Category Archives: Seasons

At the End of the Wardrobe

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Perhaps you’ve seen The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or you’ve read the book by C. S. Lewis of the same title. In the story, some young English children find much more than they’ve bargained for inside of a wardrobe: they find a portal to Narnia. The first of the children to stumble through only to find herself in a snowy, frozen land is Lucy Pevensy. The land of Narnia has had a curse placed on it by the wicked queen. She finds herself in a clearing with a lampstand.

Not long after Christmas, we had a snowfall here at our home in Georgia. It wasn’t much of a snowfall if you’re from Maine or places in the northern United States, but we had about three inches of the powdery white stuff and it hung around in some places for 3-4 days because the temperatures stayed below or slightly above freezing.

On the morning after the snow first fell, I took my camera and went out to capture the fairly rare event. As I came around the west end of our home, the image in today’s post presented itself to me and it reminded me of the lampstand in the clearing of Narnia. Now I’m wondering: if I go into the walk-in closed tonight, might I wind up in a strange, exciting place that I didn’t know was there?

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: On this day in 1943, Japanese forces on Guadalcanal Island, defeated by Marines, started to withdraw after the Japanese emperor finally gave them permission.

On July 6, 1942, the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal Island, part of the Solomon Islands chain, and began constructing an airfield. In response, the U.S. launched Operation Watchtower, in which American troops landed on five islands within the Solomon chain, including Guadalcanal. The landings on Florida, Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tananbogo met with much initial opposition from the Japanese defenders, despite the fact that the landings took the Japanese by surprise because bad weather had grounded their scouting aircraft. “I have never heard or read of this kind of fighting,” wrote one American major general on the scene. “These people refuse to surrender.”

The Americans who landed on Guadalcanal had an easier time of it, at least initially. More than 11,000 Marines landed, but 24 hours passed before the Japanese manning the garrison knew what had happened. The U.S. forces quickly met their main objective of taking the airfield, and the outnumbered Japanese troops temporarily retreated. Japanese reinforcements were landed, though, and fierce hand-to-hand jungle fighting ensued. The Americans were at a particular disadvantage because they were assaulted from both sea and air, but when the U.S. Navy supplied reinforcement troops, the Americans gained the advantage. By February 1943, the Japanese retreated on secret orders of their emperor. In fact, the Japanese retreat was so stealthy that the Americans did not even know it had taken place until they stumbled upon abandoned positions, empty boats, and discarded supplies.

In total, the Japanese lost more than 25,000 men compared with a loss of 1,600 by the Americans. Each side lost 24 warships.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: During WWII, the Japanese launched 9,000 “wind ship weapons” of paper and rubberized-silk balloons that carried incendiary and anti-personnel bombs to the U.S. More than 1,000 balloons hit their targets and they reached as far east as Michigan. The only deaths resulting from a balloon bomb were six Americans (including five children and a pregnant woman) on a picnic in Oregon.

Catchin’ some SERIOUS Air

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Down here in Georgia, there is a fun-house for kids called Catch Air. My grand daughters love to go there. There are all kinds of bounce house-like thingies, slides, places to climb, and it’s all fun all the time for the kiddos. 

Well, today’s picture shows that you don’t have to be in a bounce house to catch some serious air. When the grand daughters came over for Thanksgiving, we made that huge pile of leaves that I wrote about before. In today’s photo, my 8-year old grand daughter (who is truly a gifted young athletic kid) was running toward the pile of leaves that was originally up to about her chest, if not her shoulders, and with wild abandon she launched herself into the air to crash into the pile with all the exuberance she could muster in her 8-year old self. That’s her style, though…she doesn’t hold back on much of anything! I think she could leap a tall building in a single bound if she chose to do so. Of course, today she’d get covered in red Georgia clay-mud as it’s cold, wet and cloudy, so I’m glad she didn’t try this today!

When is the last time you launched yourself into a huge pile of leaves? Isn’t it about time?

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1952, heavy smog begas to hover over London, England. It would persist for 4 days, leading to the deaths of at least 4000 persons. 

It was a Thursday afternoon when a high-pressure air mass stalled over the Thames River Valley. When cold air arrived suddenly from the west, the air over London became trapped in place. The problem was exacerbated by low temperatures, which caused residents to burn extra coal in their furnaces. The smoke, soot and sulfur dioxide from the area’s industries along with that from cars and consumer energy usage caused extraordinarily heavy smog to smother the city. By the morning of December 5, there was a visible pall cast over hundreds of square miles.

