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Port Swiller Manor after the  Initial Driveway Cleanup

Port Swiller Manor after the Initial Driveway Cleanup

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, the Family Robbo survived Snowzilla intact.  Indeed, we didn’t even lose power this time around, owing to the lightness and dryness of the snow. Deo gratias.

Dulles recorded 29″ while they got 22″ downtown.  I think we probably split the baby here.

In any case, I’ve spent the last three days heaving snow off the Port Swiller driveway and my arms and shoulders ache something fierce as a result. (I also think I pulled something in my abs today.)  But the real story of the cleanup was the Eldest Gel.  I had mentioned casually to her a couple days before the storm that I expected her to help shovel out, given that her own car was involved in the matter.  Nonetheless, I had envisioned that when push came to shove she would balk, finding some excuse for weaseling out and leaving the whole job to ol’ Robbo (who, quite frankly, is getting a bit old to deal with this sort of thing all by his lonesome.)

Well, was I pleasantly surprised.  Both yesterday and today, the gel was actually on station and shoveling away even before I even got out of bed.  Plus, not a single word of complaint the entire time, indeed, the closest she came was to say, “I hate this, but I know it needs to be done.”  Instead, we chatted and listened to her iThingy playlist of classic rock.

Musick to ol’ Robbo’s ears.  That the gel is thinking like a responsible adult is something I’ve been praying for, for a very long time indeed.  Also, although I suppose we could have hired somebody to come and dig us out, ol’ Robbo was brought up with the idea that hard work (including manual labor) is important to character development.  The gel felt damned proud of herself for pitching in, and so she should have.  (And get this: She also asked if she could borrow my copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, as she has felt the need recently to shore up the underpinnings of her faith in the face of all the hostility she gets about it from some of the kids at her school.)

Oh, speaking of musick, at one point I was at the top of the drive while she was working closer to the garage.  “Bohemian Rhapsody” turned up on her phone, and even though I was some distance from her, at the appropriate point I went into “Wayne’s World” head-banger mode.  The gel laughed and laughed.

Good times.  Good times.

 

 

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, from the midst of Snowzilla!

Yes, it set in around 1:45 pm yesterday and has been snowing like dammit ever since.  Tough to eyeball accurately, but I’d say we’re already well north of a foot at Port Swiller Manor, with a forecast of continued white stuff well into tonight.

Ol’ Robbo was actually surprised to wake up this morning and find that the power had not gone out overnight.  That means at least one more hot pot of coffee for me, so for the moment all is well.  The wind hasn’t really been an issue yet and I think, I think, we might just dodge that particular bullet.

Of course, I could be mis-

No, no.  Just kidding.

If the power holds up today, I plan to watch a 1981 production of Othello that I stumbled across in the Netflix library.  Bob Hoskins plays Iago, so it has some potential.  I’ll let you know what I think.

If not, I’ve started in again on Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time.  I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading but I’m already getting much more out of it than last time.  How I could have missed a line like “He’s so wet you could shoot snipe off of him” previously is beyond me.

The Big Dig starts tomorrow.  Despite the fact that the Bishop has already granted dispensation to stay home, I would like to have gone to Mass.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think I’ll be able to get the driveway cleared in time to make it.  Oh, well.  At least I’m guaranteed some good exercise.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over the past couple weeks, ol’ Robbo has found himself reading several books new to him.  Some brief impressions [Spoiler Alert!] re each:

