Thanks to my coworkers at the Noble County Sheriff Department and my family at the Albion Fire Department, who had these flowers delivered after Emily and I finally stayed in one place long enough to receive them.

 

The color's a little off in the photo, due to the burgundy suitcase it's sitting on. Actually, our whole house is a cluttered mess right now; but Emily and I both had to go back to work immediately after returning from Missouri, so we're just too exhausted to care.

I don't remember if I mentioned it, but we'd already scheduled two weeks in September for a vacation before Emily's mom passed away. Turned out to be even worse than last September's vacation, with the totaled car and injuries and everything. Maybe we should try for a different month next year?

I normally try hard not to complain too much. Complaining is like trying to talk about politics: It's pointless and just annoys everyone else. Although I often fail, in recent years I've tried to be either positive, funny, or quiet. I used to have a reputation for turning the things that go wrong in my life into humor columns, but I can't anymore because ... well, I'd getting ahead of myself.

But please indulge me, just this once.

Because it's been a really, really bad month.

Actually, the really bad month started last month, as my fourteen regular readers already know. Just before we left for Missouri to see the total solar eclipse, my wife and I learned that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. We did indeed get to see the eclipse, but that was, pardon me for saying, eclipsed by our worry over Jean Stroud's medical condition. We spent most of that week taking her to various medical places, and were there when she started chemo.

Then we came back to Indiana so that Emily and I could do our jobs, only to rush back over Labor Day weekend when things took a very rapid, very unexpected turn for the worse. It turns out her cancer had progressed much further than any of us realized, and she passed away while we were driving somewhere through west central Indiana.

Honestly, that's not something I'm ready to talk about yet.

Now, I could probably turn everything else that happened in September into a humor column, because it was all small stuff of the type we're not supposed to sweat. But when you're already in a state of shock, and the stuff just keeps on happening, one after another, it just can't be made funny.

I should consider us lucky we didn't get into an accident, like we did last September. That ended in splints, X-rays, and car shopping. I'd thought it as bad as a vacation could get, until this September. This one turned into the vacation they schedule in Hell, and what follows is just a sample.

But no accident, although we had a close encounter with a coyote. We drove some five thousand miles over the course of four weeks, most of it in the last couple of weeks. And we drove most of it while sick.

Emily got it first. Nothing accompanies settling your mother's affairs like a bad head cold. We made two trips to and from to arrange and hold a memorial, and to take care of a thousand details, most of which had to be done by Emily as the only child. Those trips were done with frequent Kleenex breaks. I did my best to be a supportive spouse, until I was also felled by little warrior germs that set up shop in my sinuses, then invaded my lungs.

All that driving. After it was over, the chiropractor could identify the model and make of our car by the bends in my spine. By the way, I've made that 500 mile trip for a decade, and have seriously never seen as much road construction along the route.

In the middle of it, we had to come back to Indiana because we'd previously signed up for an author appearance and didn't want to be no-shows. That was on a Friday, and Emily took advantage to work her saddle barn job on Saturday and Sunday before we headed back south. Believe me, she made more money there than we did as authors.

In fact, my author aspirations took quite a hit during September. We sold only a few books that Friday (although we handed out some business cards and bookmarks, which often lead to sales). A few days later I got my publisher's first sales report on my newest novel, Radio Red. Between its release in April and the end of June, the sales made me ... cry. It's the worse opening of my nine books.

Oh, and the newspaper that ran my column stopped publishing, so I no longer have a home for "Slightly Off the Mark".

At least that gave us a little time to watch TV. With a planned vacation, we'd set the DVR to record the shows starting up in September, and had hours of unwatched shows already recorded. Emily was at work when that last straw went dark and permanently dead, falling on my last nerve. She missed the horror-movie screaming noises that came from ... someone ... after the good people at Mediacom said they'd speed a technician our way in only a week or so.

All minor stuff, really. TV shows? You can catch up with them online. Poor book sales? My next novel is just around the corner. Illnesses pass, spines recover, and our car gets really good gas mileage. The dog slept for about twelve hours straight after we returned the last time, but now he's good as new.

It's just that stuff builds up, sometimes.

I don't know. Maybe the hardest thing after the memorial was cleaning out Jean's storage unit. Not because of the 90+ degree heat, dust, and spiders, but because you're suddenly going through memories at a time when it's most painful. We had to start three times, and in the end brought some boxes home into the air conditioning to be looked after later.

They say you have to go through bad times to appreciate the good times, and if that's so I'm feeling pretty darned appreciative. So, okay ... rough month. But if you've been watching the news at all, you know that everyone's been having a pretty rough month. Now and then we all need to vent a little.

I have to be redundant, at the risk of repeating myself, which I do all the time, often more than once.

