Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cheering for the Cheerleaders

Being a parent of a special needs child can have its difficult moments, but I think that, if anything, it makes the good moments all that much better.

In our area, pretty much all sports and related activities prior to middle school age are run by the local youth group, the Brandywine Youth Club. In addition to all the boys and girls sports it also includes cheerleading. A few of the high school age cheerleaders from the district, along with their parents, have put together a cheering squad made up of 10 or 12 special needs kids of various ages, in addition to the regular squad.

This weekend at our high school dozens of teams from all over the region, ranging in age from club squads of tiny little kids all the way through high school squads, gathered for a huge annual competition. The parking lots were overflowing, the gym was packed to the rafters, and out of 36 teams to compete today, our little gang started the event as the first squad on the floor. Parents and supporters of all the teams filled the stands, wearing team colors and waving flags and banners. Every available inch of floor space was crammed with cheerleading squads whose turns were not coming for a while yet.

It is sometimes frustrating and hard to comprehend the lack of understanding some people show towards these kind of kids, but today was not one of those days. Our girls did about a 3 minute routine, having fun and trying hard. Sometimes out of sync, sometimes lost and confused, sometimes bumping into each other, sometimes more concerned with surveying the crowd than remembering their routine. But trying hard. When they were done, a gym full of strangers, with other cheer squads chanting in support, for the most part stood and gave them a standing ovation.

It renewed my faith in humanity, and I don't think I could have been any more proud of Julia if I had been there to watch her receive a Nobel Prize.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review - My Father's Tears by John Updike

Just a quick note that I finished John Updike's final story collection, My Father's Tears (2009). I would say that these were solid if unspectacular stories, but it may be that my frame of reference is such that I cannot truly appreciate them at a deeper level. What I mean by that is that many if not most of the stories in this collection deal with issues of older men in the twilight of their lives. Being in my early to mid-forties, I can try to imagine what that would be like, but cannot really understand. In much the same way that Philip Roth's recent works have focused on mortality, legacy and the like, I can appreciate them without connecting with them.

A solid 3.5 stars out of 5.

Books read in 2010: 4.
Books by new authors: 3 (Canin, Harding and Updike).
Books published in 2010: (none yet).

I suspect that my fiction reading will go on the back burner for a little while as I received my copy of Black Powder miniatures rules in the mail yesterday and am diving into that. Good eye candy if nothing else...

Up soon on the fiction side may be Steve Yarbrough's new novel Safe From the Neighbors, which was just published and should be arriving soon from Amazon. Disney says that Disney World is the happiest place on earth, but they are wrong - is the happiest place on earth.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Painting Table January 27, 2010

Just to prove that I haven't given up on the idea of getting anything painted myself, here is a picture of what's in progress on the painting table at the moment. Front and back in two groups of six each are the 12 German sergeants as mentioned in a previous post (one in the front row is AWOL - he is out of the box and being painted at the moment...). Sandwiched between them are a pair of leader figures; the one on the yellow caparisoned horse will be a single generic leader figure, the one that basically hasn't been started yet on the left will be King Edward III of England. This two leaders are from the Old Glory Hundred Years War English personality pack.

At this point, I have basically only blocked in the very basic colors on the riders themselves, and on the couple of caparisoned horses in the lower right.

After posting the first picture above, I realized that I had actually painted a bit more this evening, and that the current state of progress was a little bit better than the first picture would indicate. This second picture shows a little more work on highlighting the riders, and basic first coat blocking of most of the horse colors. Still a long way to go...things are still very rough looking at this point.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day of Battle Campaign

I have been feeling the strong urge to do something of a campaign nature, and I think I have just the answer. A ways back I had been working on a number of expansion ideas for Chris Parker's Day of Battle III rules. What I had been tinkering with were not changes to the base rules, but things to add an additional layer of flavor to the personality aspect of the game. The honor point and advancement mechanisms already in place would serve as the basics of the game-to-game progression, but there would be additional charts to roll on to get new traits and characteristics as you rose in social rank and esteem. Subordinate leaders rolling on these tables would add a bit of spice to the games, and would help in a solo campaign because it would give you the need to have certain leaders behave in certain ways. All of this additional material would require using the full universe of advanced and optional rules, something that Chris and I have not been able to do in convention games. For example, a trait could be that the leader must always lead from the front when attached to a unit in melee. I have to dig the drafts of this stuff out and revisit them, but I think a modest sized solo campaign would provide just the impetus I need to polish these things up. It will also give me a good reason to be working on something in the white space between face to face games with real people...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hobby Update - January 23, 2010

Work on hobby things has been very slow since the holidays. Since posting my goals on finishing my Hundred Years War and Wars of the Roses armies over the winter and spring, I have had the opposite of the intended effect on myself (from a painting standpoint). Instead of stimulating a burst of activity, I have frozen myself almost to a halt. The only positive development on this front is that there is a decent-sized order at Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka that will substantially complete both periods for me. The remaining cavalry and command bits to be done by me are "nice to haves" and not "need to haves". So I can rationalize to myself that even though I am doing absolutely nothing myself, I am still making progress towards my goals.

I am working (slowly...) on some non-knight cavalry that will be useful for pretty much any period from about 1100-1400. The figures themselves are Old Glory 25mm Teutonic sergeants from the "Liegnitz - Mongols in Europe" range. They can pass for just about anything over a several hundred year period.