The smog became so thick and dense that by December 7 there was virtually no sunlight and visibility was reduced to five yards in many places. Eventually, all transportation in the region was halted, but not before the smog caused several rail accidents, including a collision between two trains near London Bridge. The worst effect of the smog, however, was the respiratory distress it caused in humans and animals, including difficulty breathing and the vomiting of phlegm. One of the first noted victims was a prize cow that suffocated on December 5. An unusually high number of people in the area, numbering in the thousands, died in their sleep that weekend. (Galen: I hope this isn’t giving you nightmares!)

It is difficult to calculate exactly how many deaths and injuries were caused by the smog. As with heat waves, experts compare death totals during the smog to the number of people who have died during the same period in previous years. The period between December 4 and December 8 saw such a marked increase in death in the London metropolitan area that the most conservative estimates place the death toll at 4,000, with some estimating that the smog killed as many as 8,000 people.

On December 9, the smog finally blew away. In the aftermath of this incident, the British government passed more stringent regulations on air pollution and encouraged people to stop using coal to heat their homes. Despite these measures, a similar smog 10 years later killed approximately 100 Londoners.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: body language is a strange thing, yet the study of it is a scientific discipline of it’s own. For example, in Asia, kissing is considered such an intimate act that it is not permissible in public, even as a social greeting. A woman has a wider-ranging peripheral vision, which allows her to check out a man’s body from head to toe without getting caught. A male’s peripheral vision is poorer, which is why a man will move his gaze up and down a woman’s body in a very obvious way. Men do not “ogle” more than women—their tunnel vision means they just get caught more easily.

What if….

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The picture above is the view out of my office window here at the house. I’m fortunate – I can work from home, or pretty much anywhere that I have an internet connection. I know some still fight the commute (as I did for decades!) and I feel for you, but I’m grateful that I seldom have to do that any more.

I took this picture about a week ago. As you can see, fall is trying to arrive here in Georgia. There is hope!  (Actually, it’s been quite nice the past 10 days or so.) But as I looked at this picture, a thought crossed my mind (hey – even I have thoughts once in a while!): what would life be like if we worked outside and only came inside when it was too cold or raining? I know that some folks work outside all year long, but I’m thinking even of folks like me who are primarily white collar types of workers. What if my desk and computer were outside during the fall and spring (at least) and I spent the entire day out there in the beauty, the fresh air and was surrounded by the sounds of leaves rustling and birds singing? Wouldn’t that be AWESOME!!!!!

Instead, I sit in here, occasionally looking out the window. I think that if we were outside more, we’d be more at peace, have less stress in our lives, be healthier…and have better suntans, too!  (That is if we didn’t die of skin cancer…but we’d have a shade over us to protect us, right!?!?!)

I have a hammock in the back yard and the last time I was out there laying in it, I was thinking about “How can I work while laying in my hammock?”  I’m still working on that one. It would be hard to type on my Surface, that’s for sure.  But it’s a pretty smart machine and can do almost anything by voice, too.  May have to give it a try one of these days before long!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1962, complicated and tension-filled negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union finally resulted in a plan to end the two-week-old Cuban Missile Crisis. A frightening period in which nuclear holocaust seemed imminent began to come to an end.

On October 22, President John F. Kennedy warned the Soviets to cease their reckless program to put nuclear weapons in Cuba and announced a naval “quarantine” against additional weapons shipments into Cuba. The world held its breath waiting to see whether the two superpowers would come to blows. U.S. armed forces went on alert and the Strategic Air Command went to a Stage 4 alert (one step away from nuclear attack).

On October 24, millions waited to see whether Soviet ships bound for Cuba carrying additional missiles would try to break the U.S. naval blockade around the island. At the last minute, the vessels turned around and returned to the Soviet Union.

