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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

Giveaway ends October 20, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Week Off

My apologies, but I'm taking a break on this web site for a week. Will return on January 5th, 2010. Thanks to everyone for dropping by. Looking forward to next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Auburn vs. The Big Ten

This is a first.

For this year’s Outback Bowl, Auburn is playing a team it has never played before. Not in its previous 1,136 games.

That’s amazing.

Then again, it may not be. They’ve played other teams in the Big Ten (plus One), but not as many as I would have expected after 100+ years. After Northwestern, there will still be four teams in the Big ten that Auburn has yet to play. Historical records against current Big Ten teams are below.

1) Illinois 0-0
2) Indiana 1-0 (1990 Peach Bowl)
3) Iowa 0-0
4) Michigan 1-1
5) Michigan State 1-0 (1937 Orange Bowl)
6) Minnesota 0-0
7) Ohio State 1-0-1
8) Penn State 1-1
9) Purdue 0-0
10) Wisconsin 1-1-1

This gives Auburn a 6-3-2 record against the Big Ten, with all but two of these games being bowl games. (The two ties were regular season contests.) Like any list, I need to admit a few things about mine (especially for any Big Ten purist who might be reading this). The list above is the complete record against all current Big Ten teams. What does that mean?

=> It counts games regardless of when they were played. The SEC was founded in 1932. The Big Ten in 1896. The list above counts Auburn games against Big Ten teams prior to the SEC’s formation. (None were played prior to the Big Ten’s formation.)
=> The list above also counts games against teams who weren’t in the Big Ten at the time of the contest. It means the 1937 contest vs. Michigan State was technically not an SEC Big Ten match-up as Michigan State joined in 1950.
=> It ignores teams no longer in the Big Ten. (Granted, this doesn’t change anything as Auburn never played Chicago.)

And while this game may be first opponent to both teams, it will add to the growing animosity that is the SEC vs. the Big Ten. Granted, that animosity has been there almost since the SEC’s inception. Scholarships, as we know them today, weren’t always the case. It used to be that schools recruited athletes by offering them jobs. The jobs in turn paid for the schooling. However, during the Depression, when jobs were particularly scarce in the South, the SEC began offering tuition as an inducement. The Big Ten filed a complaint immediately, stating that offering tuition was a violation of the rules. The SEC countered that this put them at a competitive disadvantage, as the Midwestern states had jobs to offer while the South did not. The NCAA (or its forerunner at the time) found in favor of the SEC. The modern scholarship was born. The Big Ten has been ticked at the SEC ever since.

So what is the record between the two conferences?

If you speak only of actual conference matchups, the record favors the SEC by a total of 66-47-2. To do this would count such schools as Chicago, Sewanee, Tulane, and Georgia Tech while they were members, and would not count Arkansas and Penn State during the times they were not. And, though Auburn has two ties against Big Ten schools, these two ties are not the same ties as mentioned in the conference head-to-head. (Auburn hosted Ohio State in 1917. Final score was 0-0. Auburn traveled to Wisconsin in 1931 and left with a 7-7 tie. Both games occurred prior to formation of the SEC.)

Yeah, a Big Ten fan might say, but this doesn’t mean that the SEC schools weren’t part of a major conference, and this is true. Prior to forming the SEC, most of the schools were part of the Southern Conference. While the Southern Conference is now an FCS conference that features such schools as Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson, it once was composed of many members of the current SEC and ACC conferences. This leads us back to the SEC vs. Big Ten head-to-head when schools are members of the conferences.

Big Ten fans would also like to argue that you should include all current Big Ten schools vs. all current SEC schools. I saw one state where the Big Ten leads that discussion 95-88-7.

But it’s all a lot of argument.

Games aren’t won on debate. They’re won on the field.

And on New Year’s Day in Tampa, that’s where this game will be decided.

Until the next game anyway,

War Eagle!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

At church last Sunday, our pastor gave a talk about Mary's visit to her kinsman, Elizabeth. He pointed out that the two of them lived roughly 80 miles away form each other and that Mary, a young teenager, just didn't get up and go. Instead, she would have traveled in some kind of caravan and family would have come with her to protect her. The caravan would have traveled only four days a week. They would have unpacked the day before the Sabbath to set up camp, done no work on the Sabbath, and then spent the day after the Sabbath packing.

But the most amazing part of that story was the reminder that Elizabeth's baby, John the Baptist, leaped in the womb at the presence of Jesus.

May we all greet Jesus the same way.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Littlest Actor

Every family has a story that keeps on giving, one that will be retold for the rest of their days. This is ours. And while I have run it on previous Christmases, I hope you won't mind if I run it again. It occurred a few years ago, when we lived in Oregon. May you Christmas worship time be memorable to you.