I have also been burning some time reorganizing my storage space and methods; re-boxing some stuff, setting aside some things to get rid of, etc.

The final thing I have been doing goes back to my posts on my struggles with what horse and musket era period to concentrate on. I received a bunch of bases from Litko today, and have begun re-basing my 15mm Napoleonics. What I have in the way of 15mm Naps (French, Peninsula Brits and some Austrians) I am going to re-base for use with Napoleonic Warfare (Saga rules). The basic rules engine for all of Saga's rules are very similar, and since our gang has learned Medieval Warfare, we will be well-positioned to do the Napoleonic version. Anything to get Napoleonics back on the table...

Currently Reading - January 23, 2010

In the spirit of knocking off a few partially finished collections of short stories that have been haunting my nightstand for a while now, I am working on finishing John Updike's final (and posthumous) story collection titled My Father's Tears (2009). In writing my "2009 Reading Year in Review" post, I was looking at the list of authors where I own a large number of their books, but have read few or none. Updike floated near the top of that list. In my defense, I count a book as "read" when it is completed. In the case of Updike and some of the others on the list (TC Boyle, Richard Bausch, Russell Banks, William Trevor), I have read lots of their stories, but in parts of books, not whole ones. In the pursuit of completion, I will be finishing up some of those so that I can check them off as done. Does it really matter? No. But I'm doing it anyway... it's that thing about lists I discussed earlier...

A few other partially read story collections on my list are:
  • Spoiled, by Caitlin Macy (2009). Brilliant so far. The title story alone is worth the price of the book.
  • If the River was Whiskey, by TC Boyle (1989).
  • How it Ended (Collected Stories). by Jay McInerney (2009). I have liked this author since his first two books, Bright Lights Big City and Ransom were published by Vintage Contemporaries in first release paperbacks in the 1980's (back when I read good books the first time around).
  • Palm of the Hand Stories, by Yasunari Kawabata (1988). Beautiful little stories by the Japanese Nobel Laureate (1968, the first Japanese for literature). These stories are what he called "palm of the hand" stories because they tend to be only a few pages in length. Brilliant pieces of work that often leave you wanting them to be much longer.
  • Raymond Carver should also be added to this list, I suppose. Carver was one of the great American short story writers, and one of those few who wrote exclusively in that form and didn't also write novels. I have most of Carver's works and have read pieces of most of them, but have never completed any of them.

So that's what's on the reading list in the short term.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Black Powder rules

For games in the horse and musket era (which for me means primarily American Revolution and Napoleonics), I have had trouble settling on a rules set that I think has enough detail to be interesting but that is simple and elegant enough to be able to use with some of my less-rules-intensive gaming friends. American Civil War isn't an issue for this because of everyones' level of familiarity and general comfort with Fire and Fury. The Black Powder rules have gotten some good press recently on other blogs, so when I saw that they had become available today on Amazon at 34% off, I ordered a copy.

I am anxiously awaiting their arrival, and can't wait to give them a good read-through and playing.

As for other rules, as noted previously I do like From Valmy to Waterloo for Napoleonics, but it is a bit complicated and slow going (especially with cavalry); things that are not likely to make them a winner these days. For American Rev, which I would like to do more of, I have tried Flint and Steel but it is also fairly complicated and I never learned it well enough to run games with it. We also use a homebrewed regimental version of Fire and Fury, but it is only marginally satisfying. If the Fire and Fury folks ever getting around to publishing America's Wars, their official regimental rules adaption of basic Fire and Fury, I'm sure it will be good but they have been talking up its imminent arrival for what seems like most of my adult life without it actually ever coming out. Oh well.

More to come...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review - Emperor of the Air by Ethan Canin

The reading binge continues. I had a vacation day today to get a few things done, and had a little extra time, so I took a relaxing hour and finished off the last few stories in the collection Emperor of the Air, by Ethan Canin (1988). I had read maybe half of this book last year, and then it got pushed to the bottom of a pile and I never finished it. This is one nice thing about story collections, though; read a piece here, a piece there...

There are nine stories, and all are good solid stories about ordinary people. Lots of interesting characters, interesting situations and insightful observations. A very enjoyable book and I would not hesitate to read more by Canin.

4 stars out of 5.

Books read in 2010: 3
New authors read in 2010: 2 (Harding and Canin)
Books published in 2010 read: none yet.

Not sure exactly what to dive into next, but a likely candidate is a brand new story collection by Robert Stone called Fun with Problems.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reading Goals for 2010

All this writing about books makes me think about what I would like to accomplish in 2010 as far as literature and reading goes, so without further ado:
  1. In order to broaden my horizons, I will try to read ten books by authors I have not read before.
  2. In order to keep up with what is new, I will read at least ten books published in 2010 (or that have a 2010 first US edition).
  3. Seeing that I did not read anything in calendar year 2009 that was published further back than 1980, I will try to read a couple of books from the 1970's or earlier. Classics perhaps.
  4. I will read at least 30 books, or an average of 2.5 per month.

Nothing here is a real stretch, but it is good to have goals, however trivial.