UnbrokenThe first is Unbroken:  A Word War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, a copy of which was loaned to me at New Year’s by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, which means he probably never will see it again.  (I’m as bad as Hugo Bracegirdle about returning books.)  It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, Troubled Yoot Extraodinaire, who discovers a talent and drive for competitive running which leads him to shatter all kinds of scholastic records and lands him a spot in the ’36 Olympics in Berlin.   Before he can make a return appearance, war breaks out.  Zamperini is drafted into the Army Air Corp and finds himself bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific Theatre.  After some early success, he is one of only three survivors when his plane crashes into the ocean.  These three (one of whom dies) then spend the next 40+ days adrift in a small life raft with no food or water but what the occasional fish, bird and rainstorm can provide, surrounded by hungry sharks, subject to extremes of sun and wind, and once even strafed by a passing Japanese bomber.  Eventually, the two survivors get picked up by the Japanese and sent to POW camps.  Then the real hardship begins:  Beatings, starvation, torture, slave labor, exposure.  Zamperini falls victim to a particularly sadistic Japanese corporal known as The Bird, who beats him senseless daily.  Somehow or other, they manage to endure several years of this until the War ends and they are liberated.  Liberation is pure joy.  Once back in the States, however, Zamperini discovers that the War is not, in fact, over – at least in his own head.  He quickly goes into a power-dive of self-destructive behavior and it is only when his wife drags him to a Billy Graham sermon that he finds redemption and gets himself back together.  The rest of his life is remarkably peaceful, rewarding, and spiritual.

The book is meticulously detailed and clearly, if rayther dryly, written, but I have a few things.  First, the title.  Zamperini wasn’t “unbroken”.  Even according to the text itself, he was most thoroughly broken by his torture within the Japanese camps by The Bird and took that brokenness with him back home.  (He nearly strangles his wife in his sleep, thinking in a dream that she is The Bird.)  As for his redemption, it should be noted that Zamperini, while floating in the life raft, promised God that if He delivered him, Zamperini would devote the rest of his life to Him.  He also reported, during that same period, several times hearing choirs of angels around him.  Well, we hear nothing more of this until the remembrance of that promise seems to come back to him at the Graham sermon, where it’s presented awfully cut and dry:

1.) Graham – “You need to get with God.”

2.)  Zamperini – ” Oh. ‘Kay.”

3.)  ???

4.)  Spiritual Profit!

I’m over-simplifying a bit, of course, but I wish that aspect of things had been unpacked more thoroughly, because it seems to me the key point of the entire narrative.  (I’m reminded of what Mattie Ross says in Charles Portis’s True Grit about how nothing in life is free except the Grace of God and that none of us deserve it.)  Oh, well.  At least it’s better than the recent movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, which, according to my sources, pretty much ignores the whole God thing altogether.

PrincessBrideSecond is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, “abridged” by William Goldman.  For some years I’d been meaning to read this, fond as I was of the movie version, so recently I bought both the book and the DVD to add to my collection.  (An aside: Robin Wright appears in some of the extra features commentary and is quite RCBfA-worthy, IYKWIMAITYD.)  This particular edition of the book is a special “30th Anniversary” one, containing both a 30th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary author’s prefaces.  The “abridgment” consists of Goldman (who wrote the movie’s screenplay as well as a bunch of other famous ones such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All The President’s Men”, “The Stepford Wives”, and “A Bridge Too Far” (aka, “A Movie Too Long”)) putting together all the “good parts”, i.e., the action sequences, and summarizing and commenting upon long, useless, cranky, Melville-like asides by Morgenstern in between.  From the preface, I learned that the whole Fred Savage/Peter Falk reading biznay in the movie was based on Goldman’s recollection of his own father’s reading the book to him when he was a kid sick in bed.  I also learned some of the historick background of both the story and of Morgenstern, and of the apparent ongoing legal squabbles between Goldman, his publishers, and Morgenstern’s estate over the publication of all these materials.

Then I did a little background check and discovered that the whole “Morgenstern” thing – together with what Goldman let fall about his childhood, his marriage, his reading to his own son and his research travels – was a hoax.  Goldman wrote the whole damned thing himself.

Bastard.  Ol’ Robbo hates getting pawned.

I’m sure you remember in the movie when Vizinni says the “Greatest Mistake” is getting involved in a land war in Asia?  I’d always thought of that as a bit of stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam, perhaps gratuitously introduced by the director, Rob “Meathead” Reiner.