On October 26, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded to the quarantine by sending a long and rather disjointed letter to Kennedy offering a deal: Soviet ships bound for Cuba would “not carry any kind of armaments” if the United States vowed never to invade Cuba. He pleaded, “let us show good sense,” and appealed to Kennedy to “weigh well what the aggressive, piratical actions, which you have declared the U.S.A. intends to carry out in international waters, would lead to.” He followed this with another letter the next day offering to remove the missiles from Cuba if the United States would remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy and his officials debated the proper U.S. response to these offers. Attorney General Robert Kennedy ultimately devised an acceptable plan: take up Khrushchev’s first offer and ignore the second letter. Although the United States had been considering the removal of the missiles from Turkey for some time, agreeing to the Soviet demand for their removal might give the appearance of weakness. Nevertheless, behind the scenes, Russian diplomats were informed that the missiles in Turkey would be removed after the Soviet missiles in Cuba were taken away. This information was accompanied by a threat: If the Cuban missiles were not removed in two days, the United States would resort to military action. It was now Khrushchev’s turn to consider an offer to end the standoff.

(I was just a kid, barely 10 years of age, but I remember the tension of those days very clearly.  I remember going to bed at night and wondering if I’d ever get the chance to see the sun come up again.)

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: During the 1872 election, presidential incumbent Ulysses S. Grant ran against a corpse. His opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the election was finalized. Grant won the election.  George Washington blew his entire campaign budget on 160 gallons of liquor to serve to potential voters (he won 100% of the electoral votes – he was unopposed, so I guess he could afford to blow the budget on booze.)

Stop and Take a Breath

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Double click for a larger version of the image…

Well, it’s Labor Day weekend. The time of summer and sand is over, school is back in session, and the crisp fall air will soon be slithering its way down from the Arctic and the leaves will turn and fall. I wrote a bit about that last post, but today I want to take moment and just recall the summer that we leave behind.

On Saturday, we drove up to Dahlonega, GA to pick up something my wife had ordered. It is a bit cooler in the north Georgia mountains than it is here where we live, though it isn’t a long drive to Dahlonega. It was still a warm day, but as we turned off to wind our way up farther into the hills to the town, we saw scarecrows along the side of the road (you’ll be seeing some of those pictures in the next few days). Scarecrows in Iowa were always pretty much a sure sign of the summer being at an end.

My wife has a favorite restaurant in Dahlonega and we stopped there to eat. It is a seafood restaurant and their food is good and the prices are not unreasonable. We sat on the enclosed porch on the second floor as we ate. I noticed the sign in today’s photo as I sat there. It drew me in to the summer one more time. While I am not a beer drinker at all, the image of the blue sky and billowy clouds, the thatched roof shade over the lounge chair, the beach and water quietly lapping at the shore in the near distance…it almost made me feel the gentle breeze over my skin and I felt the peace of the scene.

I hope that your summer was a good one. And I hope that you get to relax a bit this holiday weekend when we honor the working women and men of our great country. Stop, take a breath and enjoy…it is a sign that the summer is over, but one can always look back in the mind and review the scenes and events of that made our summer what it was.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1915, a prototype tank nicknamed Little Willie rolled off the assembly line in England. Little Willie was far from an overnight success. It weighed 14 tons, got stuck in trenches and crawled over rough terrain at only two miles per hour. However, improvements were made to the original prototype and tanks eventually transformed military battlefields.

The British developed the tank in response to the trench warfare of World War I. In 1914, a British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and William Hankey, secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defence, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with conveyor-belt-like tracks over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. The men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. To keep the project secret from enemies, production workers were reportedly told the vehicles they were building would be used to carry water on the battlefield (alternate theories suggest the shells of the new vehicles resembled water tanks). Either way, the new vehicles were shipped in crates labeled “tank” and the name stuck.

The first tank prototype, Little Willie, was unveiled in September 1915. Following its underwhelming performance–it was slow, became overheated and couldn’t cross trenches–a second prototype, known as “Big Willie,” was produced. By 1916, this armored vehicle was deemed ready for battle and made its debut at the First Battle of the Somme near Courcelette, France, on September 15 of that year. Known as the Mark I, this first batch of tanks was hot, noisy and unwieldy and suffered mechanical malfunctions on the battlefield; nevertheless, people realized the tank’s potential. Further design improvements were made and at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, 400 Mark IV’s proved much more successful than the Mark I, capturing 8,000 enemy troops and 100 guns.

Tanks rapidly became an important military weapon. During World War II, they played a prominent role across numerous battlefields. More recently, tanks have been essential for desert combat during the conflicts in the Persian Gulf.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: though it has been found on every continent on earth, gold is so rare that the world pours more steel in an hour than it has poured gold since the beginning of recorded history.

…Boxed Whine

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Double click to see a larger image

I think that most people in the eastern part of the United States have just about had it with the weather.  It’s been brutal – and I live in one of the  nicer places.  We’ve not been below zero at all, while some parts of the country have really suffered from massive snowfall and temperatures in the -30’s.  And, based on the news tonight, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to end any time soon.