But I wanted to remind everyone of the Kendallville Public Library's Art and Author Fair, coming up Friday, September 15, from 2-7 p.m. This is something I believe they plan on doing every year, or at least annually, at their own risk of being redundant.

It's critically important to support your local artists and authors, especially if they live in your area. Emily and I will be there, but so will several others of the art and artist variety. In addition, I'm trying very hard to start a rumor that Stephen King is stopping by, to such an extent that I'm actually trying to find some random guy (or woman) named Stephen King, who can come in just long enough for me to honestly say Stephen King will be there. If he does show up, maybe he'll sign something for you; who's to say he's not the real Stephen King, and the guy on the book photos isn't a model, or his personal assistant?

This is a change from my original plan, because there doesn't seem to be a single J.K. Rowling in Indiana.

Anyway, the "Showcase Kendallville and Job Fair" is going on at the same place on the same day, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. (Maybe Stephen King needs a job?) So there's stuff, and things, plus it's a library, which is cool. Please make an attempt to stop by and visit; and remember that Emily and I tend to discount our books at events like this. Even for Stephen King.

The library's page for the event is here:

http://kendallvillelibrary.org/about-us/library-news/art-and-author-fair/

 

And here's the Facebook page, which is indeed on a page, and has faces:

https://www.facebook.com/events/261574904246629

 

(Remember, this is a library, so at least Stephen King's books will be there.)

 

When it comes to revision, there are two kinds of writers: Those who need to cut, and those who need to ... um, uncut.

Most writers tend to put too much into their first drafts, and so have to go in and cut later. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as they actually do go back. A bloated manuscript is like your uncle on Thanksgiving evening; just sitting there, listless and fat, dull and motionless, at least until the half time bathroom break.

Well, that's how I am at Thanksgiving, anyway.

I have the opposite authorial problem: I tend to write sparse. Usually, the word count for my novel manuscripts is at the low end of what's considered a novel ... which maybe isn't such a bad thing, in these days of too much to do and not enough time for a good read. If War and Peace was written today, it would just be War.

I expanded the name of my novel in progress from Unnamed Space Opera to Beowulf: In Harm's Way, because that added one word to the word count, and every little word counts. Kidding! Actually, Unnamed Space Opera has been used. Anyway, late last year the manuscript had a word count of 62,500. (give or take, depending on the title. Okay, 62,522.)

I got busy for awhile after that, leaving the story to get "cold"; which is a good thing, not like at Thanksgiving dinner. Then, in April, I made a mistake: I sent the first three chapters and a synopsis off to an agent, and I went through the now-cold manuscript for a final polishing.

Unfortunately, I did it in that order.

I thought I'd fixed up the first three chapters previously, but as I went over them again I found several mistakes, plus areas that could use improvement. Writing off that agent (I've since received her form rejection), I started work again. I made numerous changes, and added something like two thousand more words. Along the way I realized I'd started small story arcs with a couple of characters that never really closed out in a satisfactory way. After some thought, I came up with a 2,000 word scene toward the end of the story that I think does the trick.

So my manuscript, which I "finished" before the holidays last year, weighed in at 66,788 words. That's over 4,200 words more than the previous version, even considering the stuff I removed while adding other things. That, by the way, is the second time I let the manuscript get cold.

What have we learned from this? One, let your manuscript cool, or it'll burn you. Two, writing's hard. Three, don't throw away a shot at publication because you're in a hurry. Four, don't overeat at holidays. And I suppose the thing about not giving up your day job still stands.

So I'm done now, right? I mean, I spell checked and polished the thing six months ago! No ... no. I made so many changes in the story, I had to go through and polish all over again. That's the biz. The "final" draft now weighs 6,7248 words, almost 500 words more.

Then my wife gets a look at it. She finds all the problems I missed, and I start all over again ... again.

Now I'm curious to know about your revision process, if you're an author. Or even if you're not--there's no law saying non-writers can't revise. But for now ...

For some reason, I'm in the mood for turkey. Hopefully that speaks to food, and not the quality of the story.

Here's hoping Hurricane Harvey soon moves on and leaves the stricken residents of Texas and Louisiana alone.

From what I've been able to gather, Harvey isn't all that different from other very strong hurricanes of the past, which is like saying being mauled by a 950 pound grizzly bear isn't all that different from being mauled by a 925 pound grizzly bear. But unlike past hurricanes, it's been stalled by other weather patterns; in the time Harvey has been hovering over the coast, Katrina had already made its way inland to Indiana.

50 inches of rain forecast. I mean, 50 inches of snow qualifies for an "I survived the blizzard of ..." t-shirt. That's, what ... five inches of rain, give or take?

And so ... record rains. I don't have to tell anyone how bad things are down there, and North Korea's attempts to help by firing rockets at it have so far had little effect. For those of you in the path of this apocalyptic shower, I can only say that we're all thinking of you, and hoping you'll dry out soon. Keep your spirits up ... another thing easier said than done.