Book Review - Tinkers, by Paul Harding

I finished Tinkers by Paul Harding (2009) last night after starting it late last year, getting distracted into other things around the holidays, and then rewinding and finishing up this year. This book was a very highly regarded first novel, and while I liked it, it never really completely pulled me in to the point that I couldn't wait to get to the end. Harding's style certainly wasn't bad, but I never completely felt like I got into a groove, which I often do. I also never read a passage that made me grab a pad and pen off the nightstand and make a note of the page so that I would remember to quote it here in the blog.

3.5 stars out of 5. Almost very good but not quite.

This is book 2 of 2010 for those of you keeping score at home. And new author number 1.

In the early lead for book of the year remains JM Coetzee's Summertime.

2009 - The Reading Year in Review

I was about to log my second finished book of 2010 when I went back and realized that I had never put a total to last year's reading. In the fiction category, I ended 2009 with a respectable 31 books finished. This is way down from 50+ in 2008, but when you consider that I read a lot more history this year, it seems pretty good to me. It also explains why I don't get more miniatures painted... The quality of what I read was really high - there were many excellent and very good books, outnumbering the so-so ones handily. All in all a good year.

Giving 1 to 5 stars to a book seems a bit arbitrary given the whims of the moment, my mood on any given day and various other considerations, but I did exactly that this year. A five star "Excellent" book would be one of the ones I would go out of my way to pack if I were given one suitcase on the way to a desert island and told I could fill it with books. A five star book needs to be read by anybody who likes books and trusts my judgment (oh, come on, take a flier!). Anything with 4 or 4.5 stars I would heartily recommend to friends or others to read. 3 or 3.5 are good books, but there are better...

5 stars - Excellent
  • One Foot in Eden, Ron Rash (2002). My favorite book of the year, which following on his Serena last year, makes two years in a row he has written my favorite book read in the year.
  • American Rust, Philipp Meyer (2009). Book #2 of the year
  • Girls, Frederick Busch (1997). Tied for #3.
  • The Song is You, Arthur Phillips (2009). Tied for #3.
  • Waiting for the Barbarians, JM Coetzee (1980). A classic for good reason.
  • Rescue Missions (Stories), Frederick Busch (2006). The last book by one of my favorite authors, published soon after he died.

4.5 stars - Almost Excellent

  • That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo (2009). For some reason, in my early forties, books about mid-life angst seem to resonate a little more than they used to, and this is a good one.
  • Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead (2009).
  • The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss (1989).

4 stars - Very Good

  • Saints at the River, Ron Rash (2004).
  • The World Made Straight, Ron Rash (2006). There's a pattern here...
  • Half in Love (Stories), Maile Meloy (2002).
  • The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick (1987).
  • That Night, Alice McDermott (1987).
  • Nobody Move, Denis Johnson (2009).
  • Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving (2009). Big book; should count as two...
  • A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick (2009).
  • Isn't It Romantic, Ron Hansen (2003).
  • Slow Man, JM Coetzee (2005).
  • Going to See the Elephant, Rodes Fishburne (2009).
  • Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner (1984).
  • Wartime Lies, Louis Begley (1991).
  • Waveland, Frederick Barthelme (2009).

3.5 stars - Almost Very Good

  • Miles From Nowhere, Nami Mun (2009). Too dark for my tastes to be rated higher. And I don't mind dark, so this must have been dark.
  • All the Living, CE Morgan (2009).
  • Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (1998). Very good book until the predictable and silly ending torpedo'ed it. In retrospect, this might be a 3...
  • The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna, Dagoberto Gilb (1994).

3 stars - Good but Nothing Special

  • The Humbling, Philip Roth (2009). Middle of the road effort from a great author. Sort of seemed to me like he mailed this one in, but has so much talent that it was good anyway.
  • Enchanted Night, Steven Millhauser (1999). I have read a few different things by Millhauser and I never quite know what to think. That may be a good thing, I'm not sure.
  • The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker (2009). Went to my alma mater.
  • Second Marriage, Frederick Barthelme (1984).

Nothing I read rated lower than 3 stars which means one of two things - I am an easy grader or I do my homework on books and authors and read stuff with a high probability of it being good. Or both. Now that I think of it there were a few books I got part way into, lost interest and stopped reading. Hmm. I should keep track of those too.

Factoids on the year's Reading:

  • I read 31 books.
  • I bought 126 books for a total of $926.83, or $7.36 per book, or $77 per month (books are my crack habit). Most are hardcovers and many were bought at used book stores and book fairs cheaply and in big bunches. I also do an excellent job of finding bargains in Amazon shops and trolling for low-bids on eBay.
  • I incurred a deficit of 95 more books purchased than books read. Not that this is a bad thing.
  • My library of modern literature is up to approximately 677 books, of which I have read all or part of only about 170.
  • The 31 books read in 2009 broke out as follows: six from the 1980's, five from the 1990's, and the remaining 20 from the 2000's (13 of which were from 2009 alone).
  • Only two of the 31 were story collections, which is much less than in prior years (although 3 half-finished collections are on the night stand and will show up in 2010 totals).
  • 14 of these books were by authors I had not read before.