When I first came across the line in the book, however, still thinking Morgenstern was For Realz, I thought, “Hmm…Could the original author have been making a cranky reference to Alexander teh Great’s foolish attempt to conquer India?  The various wars between Rome and Persia that went so badly for some Emperors?  Even the ill-fated Song Dynasty resistance to the Mongol invasion of China?”

When I realized what was afoot, however, I went back to my first conclusion:  Stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam.

It’s a helluva fun read, nonetheless.

GreatestKnightFinally, I’ve just started a book picked up for me by Mrs. Robbo as a small token of my upcoming mumbledy-mumble birthday:  The Greatest Knight:  The Remarkable Life of William Marshall, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge.  Marshall, who first rose in the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, became a sort of early 13th Century equivalent of the Very Model of a Modern Major General and was deeply involved in the rise of the Knightly Class as well as the history of the English Throne during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, Wicked King John and those immediately around them, particularly Henry II’s first son, Henry.  The text is based in part on a valedictory biography of Marshall penned shortly after his death, but also supported and damped by other available contemporary references.

I can’t say that much about the book yet except that Asbridge goes to great pains to make sure his readers understand the difference between judging Marshall according to his own time and judging him according to modern sensibilities.  This is increasingly important in our own godawful age, in which it is becoming all the more common to attempt to simply “disappear” people and events which don’t fit in with the current narrative.  Nonetheless, Asbridge slips a bit now and again.  At one point, he remarks that toys given to medieval boys and girls were often “gender-normed”.  In other words, little boys were given toy soldiers and little girls were given dolls.  [P.C. Police:  Get….OUT!!!  Me:  So, what?]  Also, he has the annoying habit of using C.E. (“Common Era”) for dates instead of A.D. (“Anno Domini”).  This may be the academic standard now but it grates on ol’ Robbo’s soul mightily.  Back in the day, the ol’ Jacobins tried to chuck the calendar completely and start with a brand new one.   It seems their modern equivalents have got wise enough to appropriate and assimilate their target rayther than obliterating it.

Anyhoo, so far quite an interesting exploration of an era of which I don’t know much beyond a few facts about the main players.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The Eldest Gel reminds ol’ Robbo that today is the centennial of the birth of Frank Sinatra.  While she continues to believe Queen and Freddy Mercury to be the greatest musick evah, she also likes her some Ol’ Blue Eyes.

I’ve got no problem with that.

Speaking of the Eldest, she went out the other day all on her own and bought Ben Shapiro’s book Bullies.  Turns out that for some time now she’s been reading Shapiro and that Milos Whatshisname fellah over at Breitbart.  She also has become an ardent fan of “South Park”.

I guess that apple didn’t fall all that far away from the tree after all.

(OTOH, this is the same whippersnapper who, when confronted with the fact that once again she had left her dishes piled in the sink, said, “I deliberately leave them for you to do, Dad.  I read where that kind of task is good for slowing the onset of dementia in old people and am just trying to help.”)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, between the rash of campus cry-bully fascist incidents and the latest Islamist terror attacks in Paris, it hasn’t been a very good week for Western Civilization, has it?

tolkienCoincidentally, I read a book yesterday recommended to me by somebody in a Catholic FB group to which I belong,  The Philosophy of Tolkien:  The Worldview Behind The Lord Of The Rings by Peter J. Kreeft.  The book is exactly what the title suggests.  Kreeft organizes fifty different philosophical questions under thirteen different headings (metaphysics, philosophical theology, angelology, cosmology, and so forth).  He then explores the questions themselves a bit deeper – giving some insight into Platonic and Aristotelean thought, for example – and shows how Tolkien wove his own answers to them into characters, themes, settings and plots within LOTR, sometimes also adding direct answers to the questions by Tolkien’s closest friend, C.S. Lewis.

It’s an awful lot of ground to cover in just over 200 pages and this is really nothing more than a quick survey, but it is thought-provoking, nonetheless.  It’s been a year or two since I last went through the cycle.  Having read this book, I can now go back with a fresh perspective.  (Of course, Tolkien was classically educated and a devout Catholic and I already knew some of what Kreeft covers here.  Nonetheless, he brought my attention to some other things I had not consciously noticed before.)