I took a few photos when we were in Missouri to see the total eclipse, and I thought I'd pass some on. Not of the eclipse itself--the video I posted a few days ago is about the best I could do with that.

 

We were at the Meramec State Park near Sullivan, Missouri. You can learn more about it here:

http://www.meramecpark.com/

 

I've been describing it as central Missouri, but it's only about 60 miles from St. Louis, so it's really more east central Missouri. It has rugged hiking trails, caves, zero cell phone reception (which is both a good and bad thing), and it edges the Meramec River, so there's the swimming and boating thing. A really nice place that we're hoping to visit again something, a couple of hours from Emily's parents' house.

 

More about the park later--I have lots of pictures. But I didn't have the best camera there:

 

 

There was a good crowd, and we were thankful to have headed there in the wee hours of the morning, even though the roads there and the park itself were both pretty out of the way.

 

The park had a big awning up with activities and information, and even a board where visitors could show they were there:

 

As cool as the partial eclipse was, the wait for totality seemed to take forever, especially with the temperature hovering at around a million degrees while we stood in the sun and stared upward. Did I complain? I did not, having been convinced for weeks that it would be cloudy that day, wherever we were. The good thing about being a pessimist is that you're never disappointed.

 

 

Some of us were more relaxed than others:

Considering how much my neck hurt the next day, he has a point. But considering how little he moved throughout the lead-up to totality, I wonder how sunburned he got--we kept ducking back under the trees--and whether his eyes were sore later. At least he brought enough cigarettes.

 

As the eclipse advanced, we began to see a curious effect that's common with partial eclipses. The vanishing sun continued to shine through the trees, which produced a pinhole effect that allowed us to see the eclipse on the ground below:

 

As it grew darker, a dog that belonged to people nearby dragged his blanket out, pulled it into a circle, and got ready for bed. He was very confused when nap time ended so quickly.

 

And then: totality.

Yeah, that's totality. It's just that my camera couldn't handle it. Here's Venus coming out, beside a jet contrail:

Seeing some of the other cameras set up there, I'll bet there are a whole bunch of much better pictures. I took a few and then put the camera down. Emily and I just stood there with our arms around each other, taking it in. I've said it before: Even the best photographs, with the best cameras, don't begin to do a total eclipse justice. There's nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. And, although we certainly had ups and downs on that trip--it was totality worth it.

 

A lousy video, but what I thought you'd be interested in is the reaction of the crowd:

http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2017/08/a-video-of-eclipse-no-really-video-of.html

I'll have more about the eclipse and the trip, which got complicated and was very much good news/bad news, later. There was often little or no internet where we were, so I'm playing catch up, but I can tell you this: That 1,400 mile drive was totally worth it.
By now most people have probably figured out that an eclipse is coming this Monday, as it tends to do here in America every so often. Still, I'm not sure everyone's completely clear on all the details, so I thought I'd answer some common questions:

Q: Why does everybody have to scream at everyone about everything these days?

No, I mean about the eclipse. 

Q: What the heck is this thing? Is this some holdover from the 2012 Apocalypse?

This is a reasonable question, since we're still waiting for the 2012 Apocalypse. An eclipse simply happens when the shadow from one body passes over another body. For instance, one day I was lying on a beach when movie maker Michael Moore moved by. Moore blocked out the sun and ruined my tan, thus saving me from skin disease. (He refused to give me an autograph, just because I asked him when his totality would be over.)

That's Michael, in the middle. Not so very big after all.

Q: Huh?

Moore is rather portly, although I've been gaining on him. If you're a liberal, feel free to insert Trump's name. Oh, you mean "huh" about totality? That's the area of the Earth's surface that's completely covered by the Moon's shadow, usually only for a minute or so. During totality is the only time--and I mean ONLY time--when you can safely look directly at an eclipse without eye protection. Unfortunately, the area of totality is only about 70 miles wide. For example, in northeast Indiana the eclipse will cover about 86% of the sun, so go buy those glasses.

Q: What will happen if I look at it without protection?

Have you ever watched that episode of the TV show Supernatural, when the psychic gets to look at the true face of an angel? It's like that. Nothing left but smoking eye sockets. And yeah, that looks cool for a second, but only to everyone else.

It's perfectly safe to look at the eclipse during totality. But if even a sliver of sun is showing before or after, POOF! Seeing eye dog time. (Or, you could maintain some vision but have "just" permanent damage.)


Q: What's so important about this eclipse?

Well, it's cool, even more cool than smoking eye sockets. Also, it's rare in that, for the first time in almost a century, it will traverse the entire U.S. from coast to coast, over fourteen states. That's happened only 15 times in the last 150 years.

I can block my house from here!