So I did a very good job of keeping current on reading some of the better books of the year as they were hot off the presses, and I did a good job of reading different authors. I hope to keep that up this year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Review - Summertime - January 17, 2010

I finished Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee's new novel , Summertime (2009), earlier today (it has a 2009 copyright date from overseas but was just released in the US last week). This is an excellent read, and is cleverly crafted. It tells the story of a brief stretch of the life of a South African writer named John Coetzee, since deceased. The story is told from the point of view of interviews with five people who knew the fictionalized (?) Coetzee in the early to mid 1970's, as well as a number of fragments from the writer's notebooks.

The real Coetzee blurs the lines between what is real and what is not - the fictional Coetzee has the same name, much of the same history, writes books of the same titles and wins the Nobel Prize. But to consider this book autobiography would clearly be taking it too literally; to go the opposite way and consider it pure fiction would be ridiculous. It is interesting to speculate on where exactly it lies between those two poles.

Whatever the answer to that might be, it does read as an excellent novel at face value. How much more to it there is than that might ultimately only really matter to an academic or a scholar.

Here are a few of the passages that struck me as I was reading:

  • "...he ran his life according to principles, whereas I was a pragmatist. Pragmatism always beats principles; that is just the way things are. The universe moves, the ground changes under our feet; principles are always a step behind. Principles are the stuff of comedy. Comedy is what you get when principles bump into reality." [page 63]
  • "Not dignified, you say. Well, that is what you risk when you fall in love. You risk losing your dignity." [page 185]
  • " a personal level there was a certain tension between us. I wanted our relationship to grow and develop, he wanted it to remain the same, without change. That was what caused the breach, in the end. Because between a man and a woman there is no standing still, in my view. Either you are going up or you are going down." [page 240]

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Between Sun and Moon

One of the things I love about Rush is the poetry in their music. From a lesser known album called Counterparts (1993).

There is a lake between sun and moon
Not too many know about
In the silence between whisper and shout
The space between wonder and doubt

This is a fine place
Shining face to face
Those bonfire lights in the mirror of sky
The space between wonder and why

There is a fine line between love and illusion
A fine place to penetrate
The gap between actor and act
The lens between wishes and fact

This is a fine place
To hesitate
Those bonfire lights in the lake of sky
The time between wonder and why

Some need to pray to the sun at high noon
Some need to howl at the midwinter moon
Reborn and baptized in a moment of grace
We just need a break
From the headlong race

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Voice

If there is a God, and if that God has a voice, I bet it sounds just like Colm Wilkinson singing Bring Him Home in Les Miserables.

What a gift to be able to make music like that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Night Stand Gone Wild

OK, so I said that a picture of my night stand and all the accumulated stuff on it would be funny. Some might agree. My bedside table tends to be a magnet for magazines, books, gaming rules and supplements and all manner of other things. This picture, taken moments ago shows its current state, which is about as bad as it gets before I put about half the stuff back where it belongs and then begin the cycle again. I know that it needs cleaning when the front pile grows to a height that starts to block the light from the lamp and makes reading difficult (it's almost there), and the piles on the right become tall enough that they are in danger of toppling over from their own weight (definitely true).

This mess (and I use the term lovingly) is comprised of:

  • 9 or 10 wargaming rule books and supplements, including a bunch of Saga rules, War of the Ring rules by Games Workshop, and Day of Battle III by Chris Parker.
  • 1 Model Railroader magazine.
  • 7 or 8 White Dwarf magazines (fantasy and sci fi gaming - I read it primarily for the painting inspiration and the Lord of the Rings material).
  • 1 National Geographic magazine.
  • 1 National Geographic Traveller magazine.
  • 1 Backpacker magazine.
  • 1 Appalachian trail guide (of Pennsylvania circuit hikes).
  • 1 Canoe and Kayak magazine.
  • 1 Mad River Canoe company catalog.
  • 2 James Lee Burke novels in the Dave Robicheaux series (mystery/detective stuff - the one "page turner" author I read with any regularity).
  • 6 history books, including the Guilford Courthouse book mentioned in my last book post.
  • 3 journal books for note taking, capturing stray thoughts, gaming ideas, etc...
  • 2 legal pads.
  • 3 catalogs from miniatures companies.
  • 18 novels and short story collections, including the Coetzee book I am currently reading. A good selection of stuff here. I see Hilary Mantel, Maile Meloy, John Updike, Michael Chabon, TC Boyle, Jay McInerney, Paul Harding, Alice Munro, Paul Auster and Thomas Pynchon just in the visible stuff.
  • 1 coaster for a glass of water.
  • 3 pens.
  • 1 lamp.
  • 1 alarm clock.
  • 1 TV remote. It doesn't actually run the TV, but does turn off the close captioning that the ghost in the machine periodically turns on...

Maybe I should just get a bigger night stand.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Currently Reading - January 8, 2010

I have been reading a bunch of history and wargaming rules stuff lately, and feel I need to get a good novel on the front burner. I had the opportunity to work out of my home office today, so I popped out to the local Barnes and Noble at lunch time and picked up 2003 Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee's highly regarded new book, Summertime. I have read two of his books previously and liked them, and this is supposed to be a very good one, so after I sign off here, I will head to bed and get started on this... Book #1 for 2010.

On the history side, I have Long, Obstinate and Bloody; the Battle of Guilford Courthouse by Babits and Howard on the nightstand as well, and am a ways into it.