One thing Tolkien and Lewis were both absolutely opposed to was “Progressivism” in all its manifestations, the evil afflicting the Modern West which I hold directly responsible for both of the headlines mentioned above.  Reading this book, you’ll either be heartened that there are still a few adults around (the author himself is firmly in Tolkien and Lewis’s camp) or else you’ll be mortified at just how far under the Wormtongue-like spell of Progressivism we’ve actually slid.

Incidentally, the cover blurb says that Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College.  How he’s so far escaped the tar and feathers of the Perennially Indignant writing this kind of thing is beyond me.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Veterans’ Day!  A glass of wine, well a cup of coffee anyway (sun/yardarm and all that), with all of you who serve or have served or who have family or loved ones who do or did.  Looking back, I regret that I never did.

Anyhoo, now that the Gifting Season (that is what I’m going to call it with respect to commercial matters) has set in, the catalogs have started to fill up the Port Swiller mailbox.  One of the ones that came yesterday was from the National Geographic, and I must say that it surprised me:  Since when has Nat Geo gone all Smithsonian in the stuff it flogs?  Books and maps and whatnot, I take for granted.  But fashion? Jewelry? Have I just not noticed this before or is it a new thing?  (Toys, too.  The Little Boy that still lurks within Robbo looked mighty wistfully at the working drone, the magnetic levitating globe and the laser Khet game.)

About that fashion and jewelry:  Almost all of it is “themed” – Irish, Far Eastern, African, etc.  Is this not cultural appropriation at its basest?  Is this not an outrage to our sensibilities?  Is this not a micro-aggression?

Pardon me while I assume the fetal position and let loose a cry-bully primal scream.

/logs off

/logs back on

Ah, that’s better.  I hope you learn a little lesson from this, Nat Geo.

My old grandmother used to give me a yearly subscription to National Geographic magazine when I was a kid and I must say that I really appreciated it.  No, not for the pictures of half-naked African women (at least not mostly), but because I’ve always been a nut for maps and exploration.  (For example, I’m the one driver in ten thousand who appreciates the elevation sign at the top of the pass or the announcement that one is entering or leaving the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  And I confess that Google-maps and all its little functions are like catnip to me.)

We used to get the “bonus gift” that came with the renewed subscription, too – books on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (I’ve still got them) and several record albums.  (Anyone who doesn’t know what a “record album” is can get off my lawn right now.)  One of the albums was of Revolutionary War era songs, many of which I still sing to myself.  Another was of Mississippi steamboat songs, the only one of which I can recall being Stephen Foster’s “The Glendy Burk“.  (I still sing the first verse and teh chorus.)

I remember that latter album mostly because it had a painting of a big paddle-wheeler on the cover that I used as a model to draw a cover for a 7th grade book report I did on Tom Sawyer.  When Mr. Richter looked at my report – clear plastic binder, elaborate cover art, neat handwriting – I recall him saying, “Now this is a typical Robbo the Swiller effort.”  I’m sure it was part of the reason that he recommended I move up to advanced English in 8th grade.  (Why I had been placed in regular English for 7th, I never learned.)  From there, the rest was history – English major and law school.

Funny how life works out.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

prepThe Cap’n caught ol’ Robbo out in the post below in identifying Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook as a major influence on my then-15 y.o. life.

Well, what can I say? I wasn’t born an Eastern Blue-blood myself, but I was raised with aspirations to Eastern Blue-blood values and style, so the book was a natural fit for me.  Still have a lot of said values and stylistic goals, although 35 years of experience has, of course, modified my outlook summat.  Isn’t that pretty much what life is about?