There are between two and five eclipses every year, but a total solar eclipse only happens every 18 months or so. Not only that, but when they do happen it's often in a place where most people don't see it, like over an ocean, or the Pacific northwest. According to this mathematical guy from Belgian, any certain spot on Earth will see a total eclipse once every 375 years. That's an average, and it's math, so I'm just taking his word for it.

This is the first time in 38 years that a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the continuous U.S. For perspective, at the time Jimmy Carter was President, and gas was 86 cents a gallon. St. Louis, which is in the path this time, last saw totality in 1442, when gasoline was even cheaper. Chicago, which saw one in 1806 but will miss this one, will next see totality in 2205, when fueling your flying car might be very expensive.

Scientists have determined there are two small areas of the country--one in northeast Colorado, and one near Lewellen, Nebraska--that haven't seen a total eclipse in over a thousand years. Talk about bad luck.

Q: So I'm guaranteed to get a good show?

Oh, heck no. See above joke about the Pacific northwest; the 1979 total eclipse over that area was largely unseen due to clouds and rain.

This isn't a Hollywood movie: Any number of things could spoil it, from bad weather to having Michael Moore stand in front of you. But I wouldn't sweat Michael (can I call him Michael?) who I've heard is looking after his health much better these days. No, the big question will be whether weather cooperates. My wife and I are heading into the path of totality, and I can pretty much guarantee a day-long driving rain, or possibly a hurricane, will hit central Missouri at about that time.

What I probably won't see

 Q: What effects can we expect?
  
Fire and brimstone, dogs and cats sleeping together, total chaos, new super powers, pretty much the worst parts of the Bible. Wait, that was in the movies. Well, it'll get dark, 'cause--no sun. In the path of totality you'll see stars (or clouds), and you'll also be in for a rare treat of seeing the sun's atmosphere with the naked eye. One cool thing I noticed during a partial eclipse was that sunlight passing through the trees cast thousands of little crescent shaped shadows.

Some animals might be fooled into thinking it's twilight. In fact, eclipses have been known to thin out the local vampire population.

Geeks like me will geek out. People who don't understand, or don't care about, the difference between reality and Hollywood special effects might be disappointed.

Q: What are the greatest dangers?

As with many things in our modern society, the greatest danger might be driving. Officials expect major traffic jams as millions of people try to get into the path of totality. For those who don't make it on time or aren't expecting it, the danger is that they'll be driving down the road, trying to stare at the eclipse, only to ram someone who pulled over along the side of the road to watch the eclipse. Don't do either of those.

Otherwise, there's that smoking eye socket thing. Interestingly, during partial eclipses when the brightness doesn't seem too bad, infrared waves from the sun can still cause damage by overheating the eye, in a boiling egg kind of a way. Disturbed yet? Me, too.

Enjoy these eclipses while you can: The Moon's orbit is slowly getting larger, so the time will come when it will be too far away to completely cover the sun, meaning the end of total eclipses. Scientists predict this will happen in less than 600 million years, so go look while you still can.
Farewell to Matt Smith, who is retiring from the Albion Fire Department after 14 years of service. Matt, in addition to being an active firefighter and the AFD Secretary for several years, formerly served on the Albion Town Council, and was also an EMT with the Noble County EMS.

 

 

Here Fire Chief Brad Rollins, on the left, presents Matt with his helmet shield as a token of appreciation for his years of service.
 
(Matt, who works full time as a technical writer, is no relation to Doctor Who, although I've always felt his heart is bigger on the inside.)
I'm way behind on this, due to medical and internet problems--this movie did so poorly at the box office that I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't showing any more.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is living proof that just being fun won't save a movie. And VatCofTP (say, let's just call it Valerian) really is fun, as well as being visually stunning. Unfortunately, that just makes its faults more obvious when compared to the moviemaker's previous fun and visual flick, The Fifth Element, which benefits from better casting decisions.

Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a special operative, basically a combination secret agent/Navy SEAL. He and his partner, Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) drop their spaceship into problem areas James Bond style, and in this case they're assigned to investigate Alpha, a mysterious cancer that's spreading through a remarkable space-borne city in which species from across the galaxy learn from each other, exchange cultures, and party.

Gee, we only see a hundred planets.


Then things get confusing. Well, okay, they're already confusing, starting with an opening segment on a world so peaceful and beautiful you just know it's about to be demolished. We cut from there to Valerian and Laureline, who are arguing about getting married while landing on a planet bare of anything, unless you put on virtual reality visors and go on a huge shopping spree.

Soon they're neck deep in an effort to retrieve ... well, what they retrieve is related to the earlier planetary paradise, as is the rest of the movie, although how they're related doesn't become clear until toward the end. For some viewers, it doesn't become clear at all.

Some people were apparently never able to figure out what was going on. I was, eventually, but a large part of the movie is more about seeing neat things than about the actual plot. I'm okay with that in theory; still, a little consistency and logic are also nice, and Valerian tends to be weak in those areas.