Actually, some day I should post a picture of my nightstand. It would make people laugh.

Book Review - The Flower of Chivalry

Sometime back over the Christmas holidays, I finished a book I had been reading in spurts over the last couple of months. The Flower of Chivalry; Bertrand du Guesclin and the Hundred Years War by Richard Vernier (2003). I enjoyed the book, being firmly engrossed in a Hundred Years War binge at the moment, courtesy of my miniatures gaming. Du Guesclin was a Breton minor noble who went on to be the Constable of France, one of the highest military offices in France.

From a wargamer's perspective, the book is not about battles and campaigns from the tabletop sense, but is a fascinating military political history that highlights the convoluted relationships between lords and masters in feudal Europe. Du Guesclin, a native of Brittany, was at times at odds with the French king (his patron) due to his roots as well as his conquered Spanish holdings. He was both a son of Brittany, a French vassal and a Spanish lord. Complicated stuff, but it paints a good picture of the life of a militarily inclined noble in the 1300's, and what chivalry was really like, for better or worse. Not for the casual reader or a wargamer looking for detailed information on battles to recreate, but a good read for a serious student of the period.

Poitiers 1356, Part 1

Dave, Leo, Ryan and I gathered on December 30, 2009 to play a Medieval Warfare (Saga rules) game based loosely on the battle of Poitiers in 1356. It was Poitiers-ish, let's say.

Leo commanded the French left, consisting of Marshal Audrehem's cavalry wing on the far flank, and the Duke of Bourbon's infantry wing. Dave commanded the French right consisting of the Dauphin Charles' infantry wing and the Comte de Brienne's light infantry wing on the far right. King Jean II had a third main infantry wing in reserve.

On the English side, Ryan commanded the Duke of Warwick's wing on the right, the Black Prince's wing in the center, and yours truly commanded the Duke of Suffolk's wing on the left.

Battle report verbage will be brief, but the pictures are pretty nice...

Initial situation. French on the left, English on the right. In a few instances, small sections of hedge have been placed in front of English longbow units as stand ins for the bases of archer stakes I have not finished yet. The French hand of God is apparently pointing out "I shall smite the English with these". The nit-picker in me cringes to see that in some of the first few pictures in this sequence, the balsa wood sticks noting the boundaries between commands have been left on the table. Ugh.

The French center-left advances, with Marshal Audrehem's mounted men at arms in the distance. Note the Miniature Building Authority castle walls in the background. Why put them on the table? Because they're pretty...

French advancing across the field. Nothing subtle going on here. English bowfire has been fairly effective, but instances of going low on ammo have also been fairly common.

The French are poised. Charges are imminent. Audrehem has begun the assault on the far flank. Note also the wad of paper towel in the town in the distance. This is only of note because it was used to mop up a minor spill of a glass of 1985 Joseph Phelps Insignia. Not that we casually drink 25 year old world class wines with every game, but Leo is an oenophile like myself and was gracious enough to bring a spectacular bottle to the game. It was getting to the end of its storable life, and needed to be drunk. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it... No townspeople drowned, but some did get wet. Good to see those pesky balsa sticks are gone, too.

Audrehem's lead unit smashes into Warwick's flank unit. Tin cans versus bowmen. The longbows inflicted a few hits on the men at arms on the way in, but now it is going to get ugly for the English. Get the second line ready.

Contact! French units come crashing in across the front line. In the foreground, Brienne's light infantry get cocky and launch an attack on the English flank of longbowmen behind hedges and uphill.

Audrehem's charges, supported by the foot attacks of Bourbon's wing begin to take a toll on Warwick's men. Arrow supply is becoming an issue for the English as well as a key unit has run out completely. A large block of French pavisier spears and more mounted men at arms prepare to introduce themselves.

Bourbon and the Dauphin grinding away at the Black Prince's troops in the center.

Audrehem victorious. English and Spanish ally cavalry in the second line (out of camera view to the right) prepare to throw themselves into the breach. Maybe the French men at arms can be stopped. Or maybe not. A large block of Scottish spearmen look anxiously to their right as two units of French knights pass by.

Brienne's first attack on the right fails. Incredibly effective longbow fire decimates the light infantry attackers. One unit can be seen routing away from combat with the Cheshire longbows (green and white tunics - supposedly one of the earliest known instances of a "uniform" in the west), who have unwisely had to pursue out from behind their hedge (they were required to do so by their lack of orders). They are now facing down a unit of French dismounted men at arms. Oops. Another unit of French peasant archers can be seen retreating in disorder after seeing their friends rout and failing their subsequent morale check.

At this point it was almost 1am so we packed it in for the night, but the game is still set up and will remain so until we are able to finish.
To be continued...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Musical Tidbit - Buddy Guy

The kids are in bed asleep, the house is quiet, and I am listening to a classic album while putting together my order to get my 2009 blog postings in book format via (Highly recommended by the way. I saw brother Dave's softcover copy of his 2009 postings over the holidays and it was a quality product.)

Feels Like Rain by Buddy Guy (1993). Pop tinged blues from an old time master. I have 7 or 8 of Buddy's albums and like them all, but this classic album is blues pop that would be accessible to many more folks than his more truly bluesy albums. If you like blues guitar and soulful singing, give this a try. The title track is one of my all time favorite songs.