For our neck of the woods (about 30 miles north of Atlanta), the governor has issued a state of emergency starting tomorrow at 2 p.m.  Oh, we’re not going to experience anything like Boston…but in Georgia, 4-6″ of snow is enough to really mess things up.

And so, that brings me to the picture for today.  Do you remember when boxed wines first came out?  I do.  I am not sure if they still sell it or not, but when I saw this sign in a store, I thought, “Why not!?!?”  And right now, there’s been enough whine from those who are boxed in by snow and cold, that boxed whine might be a great product to sell!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in1836,Texas Colonel William Travis sends a desperate plea for help for the besieged defenders of the Alamo, ending the message with the famous last words, “Victory or Death.”

Travis’ path to the Alamo began five years earlier when he moved to the Mexican state ofTexas to start fresh after a failed marriage in Alabama. Trained as a lawyer, he established a law office in Anahuac, where he quickly gained a reputation for his willingness to defy the local Mexican officials. In 1832, a minor confrontation with the Mexican government landed Travis in jail. When he was freed a month later, many Anglo settlers hailed him as a hero. As Anglo-American resentment toward the Mexican government grew, Travis was increasingly viewed as a strong leader among those seeking an independent Texan republic.

When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis joined the revolutionary army. In February 1836, he was made a lieutenant colonel and given command of the regular Texas troops in San Antonio. On February 23, the Mexican army under Santa Ana arrived in the city unexpectedly. Travis and his troops retreated to the Alamo, an old Spanish mission and fortress, where they were soon joined by James Bowie’s volunteer force. The Mexican army of 5,000 soldiers badly outnumbered the several hundred defenders of the Alamo. Their determination was fierce, though, and when Santa Ana asked for their surrender the following day, Travis answered with a cannon shot.

Furious, Santa Ana began a siege. Recognizing he was doomed to defeat without reinforcements, Travis dispatched via couriers several messages asking for help. The most famous was addressed to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World” and was signed “Victory or Death.” Unfortunately, it was to be death for the defenders: only 32 men from nearby Gonzales responded to Travis’ call for reinforcements. On March 6, the Mexicans stormed the Alamo and Travis, Bowie, and about 190 of their comrades were killed. The Texans made Santa Ana pay for his victory, though, having claimed at least 600 of his men during the attack.

Although Travis’ defense of the Alamo was a miserable failure militarily, symbolically it was a tremendous success. “Remember the Alamo” quickly became the rallying cry for the Texas revolution. By April, Travis’ countrymen had beaten the Mexicans and won their independence. Travis’ daring defiance of the overwhelmingly superior Mexican forces has since become the stuff of myth, and a facsimile of his famous call for help is on permanent display at the Texas State Library in Austin.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Unlike most other fish, the ocean sunfish does not have a tail. A female sunfish can lay 300 million eggs each year, more than any other known vertebrate. Each egg is smaller than the period at the end of a sentence, which is especially intriguing because the ocean sunfish (or Mola mola) is the heaviest known bony fish in the world with an average adult weight of 2200 pounds.  The species is native totropical and temperate waters around the globe. It resembles a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Sunfish can be as tall as they are long when theirdorsal and ventral fins are extended.  They live on a diet consisting mainly of jellyfish, but because this diet is nutritionally poor, they consume large amounts to develop and maintain their great bulk.

…the Simple Life

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Double click for a larger version of this image

For the past several years, my wife and I have been intentionally trying to simplify our life.  It started when we sold our house outside of Cloverdale, CA and moved into town.  We continued to downsize while in town, and then when we move to Georgia in December 2011, we downsized some more.  When we moved back to CA in late summer of 2011, we downsized yet again.  And, we have continued downsizing in spurts ever since.

Let me say this: I have really enjoying simplifying life!  We don’t have as many things as we once did (but we had far more than we needed or could use!) and that’s just fine by me.  It is true that the more things you have, the more things own you.  They break, or are replaced be newer models leaving you wish you had the latest and greatest.

Not only do we not have as much “stuff” as we once did, I no longer have to do yard work – which I always hated with a passion anyway.  We have been living for the past 2+ years in our fifth wheel RV and have been able to go back and forth as needed (or wanted) in order to be with family – something we’d not have been able to do while tied to a house that we either owned or rented.