But my biggest problem was the casting. Major Valerian plays like a much older character, and apparently was, in the comics; DeHaan comes off as a lightweight, and just can't make us believe he's an experienced, senior ranked operative in a galaxy-wide security service. Worse, he has little chemistry with Delevingne, who I found much more believably bad-ass. The movie slows to a crawl whenever their romance comes up, and one has to wonder why she hasn't already requested a different partner. I'd be happy to see her play the same part again, and some of my favorite moments of the movie were when she worked solo. Him, not so much.

I suppose the original characters would be too old, now.


Otherwise Valerian provided in spades what we've come to expect from movie space opera: great effects and action sequences, weird aliens, last minute saves, and bad guys doing things that don't always make sense. But in a way that was the problem: Everything got thrown at the screen, losing the story and characters in the process.

My score:
entertainment value: 3 M&Ms out of 4 ... and remember, I'm easily entertained.
Oscar potential: 1 M&M out of 4. Not that it couldn't get nominations for something like effects or makeup, but overall VatCofTP is as overly complicated as trying to shorten the title.

Remember when your utilities were gas, electric, water, and maybe phone, and the idea of having the world at your fingertips and a screen in your hands was something for rich people or science fiction characters?

No, me neither. But I got a taste of first world stone age when our internet went out at the beginning of this month. How great is it that Mediacom convinced me to get my home phone service through them, then told me I'd be out for two weeks after both it and our internet went dark? It's so great, it makes me want to just injure my back and lay there, unable to use the internet or talk on the phone, or move. That's how great it was.

And that's the irony of it, that it failed at a time when I was flat on my back and could have used it most.

(Truth in advertising: It actually hurt to lay flat on my back. I was in more of a fetal position.) 

 But there's a bright side: By the time the pain eased enough for me to do anything at all, I worked on writing or--wait for it--reading. In the week and a half or so we've gone without, I wrote a submission outline for my newest novel, and got halfway through a final polish on the manuscript. I'm also halfway through the first novel I've read all summer.

That's the good news. The bad news is that when I do do internet stuff (and we all know there's a lot of online do-do), I often ended up using my phone. I didn't think twice about it until I got a notice that, 25% into the month, I'd used up 75% of my data. For you older people, that's like gossiping on a party line until the other users start yelling for you to get off the phone.

That's why I'm stealing the internet you're getting this from right now. *ahem* Borrowing. It's also why I'm not online as much as usual, even though I'm still limited in other things I can do. First world problems, yeah, but I'm paying for my first world stuff with money I earned by helping other people with their first world problems.

And when I called the people providing me with that first world service, who out of fairness I shouldn't name, they said a serviceman would be right there, in about two weeks.

Thank you, Mediacom. Thankyouverymuch.

Basically I'm telling you this because the service guy is supposed to be here today (they moved it up three days, so why am I complaining?) I don't want to vent on the repair guy, because it isn't his fault, so I'm venting on you. There. Vented.

How things go today will determine what kind of mood I'm in tomorrow ... but either way my smart phone won't be very smart for the rest of the month, and I suspect M******m isn't going to reimburse me for that.

"I feel like something's just crushing me." Kidding! This was taken after my sinus surgery.

 

 Two of our books are going to be auctioned off this Saturday to benefit the Central Noble Food Pantry, which happens to be one of my neighbors.

 

We donated copies of Radio Red and Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All; they'll be auctioned along with other items at the Moose Lake Christian Craft Village, at 11330 E 500 S, LaOtto. The benefit's planned for this coming Saturday, August 12, from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

 

I haven't been there myself, but I hear it's a great place to visit. There's a seven dollar entry fee but that's for the whole day, including a visit from Johnny Appleseed (who I write about in Hoosier Hysterical, come to think of it). There's swimming, fishing, paddle boats, music, crafts, wagon and pony rides, and all sorts of other neat stuff, which you can probably find out more about by visiting their Facebook page.

 

I don't know if our books are going to be auctioned together or separately, but it would be really nice if someone would stop by and put their money down, and maybe bring a nonperishable food product for donation, too. The C.N. Food Pantry is just two doors down from me, and they do great work for the community.

 

Of course, the books won't be the only thing auctioned off! The list I saw includes a whole hog, tools, gift certificates, a Moose Lake family pass and weekend cabin stay, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

 

Call Bonnie if you have any other questions, at 260 564-8160. Check it out, have some fun and, as I always say, buy our books!

 

 

 
 Emily and I are going to be at the Kendallville Public Library's Art and Author Fair, which, perhaps not surprisingly, is going to be at the Kendallville Public Library in September.

