Saturday, May 24, 2014

In Remembrance

American Flag

The final Monday of the month of May is nearly upon us and once again we pay honor to those who have fallen in the fields of battle preserving this wonderful country of ours. It is the day that Americans acknowledge all the brave military personnel who, without hesitation laid down their lives to ensure the rest of us non-military types have the freedom and liberty in which we hold so dear to our hearts.

The holiday once known as Decoration Day, was later changed formaly to Memorial Day in 1967 and has a long and distinguished history.

Throughout human history people have often decorated graves of those killed in battle with flowers, wreaths, personal items, and much more. But it wasn't until the Civil War that the practice of decorating a soldier's grave became so prominent. That war, the one between the North and the South, which left approximately 750,000 soldiers dead (according to the latest research conducted by historian J. David Hacker) resulted in citizens openly decorating the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers.

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President Johnson
There is contention of whom or what section of this country first displayed decorated graves or cemeteries but in 1865, due to the large loss of life during the Civil War, the Federal government began creating national military cemeteries. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania claims that women took to the task of decorating graves on July 4, 1864 but there is a cry of foul from Warrenton, Virginia which claims the practice started there on June 3, 1861. And yet on May 26, 1966 President Johnson signed a presidential proclamation saying Waterloo, New York was the birthplace for Memorial Day. But the first truly prominent celebration of Memorial Day was on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina by the town's freed slaves. At least 257 Union soldiers died at the Charleston Race Course, which was being used as a prisoner of war camp by the South, and the freed men and women decided to honor those soldiers who had died while putting an end to slavery. Ten thousand people (men, women and children) showed up for the remembrance of those soldiers who died horrible deaths while imprisoned at the race course.
Cemetery at Charleston Race Course

A bit confusing claiming to be the first but then again does it really matter who gets the shot at infamy when in reality the only thing that matters is for all of us to give thanks to those brave men and women who are no longer with us because of their selflessness?

So, fire up the barbeques and enjoy your time with friends and family but sometime during the day shoot a prayer up for those fallen heroes who are no longer with us.

At J and L we will.
J's father (George), grandfather (John), and uncle (Jack) are all buried here and served their country proud

Monday, May 19, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Eighty degrees with some mild to gusty winds from the south made it a perfect day to catch nine innings at the home of our local minor league, the Mavericks. A twenty minute drive north on Highway 395 had us arriving at the Stater Brothers Heritage Field parking lot in the small town of Adelanto.

We were excited!

John could not wait to clamber onto the pitcher's mound and throw a fast ball at the opposing batter from the Inland Empire 66ers but then again J has a vivid imagination. It was true that J was going to throw out the first ball at the Sunday game but there would be no batter ready to drill it back toward the pitcher's mound. Only J and a brave Maverick's player who would have the honor or terror of receiving a pitch from a guy who has only pitched bad lines when talking lately. His name has been purposely left out of the text to safeguard him from ridicule (but we did include his photo).

The man who stopped J's pitch with ease.
Our good friend, Terry Kurtz had invited us to the ball field Sunday the 18th of May so J could have a book signing for his latest novel, Soft Target, and to actually throw out the first ball of the game. The smile across J's face was priceless - just like a child in a gun store or would that be a candy store? You can see what brought smiles to a younger J during childhood.

We had the privilege of utilizing the Greiner Pontiac Skybox 1 for the signing and comfortable it was on that warm afternoon with a canvas awning to keep the sun off our heads, cushioned chairs and plenty of space to set out novels to be signed.

Our videographer, Paul Bakas, came along to film the event and got some amazing shots and film of J throwing the ball out, stills of players, J signing books, and more film showing the Sante Fe Drifters (cowboy/gunslinger re-enacters) as they entertained the baseball crowd with western antics during the 3rd and 6th inning. Watching good guys and bad guys shooting at each other is good old fashioned fun like watching a baseball game on a nice Sunday afternoon. It really is.

Bully and J having a good time hanging out.
Speaking of throwing the ball out. J had been nervous all morning hoping, praying, offering gifts to the gods that he wouldn't throw the pitch and have it roll up to the catcher like a pill bug. Nervous he should not have been as the pitch from the mound, all 60 feet and 6 inches reached home plate with no arch but a tad bit to the right which would have been called a ball. He knew, if given the chance, the next three would have been strikes.

"That was just my warm-up throw," J said while shaking hands with the catcher and smiling at the crowd.

Author busy signing away

Then it was onto game time and book signing. A well spent afternoon talking with new friends, explaining the writing process, and just doing a lot of hand shaking and laughing.

We didn't smile when the Maverick's lost 5 to 7 to the 66ers but that is how the game goes. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't but it's how you play the game that counts and the local boys did a pretty good job at that.

A special thanks to the following who were more than gracious hosts, really fun to be around and they all work for the Maverick's team. Matt Melchoir, Megan Patterson and Zach Osadche. You folks are awesome. And of course a great big thank you to the Maverick's team, owners and franchise, the Seattle Mariner's.