Down here the river meets the sea
And in the sticky heat I feel ya opening up to me
Love comes out of nowhere Baby
Just like a hurricane
And it feels like rain
And it feels like rain

Lying here, underneath the stars right next to you
And I'm wondering who you are and
How do you do?
How do you do, Baby?
The clouds roll in across the moon
And the wind howls out your name
And it feels like rain
And it feels like rain...

So batten down the hatch Baby
And leave your heart up your sleeve
It looks like we're in for stormy weather
Ain't no cause for us to leave
Just lay here in my arms
Let it wash away the pain
And it feels like rain
And it feels like rain

I love this track, but the whole album is solid end to end.

Damned Right I've Got the Blues (1991 Grammy winner) is just as good.

All of which reminds me of a great George Carlin bit that Dave's blog quoted recently (sorry Dave for the blatant pilfering...). "White people ought to understand it's their job to give people the blues, not to get them. And certainly not to sing or play them.'s not enough to know which notes to play. You need to know why they need to be played. ...what do white people have to be blue about...Banana Republic ran out of khakis?"

Dilemma du Jour - Muskets, but which?

As far as my miniatures collections go, I have been painting (and having painted for me) almost exclusively medievals, with some renaissance, for the better part of the last year or more. I have committed to completing my Hundred Years War and Wars of the Roses armies over the next several months, neither of which are large tasks at this point, as my Sri Lankan friends will be doing the heavy lifting for me. After that, I have been leaning towards doing Ottomans circa Nicopolis (1396), but I am having second thoughts. I think I am beginning to suffer from hack and slash burnout. I find my thoughts drifting with increasing frequency to various musket era periods. Napoleonics. Seven Years War. American Revolution. French and Indian War. American Civil War. Fascinating periods, all of which are of interest to me, and all of which I already have some figures for (in some cases a great many).

Which brings me to quite a dilemma. I am at my most conflicted when trying to decide what to do in these periods.
  • I have ACW in 15mm in decent quantity but could use more Federals to replace some older less well-painted ones that I dislike using (snob!).
  • I have modest SYW armies of Prussians and Austrians in tiny 5mm based for Koenig Krieg.
  • I have modest Napoleonic 15mm forces for French, Peninsula Brits and some Austrians.
  • I have a HUGE collection of 5mm Napoleonics based for From Valmy to Waterloo that we never use. I have the entire French Armee du Nord, the entire Anglo-Allied army, and a corps and a half out of the four Prussian corps. That's something like 175,000 men at 1:60 scale.
  • I have a decent collection of 25mm AWI based for a regimental Fire and Fury adaption (not the real one they are working on). These figs are all for the Brandywine armies since I live about 5 minutes from that battlefield.
  • I have a few odds and ends of French and Indian War figs based for skirmish gaming, but not enough to run a game.

The reasons for my indecision generally fall into a couple of categories, and tend to be fairly consistent across all of them. Inability to settle on a rules set that I really like for the period. Because of this, a resulting inability to settle on figure scale and basing scheme. As a general rule, my scale of choice would be 25mm, as I like the visual impact of the larger scales, and I really don't enjoy painting anything smaller. However, I do recognize that smaller scales have the benefit of enabling much larger games on my 6 foot by 8 foot table. I have a difficult time mentally committing to 25mm in SYW or Napoleonics because of the predominance of cavalry, and the greater table space I believe these periods deserve to be done "right". Whatever that means. That being said, 25mm Seven Years War and Napoleonic figures are a sight to behold.

I don't know what to do...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 - The Year to Come

Random thoughts on the upcoming year, again in no particular order.

  • Must remember to fish on a somewhat regular basis.
  • Have been talking about canoeing for years. This needs to be the year to get it done.
  • Must hike on a routine basis. Good exercise and just nice to be outdoors.
  • Fight my inner introvert. Get out with friends more.
  • Must find a way back into gaming Napoleonics, one of my true gaming loves. Got away from this for quite a while now due to not having a rules set that has the right combination of tactical flavor without a burdensome amount of detail. I have to find a rules set that works.
  • From a hobby perspective, I need to not get too hung up on planning and "what I should be doing". It's an organic thing. Let it go where it wants to go. If that means jumping from project to project, so be it. Within reason.
  • Live in the moment. Be less concerned with where you have been and where you are going and remember to live each day as it comes.
  • Take another real vacation. The family deserves it.
  • In addition to hiking, I would like to join Dave and the guys on an overnight backpacking trip at some point to see if I like the camping part. I think I will.
  • Keep a dedicated painting area set up so that when the mood strikes to paint a little bit, I have something set up and ready to go. I have typically done most of my painting by having stuff on a corner of the dining room table. This doesn't work well for me or Amp.
  • Simplify my life. For some reason as the new year begins, I am struck by the feeling that I have accumulated too much stuff, and am feeling the overwhelming desire to purge. A spring cleaning bug that has bitten early - strike while the iron is hot.
Those are the things that occur to me at the moment.

2009 - The Year in Review

Notes and observations from the year just ended. The small stuff. In no particular order.