 

It's this whole big thing, held in conjunction with the Kendallville Chamber of Commerce "Showcase Kendallville and Job Fair", and it's all going to be at the library Friday, September 15, from 2-7 p.m. We've already been to a group book signing with some of the other authors! It'll be like coming home again. Actually, it'll be like writing home again. The library's page for the event is here:

 

http://kendallvillelibrary.org/about-us/library-news/art-and-author-fair/

 

And you can let everyone know you're going on the facebook page, here:

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/261574904246629

 

Is that cool, or what? Yes. Yes, it is.

 

 

So ... kind of a sucky week.

 

Actually, all of July kind of sucked, and the first few days of August just went along with it. Come to think of it, 2017 as a whole hasn't exactly been stellar.

 

But never mind that, let's go to the lawn mower. I never did get this out on all my social media, so you might not have seen it:

 

For the record, the tire is not supposed to go that direction.

 

This is the same mower my stepfather repaired for me after the carburetor crapped out. A carburetor is a ... thing ... that does ... something ... in an engine. According to my wife's research, the carburetors in this particular engine brand are now made out of plastic. Plastic in a piece of equipment that's designed to burn stuff under pressure. Yeah.

 

Now, this would be the same mower that gave me other problems, including a gas cap that wouldn't stay on and other small pieces that seemed to fall off at random. In addition, the little bar that stops the mower from running if you release the handle kept it from starting at all, until I bent the control wire in an un-designed direction. In retrospect, I should have known it was a lemon from the get-go, but it didn't become clear to me until after the warranty ran out.

 

And now there I was, pushing the mower across the yard, when suddenly the cut became uneven. It became uneven because one of the tires came off. And it wasn't just the tire: The whole assembly that held the tire to the mower deck just peeled away, like wet cardboard.

 

(I checked: It wasn't wet cardboard. It was metal that looked like web cardboard.)

 

So, for the second time, I didn't get to finish. I showed the above photo to my wife, and began my prepared speech, which was to be, "If you want to have someone fix it, that's fine, but you've got one week to get it done before I trash this piece of--"

 

I didn't get beyond "If you want" before she said, "Oh, we're getting rid of that thing."

 

My wife is a consummate researcher. It's because of her that I know about plastic carburetors, and what "consummate" means. It's in the dictionary. Who knew? Within days she narrowed down the new mowers, and then we went shopping.

 

For years I avoided mowers with grass catchers, because they fill up after about two passes. It took longer to mow a lawn than it does for me to assemble furniture, and I don't have that kind of time. But now we have a compost heap, which loves grass clippings, so Emily found a mower that could change between a rear bagger and a side discharge. Not only that, but it has four working wheels, and a three year warranty. Heaven in the grass.

 

It only took me a few hours to get it put together. And I needed to get on it, because the last two times I mowed, only about a third got done before disaster struck. It had been so long that the part already mowed needed it again, and that's where I started--a flat section, where I could get used to the new equipment.

 

I was being careful, you see.

 

But I didn't take something into consideration. I accounted for the new mower,  but not the extra weight of the bag filling up. So, when I went to turn a corner on a hill, the mower zigged and my spine zagged.

 

I'd mowed a third of the lawn--the same third I mowed last time--before my lower back went "twang!"

 

It didn't sound exactly like that, of course, but that's kind of how it felt. And that's why I didn't go online much for awhile: It hurt to type. It hurt to walk, sit, lay down, lift a finger, swallow, think ... well, it hurt to think about the pain, anyway. It hurt so much that I came to appreciate my  chronic back pain. Sure, that hurt all the time too, but it didn't feel like the red hot barbed tridents they use in Hell.

 

But my wife, through experience, has become a very good nurse. Three days later I was able to go back to work, and if you ask me I did a pretty good job of hiding the fact that my pain had only been reduced to agony status.

 

What have I learned from this, you ask? Well, first, always keep some of the good pain pills around the house. More important, either get a goat, or hire someone to mow your lawn. I'm leaning toward that last--I can only imagine how badly I'd get hurt dealing with a goat.

 

 

I've been feeling crappy the last several days: either an oncoming summer cold or a bad allergy attack (and/or lack of sleep). Considering all the dust and the white cottony stuff floating around outside, I'm thinking allergies, so I should stay inside rather than hiking around. But I had a bout of sleeplessness and hit the trails at Pokagon State Park; 3.6 miles later, I can say no one ever accused me of doing the smart thing.



What am I allergic to? According to the allergy doctor, everything that can be found in nature.


Except water. I'm not allergic to water ... or maybe they didn't test me for that?
 


  

And now, with apologize to Robert Frost:

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And both smelled kind of musty

My nose asked me if I should

Go down something so dusty;

 

I shall be telling this with a sneeze

My nostrils full of mold

I took the road more allergen

It's worse than any cold.

  
  
  
  
  
   
  
  
  
  
  
 
  
  
  
  
  
 
  
  
  
  
 

117 people came to our annual family gathering Saturday at the home of the ever-welcoming cousin Mike Triplett, who encourages the invasion every year. Emily and I were only able to stay a couple of hours due to work schedules, but boy ... those were a tasty couple of hours. Thanks to cousin Vickie Martin for letting me use a few of her photos for a post.

