on my feet and did not fall over.
      • I even remembered to flex my knees, for which I am proud of myself.
    • No, I did not injure my right shoulder.
      • I injured that shoulder decades ago.  The correct word to use is “re-injured”.
    • No, I did not go to the hospital to get checked out.
    • Yes, I have full use of my arm.
      • No, I am not gritting my teeth to do so.  Not much, anyway.
    • Yes, I did some self care.
      • Two Aleve and a grapefruit seltzer
  • In totally unrelated news, Irish Woman has started casting “Banish to Urgent Care” at me every fifteen minutes or so.  Thus far, I’ve made my saving throw against it, probably because of my +2 Amulet of Pigheadedness.
  • I watched my little brother graduate from college over the Internet this afternoon. To nobody’s surprise, they mispronounced his name.
    • Oh well, his degree’s just as good with or without an announcer who can be arsed to find out how to say a name that’s not Hispanic or Anglo-Saxon.

Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Short Review – This is the most fun I’ve had at a Star Wars movie since I was in junior high school.  If you’re a fan, you need to go see it, because it’s the kind of movie we’ve been waiting for since the credits ended on Return of the Jedi.

Long Review –

Solo: A Star Wars Story” recounts the origin story of Han Solo, interstellar rogue, smuggler, and scruffy-looking nerf herder.  It’s basically a heist movie, with Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suoatomo) teaming up with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to do a big job.  The mysterious woman from Han’s past, Qi’ra (Emily Clark), is along for the ride, and both she and the audience get their money’s worth.

The movie starts with a chase scene, and it doesn’t let up until the final scenes.  There is tension, intrigue, humor, love, and just enough fan service to grab the young me and make him cheer.  Ron Howard and crew did an excellent job of plotting this movie, and left out a lot of the moralizing, philosophy and “Hey, we know it never worked like this before, but that’s how it works now” that has plagued Episodes VII and VIII.

This was just a plain, fun, popcorn movie.  There were surprises sprinkled throughout the story, but it never knocked me out of the narrative.  The effects were phenomenal, which is to be expected, but they weren’t the centerpiece.  The music supported the action, always there, but never intrusive.  The acting and story were believable and easy to fall into, and I never felt like I was being preached to.

Surprisingly, the theater was only about half full.  Usually, a Star Wars movie is impossible to get tickets for on opening weekend.  Honestly, I didn’t want to go see it at first, mainly due to Episode VIII, but the word-of-mouth I got from trusted friends who saw it on premiere night, as well as Boo talking about Star Wars nonstop for a couple of weeks, changed my mind.  I’m glad they did.  If we want Disney to make more Star Wars movies that are actually fun to watch, we need to support Solo.

If you’re looking for a fun summer blockbuster, this is it.  Is it high cinematic art?  Nope.  Will you walk away a changed human being?  Sorry, but no.  Will you be entertained for a few hours and think about the movie for a lot longer?  You bet you will.

Trust me, go see it.

Book Review – The Gray Man – Twilight

Jim Curtis has returned to his Gray Man series, and Twilight is an excellent continuation to the story of a Texas lawman who’s a little more than he appears to  be. This is another excellent story about family and duty, told by a man who knows more about both subjects than just about anyone I know.

Never count an old man out, even when he’s hanging up his hat!

Deputy Sheriff John Cronin is looking forward to a quiet retirement, working on the ranch, and handing it off to his granddaughter Jesse. And he’s got to pass on a generation worth of investigations, but it’s not as easy as handing over the case files and the keys. First, he’s got to train Aaron Miller to fill his role, from the way to dress for rural juries to the finer points of stakeouts and murder investigations, Texas style.

Between the oil patch workers and the cartel’s drug runners, there are plenty of loose ends for him to tie off… or terminate…

Twilight tells the tale of how John Cronin tries to pass along his legacy to the next generation, but the world just won’t let him go.  Curtis continues to expand on the work of earlier books in the series, and the action keeps moving throughout this book.  With a wry sense of humor and an eye toward how real people interact in both good and bad times, he shows us how a warrior and peace officer hangs up his spurs.

Book Review – In the Shadow of the Cross

Lou Antonelli has gathered together a number of his short stories and published them as In the Shadow of the Cross.

Over a 15 year career devoted primarily to short science fiction, Lou Antonelli was unusual in that he accurately depicted the role of religion in people’s lives. In a nation and era when religion in general – and Christianity in particular – is being oppressed by the opinion leaders of America, Antonelli – who is a life-long journalist – depicted religion as it should be if political correctness in the science fiction field didn’t suppress it.

This collection gathers up stories Antonelli wrote over the years where Christianity plays a role. They range from down home and next door to far flung and in outer space. They remind us that despite the best efforts of a Godless material world, Christianity is a sturdy creed that remains a vital part of many people’s lives.

This collection touches on religion, especially Christianity, in a variety of touching and creative ways.  My favorite was “On a Spiritual Plain”, where a chaplain must learn to deal with the intersection of alien religion, death, and his own faith.  There is also a series of stories dealing with a world in which no one religion has gained dominance, which explores how a religion based on peace and forgiveness fares when mixed in with equally fervent believers in religions that are not quite as peaceful or forgiving.

I burned through this book in a couple of hours, but the stories kept me thinking for days afterward.  It’s a good summer read, and if you’ve enjoyed Antonelli’s other works or are looking for thoughtful, well told stories, I think you’ll like In the Shadow of the Cross.

Book Review – The Stones of Silence

Peter Grant has started a new series set in the same universe as his excellent Maxwell Saga, called “Cochrane’s Company”.  Its first book, The Stones of Silence, is a great read.

The secret is out – the Mycenae system is the hottest new mineral find in the spiral arm. Now it’s about to become ground zero in a gold rush by every crooked company and asteroid thief in the galaxy.

Andrew Cochrane, with his crew of the finest veterans and cunning rogues, have an even better scheme. They’ve conned the owner into hiring them as a mercenary security company to defend the system. With no oversight but their own, Cochrane’s Company plans to seize the richest pickings for themselves.

But nothing ever comes easy. If they want to keep their loot, they’re going to have to outwit and outfight every smuggler, bandit and renegade after the same prize – and their boss, too!

Stones of Silence spins the tale of how a group of people come together to create a new space-based security enterprise, and the conflicts that arise as they work to secure their first contract and make their fortunes.

Grant is a consumate storyteller.  If you’ve enjoyed his Maxwell and Laredo series, you’ll love this one.  He takes his time to flesh out his characters and their world, while at the same time weaving a story full of intrigue.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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