Anyhoo, I bring this up because I’m reminded of a curious little scandal associated with this book which came back to me because of teh Cap’n’s remark.  You see, the section of said book dealing with “preppy” colleges makes reference to a number of Virginia private schools – Sweet Briar, Hampden-Sydney, Hollins, etc., –  but there is absolutely no mention of Washington & Lee University (or “Dubyuhnell” as we like to call it).  This puzzled ol’ Robbo, once he became acclimated to the Dubyuhnell ethos as a law student, because he thought the place was exactly what Birnbach ought to have had in mind when putting together her list.

Well.  A couple years later, I heard an explanation for what was going on.  You see, according to my source (a college administration employee in the area), while she was writing the OPH, Birnbach apparently was engaged in a relationship with somebody in the Dubyuhnell administration (in the admissions office, IIRC).  The story goes that they had a very messy break-up, and that Birnbach black-listed Dubyuhnell in her book out of pure spite.

So there you are.  The politickal sometimes can be the personal.  Or the other way round.  Whichever.

Incidentally, I can’t help citing this book without noting Birnbach’s “updated” version which came out a few years ago, True Prep.  I cannot decide whether she is satirizing the New Order or licking its collective boots with this book, but either way, the thing is appalling.  Gone are the old values of tradition, restraint, refinement, and decorum.  In their place are conspicuous consumerism, garish display, rampant narcissism, embracement of “pop culture” and the jettison of traditional morality.  Put it this way, the Obamas are mentioned more than once as role-models.

Brrrrrr…..

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Following up on my previous post, it turned out that Mrs. Robbo didn’t really much want to go to the party either, so we pulled a Bunbury.  Instead, Mrs. R went and gave teh pooch a bath while ol’ Robbo toddled downstairs and popped in the DVD of the old Leslie Howard version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel“.   Once you get past the rayther poor early 30’s production qualities, it’s not a’tall a bad flick.  A couple of observations:

– Very early on in the movie, Howard appears disguised as an old crone sneaking out of Paris.  I would be prepared to bet a fair bit of money that Terry Jones had this exact character in mind in some of his Monty Python drag bits.

oberon– Merle Oberon.  Sink me!

– It is wonderfully disturbing, given the awful times in which we live, to watch a movie about hysterical mobs and ruthless authoritarianism.  Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes.**

Anyhoo, having watched the flick, I remembered that Anthony Andrews had done a remake in the 80’s which I seem to recall was pretty good, too.  Fortunately, Netflix carries it, so I shall see.  I also tossed in “Danger:UXB“, another Andrews piece and a prime example of the Golden Age of Brit teevee.  Just for good measure, I also went to the devil’s website and picked up the original novel by Baroness Emma Orczy, having never read it before.  While there, I also compulsively picked up another one of Frank Sheed’s theological gems and the autobiographies of Kit Carson and General John Fremont.

And since I was surfing Netflix anyway, I also tossed “The Last Legion” into the queue.  I did this because I enjoy laughing over the absurdity of Colin Firth trying to play a battle-hardened Roman general.  It has absolutely nothing to do with svelte south-Indian beauties in wet, clingy shirts.  Nope, nothing at all, at all.

This is how ol’ Robbo’s so-called mind works.  Probably explains all the headaches.

 

** I know this is said to be a false attribution, but even if it isn’t true it ought to be.

Portrait_of_a_Man,_Said_to_be_Christopher_ColumbusGreetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Columbus Day!

Ol’ Robbo can never think of this holiday without recalling to mind a song that the musick teacher at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method used to teach the younglings.  The chorus ran as follows:

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

It was a courageous thing to do,

But someone was already there.

The verses were made up of the names of various indian tribes, most if not all of them North American and none of them having had any actual contact with Columbus.  This used to bother me – historickally speaking – as much as the song’s implication that the Americas were a pristine Eden where the lion lay down with the lamb and all was peace and fellowship among the natives before those nasty Europeans came across and spoiled it all.

Lord knows that ol’ Robbo holds no brief for the way the Spanish treated their conquests in the New World, but that doesn’t excuse pushing a false narrative of the noble savage.