Bottom line: I love the simple life!!!!

During the first year that we were in the RV, my wife saw another full-time RV’er in the park where we stayed in California who made engraved wooden signs.  She ordered one made for us and it is the subject of the picture today.  I took this shot on Saturday morning after some very light snow had fallen during the night.  We’d just returned from walking the dog and I noticed the sign sitting on one of the chairs we put outside the RV.  I thought it looked interesting with the pine needles that had fallen and the snow that had accumulated.  I didn’t touch a thing – just went inside, grabbed the camera and took this shot.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 2006 in the early morning hours, a gang of at least six men, some of them armed, stole 53 million pounds from the Securitas bank depot in Kent, Great Britain. It was the largest such theft in British history.

The plot was well planned. On the evening before, two men, dressed as police officers, pulled the depot manager, Colin Dixon, over as he was driving in nearby Stockbury. They convinced him to get out of his car, and forced him into their vehicle. At about the same time, two more men visited Dixon’s home and picked up Dixon’s wife and eight-year-old son; eventually all three Dixons were taken to a farm in West Kent, where the gang threatened their lives if Colin refused to cooperate with the robbery.

The Dixons were then forced to go with the gang to the Securitas depot, where Colin helped them evade the building’s security system. The gang proceeded to tie up 14 depot staff members, load the £53 million into a truck and, at about 2:15 a.m. on February 22, drive away. No one was injured in the robbery. Eventually, one depot worker was able to contact police, who launched a massive search for the culprits. As the stolen money was all in used bills, it was difficult to trace. Securitas and its insurers posted a £2 million reward for information leading to the arrests of the robbers and return of the money.

The next day, three people, one man and two women, were arrested in connection with the case; one had attempted to deposit £6,000 into a local bank that was bound in Securitas depot tape. However, all three were later released without being charged. Police continue to investigate the case, and more than 30 people have been arrested, though there have been no convictions. Police are also said to have recovered nearly £20 million of the stolen money.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Leonardo da Vinci proposed that houses be built with spiral staircases so people couldn’t urinate in the corners.

…Tinsel Town

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On Monday we had freezing rain and everything was coated with ice.  I shared a photo already that was taken with my cell phone, but today there’s another.  No, we didn’t have another ice storm (at least not yet, but they say we might have some tomorrow night/Saturday morning)…it’s just that it’s not gotten above freezing since then and the ice is still all over!

When I got up this morning, the temperature was about 9, but with wind chill -4.  The dog didn’t seem to mind when I took her out, but when back to the house, I quickly realized we didn’t have running water.  We are full-timing it in our RV, and we have a heated water hose…well, sorta.  Because of the location we are now in, I had to put about a 3-foot extension hose on it which I’d wrapped in foam.  But, as cold as it was, that part of the hose froze up.  I eventually got the ice out of it, but with the temperature not supposed to go up above freezing until Saturday, I decided we needed to get a longer heated hose.

We drove to Camping World and all along the way we were treated to mile after mile of frozen trees.  These were right next to the parking lot at the store.  What was interesting is that the ice looked like tinsel on the trees.  It was as if someone had flown overhead and dropped tinsel on every branch…and as you moved, the ice would reflect the light differently, giving it the appearance of tinsel moving in the breeze.  It was a lovely sight.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  on this day in 1851, an angry mob in San Francisco’s business district “tried” two Australian suspects in the robbery and assault of C. J. Jansen. When the makeshift jury deadlocked, the suspects were returned to law enforcement officials. Jansen was working at his store at the corner of Montgomery and Washington when two men beat him unconscious and stole $2,000. Another merchant, William Coleman, then decided to play prosecutor and assembled judges and jury members from a crowd that had assembled at Portsmouth Square. Fortunately for the Australian suspects, the men who defended them got three jury members to agree that Jansen hadn’t been able to see the men who had robbed him clearly. Although some members of the mob wanted to hang the alleged thieves in spite of the verdict, the crowd dispersed. Later, however, local authorities convicted the men at a real trial in court.

Vigilantes were fairly common during the Gold Rush boom in San Francisco. One committee spent most of its time rooting out Australian ne’er-do-wells. They hanged four and tossed another 30 out of town. In 1856, a 6,000-member vigilante group was assembled after a couple of high-profile shooting incidents. This lynch mob hanged the suspects and then directed their attention to politics.