Play ball!!!!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tombstone's Shadow

Tombstone's Shadow

On May 4th, L received a phone call from our good friend Tino Luciano requesting a favor.

"Laureen, do you know a scroungy, smelly, no good side-winder who wouldn't mind being killed in front of a lot of tourists at Calico Ghost Town on the tenth. Someone despicable and irrational enough to go against the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday? I mean there will be name calling, taunting and lots of shooting and he will die."

"I'll tell John not to shave for a week."

So, that is how J ended up in a fracas with the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday (whom he actually greatly admires) on May 10th, 2014 at Calico ready to shoot it out with these renowned pistol wielding experts belonging to the Law Dogs 'N Ladies re-enactment group.

While donning his period outfit all J could say is: "I'm used to dressing up as a dandy during shoot 'em ups but today I'm unshaven, smelly and am going to die."

No sympathy from L who was dolled up in her 1880's get up looking beautiful as ever and knew before the car left the driveway that she would be the center of attention for the tourists at Calico while her husband scruffy to the point of having a Brillo pad on his face wouldn't get the slightest bit of attention.

Was J correct? The whole town of Calico seemed to stop when a group of French tourists surrounded Laureen as she prattled away in French while posing for photographs with their children, grandchildren, mothers, fathers, and strangers. The town Sheriff had to come and break the crowd up away from the parasol twirling woman.

Laureen was shameless.

But as the day drew on tempers started to build between the Cowboys and the Earps and  the town folk (tourists) knew there was a battle brewing close by.

Loud and ugly verbal taunts from Ike Clanton, the Cowboys and from J, aka Billy Clanton, were thrown at the Earps, Doc Holiday and the tourists whenever they had the chance, but it did nothing but ignite the hatred these groups had for each other (only two groups since the tourists were not armed).

Blood would be spilled in Tombstone this day - oops, Calico.

Not like a Hollywood movie set where everything is controlled, today's actions were choreographed by the wind gods with gusts of nearly fifty miles per hour at times with hats, skirts, and red sashes blowing all over the place.

Speaking of red sashes - J was wearing one (loaned by Tino Luciano) which was actually used in the film 'Tombstone' starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer back in 1993. Quite an honor to die during a gun battle with historic figures wearing a red sash that another actor died wearing while fighting other actors. Not even sure that makes sense but felt sort of cool to get bullet riddled with a piece of cloth another actor wore while getting bullet riddled.

 The shoot out went as all shoot outs do - some die and some live. In the Tombstone version (even in Calico) the Earp group killed pretty much all of the Cowboy group and as J laid in the wicked wind and hard dirt after receiving his third or fourth bullet from the Earps the only thing on his mind was: hoping the beer was cold at Lil's - the saloon not fifty yards from where he laid dead.

The beer was cold and not even Doc Holiday or Wyatt Earp could keep him from his eternal goal.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Giant's Causeway

Cliffs of the Causeway

The Irish are some of the world's most prolific story tellers hands down. Any doubt with this statement will be put to rest with the readings of Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, James Joyce and countless other scribes. The stories these and other writers put to the paper also brought tears, laughter, and remorse which seems to be a standby for the Irish.

Around the Causeway bend

One particular Irish myth is the story of Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCool) who built a basalt causeway from Northern Ireland to Scotland across the North Channel.

A myth because there are a number of variations concerning why Finn actually built the causeway in the first place. The one consistent theme was Finn accepted a physical confrontation with the Scottish giant Benandonner to see who was the strongest. The differences in the story occur with numerous endings with Finn losing, winning, running away from the Scotsman and other versions.

A bit of perspective
Can this be natural?
The bottom line of the myth is a great and entertaining fictional piece. And isn't that what a tall tale is supposed to be?

This World Heritage site, dedicated by UNESCO in 1986, is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland.

Fifty million or more years in the past this area was under a constant and destructive bombardment from volcanic activity. Molten basalt flowed through chalk beds which resulted in a very large lava plateau leaving behind tens of thousands of pillar like structures all lined up together to form what looks likes steps into the blue sea.

Laureen adds perspective

The various heights of the basalt columns are the result of how quickly the lava cooled.

Fast = shorter. Slow = taller.

Then again this is just science talking since there are not many of us around since the Paleogene Period. We will stick with science at this point for the explanation of the Giants Causeway.

The coastal area where this phenomena occurred is the number one tourist attraction in all of Northern Ireland. And this is probably true since 1693 when a paper was presented to the Royal Society by Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow at Trinity College in Dublin. And who is going to argue with a knighted personage?

Then again, this scenic and historical location is only three miles from the village of Bushmills. Yes, the one and only world famous distillery of whiskey.

J and L taking a break on the Causeway
Perhaps this is another reason for the popularity of the area and we'll drink to that.

Slippery when wet
But don't try maneuvering those slippery pillars of basalt after a few snorts of Bushmills - there's a need for steady footing there, Laddie.