 

That's my dad, Delbert Hunter, along with his sisters Ruby and Dorothy. There were nine siblings in all, which helps explain the large number of descendants.

 

 

I had to add this photo of my brother, because it's like pulling beard hairs to get one where he's not making a Jerry Lewis face. Jeff's still working full time despite going through chemo--that's one tough guy. (Latest test results were very encouraging!) His long-suffering wife is on the right ... well, any married Hunter man has a long-suffering wife.

 

 

 

Speaking of long-suffering wives, there's mine. She's asking Dad if I've always been this way. He's answering, "Yes".

 

There was chicken. But right over at the next table there was fudge. Faced with a difficult decision, I chose to overeat. By the way, my wife bought me that shirt.

 

There are about a million more pictures over at Mike's Facebook page, and Vickie's, and about a dozen others, which is why I didn't bother to take any myself. Emily only had one day off out of six in a row, so I decided to be lazy on her behalf.

We should all see each other way more than once a year, of course.


Tags:

Meet Lilianna Judith Mapes, my first granddaughter:

 

Tags:
Sooner or later, Marvel has to screw up. In recent years even their bad movies have been good (depending on who you ask), and that just can't last forever—at some point one of their big budget superhero movies has got to be an Ishtar-level bust.
 
But not Spider-Man: Homecoming.
 
 
 
Just to remind us how great these movies can be, we open right after the events of The Avengers, when Peter Parker would have been—what—in kindergarten? Michael Keaton is New York businessman Adrian Toomes, who’s just landed the contract to clean up the mess made during the Battle of New York. He’s invested a lot of money into the venture, but to his shock the cleanup is taken over by a government initiative led by Tony Stark. Toomes, looking at financial ruin, is ordered to turn in any alien technology or scrap he’s collected, shutter his operation, and go home.
 
He does none of those thing. Do you get the feeling we’ll be seeing both Toomes and that alien tech again? Me, too.
 
We then get a fun look at the events of Captain America: Civil War as seen through the eyes of teenager Peter Parker, who’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man. When the battle ends he’s sent back home, with the assurances that the Avengers will call when he’s needed.
 
So Peter waits. And waits, putting off his personal life, convinced he’ll be called back into action at any moment. Meanwhile, someone seems to be selling weapons made with alien tech around Peter’s neighborhood. Even more frightening, he has to survive being a high school sophomore.
 
One of the smart things Spider-Man: Homecoming does is send Peter back to high school, as an overeager fifteen year old who means well, but tends toward rash actions and under-thought decisions. In other words, he’s a typical teenager, except for being a scientific genius and, you know, sneaking into his house by crawling across the ceilings. It’s the typical superhero challenge of keeping two lives separate, done with spirit and a fresh face in young Tom Holland.
 
 
 
Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Toomes, maintaining his intensity but staying away from being too Batman. He acts with a casual normalcy, making the audience like him even as he, like Peter, makes wrong decisions.
 
The rest of the cast tends to be overshadowed by a handful of small appearances, especially Robert Downy Jr. as father figure Tony Stark, in turn exasperated and proud of his web-slinging protégé. He hands babysitting duties over to his former driver Happy Hogan, and Jon Favreau is fun to watch as his frustration builds. As usual, the adults just don’t quite understand the kids, not even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, loving but concerned as May always is). Speaking of kids, the rest of the high school students (who I assume are all older than they play) do a serviceable job on that side of Peter’s life.
 
Overall the movie is just … fun. And spectacular, often at the same time, although Peter's private life shares equal time with the fight scenes. There’s one huge twist that I should have seen coming. It was pretty obvious in retrospect, and it's been done before ... but it puts a lot of what’s going on in a new perspective. The effects and action sequences are exactly as top notch as you’d expect from a Marvel movie, and the plot’s straight forward and not too terribly full of holes. Then there’s the end of credits scene, which contains no huge twists or plot details—but if you have the patience to wait for it, it’s one of the best after-credits scenes I’ve ever … seen.
 
My score:
 
Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms, the good brown ones. With an extra helping, and some stored away for later.
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms, although still the brown ones. If there was an Oscar for best action movie, we’d have a nominee here.

We stopped at the Glenbrook Square Barnes & Noble on the north side of Fort Wayne last week, and I was very surprised to find they still have our book in stock:

 I say "book" singular, because it's the only one of our nine that we've managed to get into a chain bookstore--the others are either through small publishers, or independently published, and it's not easy to find shelf space for those. In any case it was a suprise, because I've always heard that major book stores won't keep a book for longer than a couple of months before they return the unsold copies, to make room for new releases.