Such vigilante movements were generally popular all over the West in the middle and late 19th century. The San Francisco vigilantes were so well regarded that they took over the Democratic Party in the late 1850s and some became respected politicians.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Auschwitz was the largest and highly organized death camp in history. It was actually three camps: a concentration camp, a death camp, and a slave labor camp. It was 19 square miles, guarded by 6,000 men, and was located in the Polish town of Oswiecim. It was opened June 1940 and initially held 728 Polish prisoners. By 1945, more than 1.25 million people had been killed there and 100,000 worked as slave laborers.

…and Scary Night

Ice shrouded branches, Cumming, GA 2/17/2015

Today’s photo was shot on my Android phone this morning at about 10.  It is a testimony to the night that we experienced on Monday evening.

It started out with some hope of snow…that possibility was in the forecast, and even looked likely, given the fact that rain was coming down and the temps were to go down into the 20’s.  So, we were hopeful.  But the temps didn’t drop quickly.  Instead, the rain became freezing rain, coating the branches and everything with sparkly ice.

We’d actually hoped for snow, but got an ice storm instead.  And about 9 last night, I started to hear sounds outside.  Snapping.  Popping,  cracking sounds.  Crashing sounds.  And then it became apparent that branches were falling off the trees all around where our RV is parked.  About 11 pm, we’d just gone to bed when all of a sudden there was another crashing sound, very loud, a loud pop and a bright flash.  Yep, you guessed it…a branch had come down and taken out the power line.  It didn’t come back on until 9:15 or so on Tuesday morning.

May I say that it was frightening to be surrounded by such large trees with such prodigious branches…knowing they could come crashing down on our RV and crush us to death?  Prayed a lot, did I!  And, we lived to see the morning, as did our neighbors, though some of them were hit by falling branches that punched through the roofs of their dwellings.

As I look outside, I can still see ice on the power lines…icicles, really.  But at least there is no precipitation in the forecast for tonight, though it will freeze again.  I didn’t sleep well last night…but tonight I think I stand a good chance of it.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1944, Operation Catchpole was launched as American troops devastated the Japanese defenders of Eniwetok and took control of the atoll in the northwestern part of the Marshall Islands.

The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign was formulated during the August 1943 Quebec Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed on, among other things, a new blueprint for fighting in the Pacific: an island-hopping strategy; the establishment of bases from which to launch B-29s for a final assault on Japan; and a new Southeast Asia command for British Adm. Louis Mountbatten.

The success of the island-hopping strategy brought Guadalcanal and New Guinea under Allied control. Though those areas were important, the Allies also still needed to capture the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Gilbert Islands, which had comprised an inner defensive perimeter for the Japanese. Each was a group of atolls, with between 20 to 50 islets, islands, and coral reefs surrounding a lagoon. The Allies planned an amphibious landing on the islands–all the more difficult because of this unusual terrain.

On February 17, a combined U.S. Marine and Army force under Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner made its move against Eniwetok. Air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, and battleship fire 1,500 yards from the beach gave cover to the troops moving ashore and did serious damage to the Japanese defenses. Six days after the American landing, the atoll was secured. The loss for the Japanese was significant: only 64 of the 2,677 defenders who met the Marine and Army force survived the fighting. The Americans lost only 195.

The position on Eniwetok gave U.S. forces a base of operations to finally capture the entirety of the Marianas. Eniwetok was also useful to the United States after the war–in 1952 it became the testing ground for the first hydrogen bomb.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream is thought to show a volcanic sunset caused by the massive eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia in 1883. The blood-red sunset could be seen as far away as Norway, where Munch lived.

…Invitation

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Sometimes, all it takes is an invitation.  “Please, come in out of the cold and warm yourself by the fire.”  “Won’t you have a seat and let’s talk for a while.”  “Would you like to go on a date with me tonight?”

It doesn’t take much.  And somehow, just by having an invitation offered to us, we feel like we “belong”, or at the very least, that our company is desired and wanted.  In this world that can be so very hard and indifferent, that is a nice thing.

This bench, surrounded by the leave that had fallen off the tree immediately behind the bench, just seemed to me to be offering such an invitation.  “Please, you look tired.  Why don’t you just sit for a while and let your feet and soul rest.  It’s peaceful here and I’d love your company!  And look!  I’ve rolled out the golden carpet for you!”

How can you turn down an invitation like that????