  • We had a few fishing trips to the River, which the girls enjoyed, and are anxious to continue to do. I am very glad they like to fish at this age, as it was one of my favorite things growing up.
  • The family went on a real vacation trip this year, something we hadn't done for a while.
  • Getting out into the outdoors to do some hiking with Dave and Leo was a great new thing for me, beginning in the fall. This has to be kept going.
  • From a wargaming perspective, I painted about as many figures as I can reasonably expect to, had less figures painted in Sri Lanka than I normally have over the last few years (too many other things going on), and played less actual games than I would have liked. There were some stretches of routine game-playing, but too many long droughts.
  • I read less modern literature than I did last year, but still managed to get about 30 books read, not counting history and some fluff stuff. The 30 or so only counts "serious" books. Boy, that sounds snobbish, huh?
  • Golf suffered this year. After golfing 10-12 times in 2008, I believe I only got out 3 times this year, and my game showed the effects of that disuse.
  • Last, and certainly not least, since beginning this blog in September, I managed 65+ posts and had a great time doing it. Even if few people are reading this, it serves a nice purpose for organizing my thoughts, and when printed out (as Dave got for Christmas in book form from family via blog2print), creates a wonderful journal of what was going on in my life. For posterity, Jeeves...
Anyway, these are just a few thoughts, but my mind is wandering more towards the year ahead.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Coming and Going - New Years 2010

As seems to be the case with just about every blog I follow with any regularity, it is an opportune time to reflect a little bit on 2009 and to ponder what I would like to see happen in 2010. So with a belly full of a very tasty Masaman curry from a local Thai place, and a glass of nicely oaked Chardonnay safely in hand...

I continue to have much to be thankful for, the most important of which is that the whole gang had a happy and healthy year. Ultimately, I couldn't ask for more than that. There are certainly more things crossing my mind now than I care to put in writing, but suffice it to say that watching the girls grow is a neverending source of wonder. And worry. And bewilderment. And frustration. And joy. Lots of joy.

I have a great family, wonderful friends, and a successful career with a good solid company. My day to day worries are few (in any significant way), and I have the freedom to indulge my hobbies and interests in pretty much whatever manner I choose. Having the time to do so remains the biggest challenge, but that is because my life is filled with many great things, each of which take some time. So there are worse situations to be in. Much to be thankful for indeed.
The simplest and most sincere wish I could have for the coming year is that the great good fortune that blessed my family this year continue.

When sitting down to write this, I had intended to catalog lists of specific things in 2009 worthy of noting, and listing some goals for 2010. Maybe I will do so in a future posting, but as I read through what I have already written, it seems that I have already said everything that truly needs saying.
So...good night.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Disney World - Days 7 and 8 (The End)

Saturday December 19, 2009 - Day 7, and the last full day
Day seven was another cool one in Florida, but nothing compared to what they were getting back home. A northeast blizzard was hitting much of the Mid Atlantic and New England states, including Philadelphia, where they were getting what would total 22 inches of snow when all was said and done. This ended up being one of the largest December snow storms on record. Being a worrier, frequent checks of the Weather Channel on the hotel room TV had yours truly very concerned that we would be unable to get home on Sunday. I did check with the hotel's front desk, and if we got stuck they had plenty of rooms for us to extend our stay.

With that knowledge in hand, we were off to Animal Kingdom for round 2... Animal Kingdom was not as exciting to the kids as some of the other parks, probably because it is less interactive or participatory than Magic Kingdom, Epcot or even Hollywood Studios, but me and Mom pushed hard to return to it before we left.

You gotta love Tigger. And the girls look happy (me too for that matter...).

I love music of all types and forms, and one thing that Disney is great at, especially at Christmas time, is performances of all kinds of singing and instrumental groups. AK had a great percussion group that performed on the street that we were fortunate enough to see two or three times in passing. At one of the shows, the girls were able to grab some jingle bell sticks and join in.

And tigers are cool. Way cool. Unless they are eating you, I suppose...

Every parade at Disney is very well done, but I especially liked the one at Animal Kingdom.

Another great day, but for me, I was never able to completely forget about the blizzard back home and what that would mean for our return trip.

Sunday December 20, 2009 - Day 8 and Final
To make Sunday morning as easy as possible, we packed most of our things the night before, which worked out well. After getting up and showered, we were able to pack our last odds and ends, have coffee and a donut, and make our way down to the front of the hotel to catch our Magical Express bus back to the airport. We were due to catch a 10:00am bus in order to get there in plenty of time for our 1:20pm flight, which was scheduled to get us into Philly at 3:55pm. If all went well, a limo would be waiting to take us home (hiring a private car was cheaper than either parking at the airport for a week or putting 4 people on one of those airport vans - and much more convenient). Our flight was showing as on time when I checked at the concierge desk at the hotel, but I was pretty well convinced that we would get to the airport, wait all day through cascading delays, and then be cancelled. I couldn't help going through the list of everything that could go wrong - our plane stuck somewhere else and unable to get to Orlando, Philly airport unable to dig out, limo not waiting for us, us able to get home but having to trudge through 2 feet of snow to the house (I would gladly accept the last one!).

To make a long story short, and to end on a happy note, our return trip went absolutely as well as we could have hoped flying into the cleanup of a blizzard. Our plane got to Orlando from Chicago with no issues, which was actually my biggest worry. Since our flight wasn't due to get to Philly until late afternoon, and since the snow had ended overnight, I thought that landing in Philly would be OK. But if our plane was coming from a city in the northeast it might have been unable to get out in the first place, in which case there would be no plane to return on.