But that's not the only Noble County related book they had in their history section:

 


Yay for local history books! For those of you who don't know, Ligonier is indeed within Noble County. The author of that book, Daniel L. Replogle, was my high school science teacher, far enough back that we'd probably both rather not discuss how far back it was. As for the other author, John Martin Smith, I got a look at his vast historical photo collection while we were researching for Albion and Noble County.

Of course, it goes without saying that you can get all of our publications at Barnes and Noble online, as well as all your better online bookstores ... and some of the worst ones.

Doctor Who fans are aghast, or deliriously happy, that the show's main character is having a sex change. Non Doctor Who fans are saying the same thing they always say when they hear details about the show: "Huh?"

We'll get to the good Doctor--whose name is not Who--in a moment. This is set against the bigger question of whether it's okay to change the race or gender of an established character, always (so far) to a person of color and/or womanliness. In general, if it's another case of political correctness gone rampant (I call it Political Over-Correctness) I'm not a fan.

"The next James Bond needs to be black!"
"Why?"
"So we can have a black James Bond!"
"Okay. Or, you could just create a black secret agent from scratch."
"Yeah, but ... then he wouldn't be James Bond!"

Honestly, it's not something I care enough about to argue over, which sets me apart from most people who care at all. If the TV and movie industry disappeared from the face of the earth right now--which isn't the worst idea ever--I'd just go back to reading books for entertainment. Interestingly, if the race of a character in a book isn't specifically mentioned, most people either don't think about it at all or put their own skin color on the character. It never occurred to me, until I saw the wildly entertaining TV version, that Shadow Moon from American Gods was black. You can call that racism or you can call it being color blind, whatever. People will color anything I say here with their own views anyway.

James Bond is an interesting case when it comes to gender and race swapping, because the franchise has already done it--just not with 007. Bond's CIA buddy Felix Leiter has already turned from white to black--twice, if you include 1983's Never Say Never Again. The famous Moneypenny had a similar transformation, while Bond's boss M became a female ... although it should be noted that M is a title, rather than an individual.

You can complain about it all you want, but for me when it does work, it works spectacularly. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica was just as much fun and kick-ass as a woman in the reboot, for instance. From the time I was old enough to read comics I knew Nick Fury as a white guy, fighting his way across Europe in World War II. Now I can't imagine him looking like anyone but Samuel L. Jackson.

Which brings us back to Doctor Who, who Samuel L. Jackson could totally play if he wanted to. Are you going to tell him no?

On the question of changing a character's looks just for the sake of changing them, the Doctor is a special case. Sometimes the actor playing a character is changed without explanation, as with the James Bond series. (Wait--who's this new Darrin on Bewitched?) Sometimes it's a reboot, as with Battlestar Galactica, and thus not really the same character. But Doctor Who ...

Okay, in case you don't know, I'd better offer a brief explanation.

The original Doctor Who, back in 1963, was an old guy. He was a grandfatherly type, on a show designed as a fun way to teach kids history. (He's a Time Lord, you see.) But the actor began to have health problems, and it was soon apparent he couldn't continue in the roll. It seemed Doctor Who was doomed to retirement.

But wait, the writers said. We've already established that he's an alien. Suppose this particular species of aliens, when facing death, could cheat their way out by transforming into a new body? Regenerate into, say ... another actor's body?

Yeah, they're all the Doctor


That was twelve Doctor's ago. More, really, but we don't have time to go into that complication. In fact, the Doctor has already been a woman, played (very briefly) by Joanna Lumley in a 1999 charity episode.

So there's no story reason why the Doctor can't be female. In fact, one of his main antagonists, also a Time Lord, already regenerated from male to female. The show has had many strong female and minority characters in the past, and the Doctor's most recent companion was a black lesbian. (Is lesbian still a permitted word? I don't care.)

That's Bill, on the left. Black, prefers women, young, smart, and most importantly fun.
So that's where we are in the Doctor's complicated half century. In the Christmas episode the current Doctor is going to meet the first Doctor--that kind of thing happens, from time to time--and then presumably regenerate into someone who looks a lot like the actress Jodie Whittaker. If they did it to freshen up the show and keep things interesting ... well, why not? I'm not sure it's any more of a shock to me than when uber-young looking Matt Smith regenerated into still another grandfatherly type.

I wasn't thrilled back then ("my" Doctor is David Tennant), but I came to like Peter Capaldi's version. That's why I don't understand the so-called fans who are closing the doors of the TARDIS and going home. I know it's not just mysogeny, as some narrow minded people claim. Not always, anyway.

Honestly, I suspect it's just resistance to change in general, and I get that. Contrary to what some will tell you, sometimes change is bad. But you won't even give the new Doctor a chance? Why not? With that attitude, the show would never have made it out of the sixties.

And we'd have missed a lot of fun.

There's a new Doctor in the TARDIS
.

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