Anyhoo, we mark the day as a historickal milestone, not a matter of triumphalism.  Had it not been Columbus, it would have been somebody else.  Had it not been October, 1492, it would have been some other time.  And we, of course, honor the man himself for his bravery and skill as a navigator, not for his miserable attempts at administering his new-found colonies.

I have written here before that one of the best, most balanced biographies of Columbus is still Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus.

UPDATE: Well, I see that I already wrote about all of this somewhat more expansively a few years ago.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

What with His Holiness’s impending descent on Dee Cee and the mayhem it’s going to cause, ol’ Robbo decided that the prudent course would be to eat some leave time and stay out of the way until the whole thing has all blown over.  (I was strolling around the Mall at lunch yesterday and what with all the construction going on along the parade route – fences, marquees, port-o-johns and the grass being boarded over – it looked like a Capital Fourth on steroids.)  This will probably come back to bite me when the weather turns icy and snowy, but so be it.

Anyhoo, I recently made a swoop through the devil’s website and picked up a few items which may be of interest to friends of the decanter.

GBaUBofBFirst, I finally got around to bagging a couple of DVD’s that I’ve been meaning to get, namely the “Band of Brothers” box set and “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.”  Of the former, I will state once again that Damian Lewis looks like a constipated cat and that David Schwimmer, poor man, is doomed to be Ross from “Friends” no matter where he goes or what he does.  Of the latter, I think I’m only repeating the obvious in that it’s the best of Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy.  I do have one question that has always bugged me, however:  When Tuco shoots the bad guy from the tub, Clint hears the shot and says to the kitten, “Every gun has its own tune”,  meaning that he recognizes the sound and thus knows Tuco is around and can use him to help kybosh Angel Eyes’ gang who are holding Clint.  Well, that wasn’t the same pistol that Tuco had been using the last time Clint was with him, now was it.  So why would he say that?

A small point, but it bugs me.

GabrieliSecond, a couple of CD’s.  The local classickal station keeps a couple of canzons by Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1612) in its rotation, so I finally broke down and bought the disc from which they came, “Music of Gabrieli and His Contemporaries“.  Said contemporaries (none of whom I know) include Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634), Gabriel Diaz (1590-1638) and Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517).  The first three produced great, glorious, triumphal antiphone – Spain and Italy in all their Renaissance powerhouse.  The latter – who was obviously earlier – at least here seems much more contemplative and melancholy, traits which I associate with what little Late Medieval musick I have come across.   These pieces are all done by the Empire Brass on modern instruments which, I think, is acceptable, but I should like to hear them on period instruments, too.  The voice here covered by the trumpet would be played on the cornetto, a curved piece of wood that looks rayther like a gazelle’s horn.  I have a DVD of Monteverdi’s opera “Orfeo” in which cornetti are used and they are quite supple.

Beethoven EroicaI also picked up a copy of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica”, performed by the Orechestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique under the direction of Sir John Elliot Full-of-Himself.  I’ve actually got the box set of Beethoven’s symphonies by this lot, but the CD of the Eroica mysteriously vanished.  Perhaps it was the mice.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I like the story that ol’ Ludwig Van was set on dedicating this piece to Napoleon until he finally realized what a monster That Man actually was and became so enraged that he nearly tore the work up.  Ass.  By the way, Peter Schickele, in the guise of P.D.Q. Bach, did a very funny parody of the 4th movement from this piece in his “Preachers of Crimetheus” which you can find on his album, “1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults“.

Sheed MoLSheed TheologyFinally, although I already have them but because the Pope is in town and a lot of people are saying a lot of very foolish, ignorant things about him and about Catholicism, let me again recommend a couple of books by Frank Sheed:  A Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith and Theology For Beginners.  These were recommended to me by a seminarian doing a turn at my church this past summah and I can’t begin to tell you how much I have profited by them.  Straightforward, tightly reasoned and accessible to anyone who has the least talent for comprehension and willingness to make any kind of effort to actually understand what they are talking about.

 

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