We had a short ground delay in Orlando while air traffic control in Philly found us a slot in the incoming traffic stream, and ended up taking off at 2:10, or less than an hour later than planned. After circling south Jersey for an extra 20 minutes or so, we were on the ground (amd looking at a lot of snow). Our limo driver was waiting for us, and our three suitcases were some of the very first to come up onto the baggage carousel. We were home before 6pm, and found that our driveway had been cleared in our absence. We found out later that since our neighbors knew that we were out of town and coming back Sunday, they had chipped in and shoveled part of it and then had a passing plow do the rest. Thanks guys!

A great trip, but good to be home.

Disney World - Day 6

Friday December 18, 2009 - Day 6
The forecast for Friday was a very good chance of ready steady all day, so we decided to take a break from the parks and go to Downtown Disney, where we could do some shopping and other indoor activities. We got a late start, and arrived in time for lunch. We went into the Rain Forest Cafe, but were told after being seated that there would be a thunderstorm every 20 minutes during the meal. Knowing that Julia wouldn't like that, we left and ate at a really good sandwich place instead.

The shopping was pretty dull (for me!) but the Lego store was amazing. In the picture above, the people and dogs are all made out of standard sized Legos. I can't imagine how many pieces, and how much time and effort, went into each. This just proves that art comes in many many forms, some of them unexpected. We also saw a bell chorus concert by a high school group from Ohio that was very nice.

With the weather not nearly as bad as forecast, we bailed out on Downtown Disney and went back to Epcot, where we had no problem killing the rest of the afternoon. After sunset, we saw a show in a pavilion in England by a Beatles impersonation group called the British Invasion. They were very good, and the girls loved the show.

While in Epcot, I bought a Christmas present for myself, which as I write this on New Years Day, has still not arrived at the house. They said it would take 10-20 business days, and I am getting anxious.

Dinner was once again in Japan. All in all a very low key day.

Disney World - Day 5

Thursday December 17, 2009 - Day 5
The hot weather is gone, with forecasts of highs in the 70-72 degree range for the rest of our stay. Today is cool and there is an off and on misty rain that will last all day. We start the day with a character brunch in the hotel, and then plan to go back to Epcot because it is close and we are not sure what the weather is going to do. The characters at the brunch are Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck.

We did end up spending the whole day in the World Showcase area of Epcot, going from country to country, catching shows and street performances, and trying to keep dry. Some of the stuff we saw included a film about China, a group of Chinese child acrobats, a somewhat strange belly dancing thing in Morocco, a Monkey King storyteller in China, a drum show in Japan, and a wood carver in Africa. Lunch in Morocco was terrific, and we cannot go to Epcot and not eat tempura in the big restaurant in Japan (which we ended up doing again later in the week).

Outside one of the countries, we ran into Belle, a favorite character of the girls.

Because of the season, many of the countries had a street show with their version of Santa Claus. The one in Norway was creepy, the one in England was very elegant, but my favorite was backwoods Santa in Canada. I'm sure this will please some Canadians I know of!

There is an amphitheater outside the US, and we were lucky to get a seat for a holiday concert by a large orchestra and chorus. The girls were tired at this point and had a hard time sitting still, which made it hard to fully enjoy the show, but it was good nonetheless.
The end of a long day was the big fireworks show that Epcot has every night at 9:30. We were told that the show was 5 minutes longer than usual during the holidays. It was fantastic, although a little loud for Julia at times.

Disney World - Day 4

Wednesday December 14, 2009 - Day 4
We are settling into a decent sleeping routine, and Julia is definitely feeling back to normal now. This is the last day it is forecast to be hot, which will turn out to be true. Hollywood Studios is the park du jour, and we plan on what might be our last pool day later in the afternoon. From the Epcot Resorts, it is a boat ride, not a bus ride, which the kids really enjoyed (me too!).

The first picture shows the view of the Beach Club area from the boat dock. The hotel is in the right and center background, the Yacht Club is off to the left. The wrecked pirated ship is also the jump off point for a water slide that ends in the pool complex, which is all throughout the trees in the center distance. The second picture is me and Amp in front of the Christmas tree outside Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studios was a nice change of pace. It is all about shows and entertainment, not amusement park rides. The day consisted of character autographs, musical shows (Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast), the Indiana Jones stunt show, the Pixar parade, American Idol, and the High School Musical street show.

A definite highlight of the day was the kids getting pulled out of the front row to do be a part of a dance routine in the HSM3 show, as well as dancing in the Pixar character parade. Pictures of these were in an earlier post.

One thing that brought back a terrible memory was a visit to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground area. Everything in this enclosed play area is over sized to make the kids feel tiny. We went there for Grace to see it, which reminded me of our 2003 visit where we temporarily lost Julia here. She went into one end of a giant "ant hill" and didn't come back out, and didn't come out the other side. We knew she couldn't have gone far, but we couldn't find her for several minutes, and it was probably the single most vivid moment of pure panic in my life. Going back to it brought it all back to a degree that surprised me, and I couldn't wait to get out.

Late afternoon was spent at the pool, followed by dinner at the Captain's Grill in the Yacht Club.