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1979, a stuntman by the name of Stan Barrett blasted across a dry lakebed at California’s Edwards Air Force Base in a rocket- and missile-powered car, becoming the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound on land. He did not set an official record, however. The radar scanner was acting up, and so Barrett’s top speed–739.666 miles per hour by the most reliable measure–was only an estimate. Also, he only drove his rocket car across the lakebed once, not twice as official record guidelines require. And, none of the spectators heard a sonic boom as Barrett zoomed across the course.

Barrett, a 36-year-old stuntman and ex-lightweight Golden Glove champ, had been introduced to auto racing by Paul Newman in 1971. (He was the actor’s stunt double for the film “Sometimes a Great Notion.”) Barrett’s car, the $800,000 Budweiser Rocket, was owned by the movie director Hal Needham, a former racer himself who had broken a nine-year-old world land-speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats the previous September. The car had a 48,000-horsepower rocket engine and, to give it a little extra kick, a 12,000-horsepower Sidewinder missile.

December 17 was a dry day with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to break the sound barrier under those conditions, Barrett had to go faster than 731.9 miles per hour. He started the rocket engine and stepped on the gas; then, after counting to 12, he pushed a button on his steering wheel to fire the Sidewinder so he could go even faster. After he zoomed past a battery of timing devices, Barrett deployed a parachute to help him slow down. In all, it took only a handful of seconds for Barrett to blast across the 5 3/4-mile lake bed.

Unfortunately, the radar speedometers on the ground malfunctioned: Instead of the Rocket’s speed, they measured the speed of a passing truck (38 miles per hour). The final speed estimate came from data by the Air Force, whose scanners seemed to indicate that the Rocket had “probably exceeded the speed of sound.”

Controversy over how fast Barrett actually went persists to this day. It took until October 1997 for another driver, in a British car called the Thrust SSC, to officially break the Mach 1 sound barrier.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  The protein that keeps a baby’s skull from fusing is called “noggin.

 

…Lost in the Woods

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It is one of those days here in northern Georgia when you love to be inside.  It has been raining since before sunup and I don’t know if it has stopped all day.  I can hear the rain on the roof…and that is a sound that I love.  I love to look out the window on such a day and see the weather and color.  On a day like this, the rain has washed all the leaves clean of whatever dust has settled on the, it darkens the colors of the bark making for greater contrasts.  The cloud cover keeps everything from being too bright.

My wife stuck her head out the door briefly on a task and she asked if I had my camera.  Behind where we live, well, all around us, there are trees and bushes.  Though most of the leaves have fallen now, there is a tree behind us that still have most of its leaves and color.  I don’t know what kind of tree it is (I am fairly certain, though, that it is not a dandelion!), but it is one of my favorite kinds of trees.  And my wife was right: in the rain, there was beauty.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1959, Robert Stroud, the famous “Birdman of Alcatraz,” was released from solitary confinement for the first time in 43 years. Stroud gained widespread fame and attention when author Thomas Gaddis wrote a biography that trumpeted Stroud’s ornithological expertise.

Stroud was first sent to prison in 1909 after he killed a bartender in a brawl. He had nearly completed his sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas when he stabbed a guard to death in 1916. Though he claimed to have acted in self-defense, he was convicted and sentenced to hang. A handwritten plea by Stroud’s mother to President Woodrow Wilson earned Stroud a commuted sentence of life in permanent solitary confinement.

For the next 15 years, Stroud lived among the canaries that were brought to him by visitors, and became an expert in birds and ornithological diseases. But after being ordered to give up his birds in 1931, he redirected his energies to writing about them and published his first book on ornithology two years later. When the publisher failed to pay Stroud royalties because he was barred from filing suit, Stroud took out advertisements complaining about the situation. Prison officials retaliated by sending him to Alcatraz, the federal prison with the worst conditions.

In 1943, Stroud’s Digest of the Diseases of Birds, a 500-page text that included his own illustrations, was published to general acclaim. In spite of his success, Stroud was depressed over the isolation he felt at Alcatraz, and he attempted suicide several times. The legendary “Birdman of Alcatraz” died in a Missouri prison in 1963 at the age of 73.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  One in five adults admitted to urinating in swimming pools, which means 20% of adults in swimming pools have urinated in it. Red eyes associated with swimming are not caused by chlorine. They are caused by chloramine, a chemical that is created when urine combines with the chlorine already in the pool. In fact, the more strong smelling a pool is, the more contaminated it is.