Every Christmas Eve, my wife and I take our sons to the children’s service at our church. The service includes a kids’ pageant and our boys seem to pay closer attention than they do during the typical church service. Also, we feel that attending Mass on Christmas Eve provides a wonderful way to begin the holiday. After the service is over, we go out to dinner to the one place open on Christmas Eve, a Chinese restaurant.

While my wife and I believe every family Christmas is special, we cannot conceive that any will be more memorable than this one. It was to be a big night as our older son, Andrew, was finally old enough to participate in the Christmas pageant. He enjoyed two rehearsals and getting into costume, admirably playing the role of a shepherd. Because church seating at Christmas is limited and we wanted to take pictures, we arrived almost an hour early to get a seat up front. We knew it would be difficult to keep our pre-school age son, Christopher, seated for the long service and the time before it. Therefore, my wife saved our seats while I played with Christopher and kept him entertained. When it was close to time, I corralled him and took him to our seats; he sat on my wife’s lap and anxiously looked for his older brother and the start of the show.

Just before the beginning of the pageant, the stuffy air in the crowded church became a little more unbearable than usual. As there were several babies in the immediate vicinity, my wife and I both thought one of them must have needed changing. Catching the odor, Christopher said aloud, “What’s that smell?” He turned around, looked at his Mom, and said, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!” We did our best to quiet him down, while the people around us were suppressing their laughter. He continued on, repeating the words, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!” Eventually, Christopher quieted down and the pageant began.

After Mass ended, we walked to the car, buckled the kids in, and drove away. On the way to the Chinese restaurant, my wife and I discussed the incident. She realized that the words Christopher used in church were the same ones she had used with him during his potty training. Also, we were convinced one of the babies close to us during the service must have had a poopy diaper or probably just passed gas. We chuckled about it. However, our little guy provided the last laugh. Overhearing the discussion, Christopher, with the smile that only a young child can produce, piped up with one more comment, “Oh, in church? That was me.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Impressive Display

It'll be short as the holidays keep me swamped. Click here to be taken to a most impressive display. I wish my wife would let me do this. Granted, I would end up spending as much money on our power bill as Al Gore.

Will post my initial thoughts on the Auburn-Northwestern match-up next week. Trying to take in the performance of the basketball team in the meantime.

War Eagle.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Little Boy’s Nightmare

My younger son likes to misbehave. At this time of year, my wife often find ourselves reminding the little guy that “Santa is watching him.” The admonition seems to work for awhile. However, he soon engages in what seems to be an all-out effort at being mischievous. It’s such an ongoing event with us that, while shopping at Wal-Mart recently, my wife found a t-shirt with the words, “Dear Santa, I was framed.” She immediately found one in our younger son’s size. Of course, he wears it with pride.

But there is one event in his life that still gets his attention.

One of our Christmas traditions is to place our boys’ Santa gifts next to their bed. My wife buys a nice wrapping paper that she hides in the closet so she won’t use it for anything else. (It wouldn’t do to have Santa using the same paper we do.) We wait till we’re sure the boys are asleep, then we set out their big present from Santa. (Actually I set it out as my wife is asleep. However, as she bought the gift, hid it, and wrapped it in the special paper, it seems to be the least I can do.)

Though we usually spend Christmas at home, one year we went up to North Carolina to visit my family. We spent Christmas Eve at my Dad’s place. My boys stayed up for while, drinking hot chocolate and watching Santa Claus’s approach on the NORAD website. However, my younger son was his usual naughty self. We warned him that we were going to call Santa. He would say he’s sorry, but then revert to his old self a few minutes later.

Finally tired, our boys sacked out on a queen-sized bed in the guest room. When we sure they were out, we set up a platform of pillows on each side and placed their Santa gift on top of each pile.

The next morning, while we were sipping coffee in the kitchen, my younger son came running into the room in tears. “Santa didn’t leave me anything,” he cried. We went into the room and realized what had happened. The gift had fallen off the pillows in the night and the pillows had covered it. He was devastated.

Well, we did the only thing we could do. We fought the urge to bust out laughing. After a few “well, we warned you,” we finally went back into the room and “found” his gift.

Relieved, he was able to enjoy the rest of his Christmas and was soon to back to his naughty, but lovable self, but a little timid at times.

Maybe next year. ;-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How to Freeze Your #*%$ Off For a Good Cause

For those reading this, you can fill in the blank. However, as far as weird things I’ve done in my life, how I spent last weekend hits a new level.

Last weekend was Yule Log for the Boy Scouts in the north Georgia area. For those unfamiliar with it, on the weekend of Yule Log in December, Scouts gather for a weekend of friendly competitions at Scoutland in Gainesville. The price of entry is canned food as all the Scouts in attendance spend their days prior to the weekend collecting food to replenish local food banks. Some troops spend the weekend. Some come in for the day. All bring food to help out. Sounds fantastic and it is.

So what was weird about it?

Last weekend was, as most of you may have noticed, a little on the cold side. And my son’s troop chose to spend the weekend camping out. As the day approached, I saw the weather reports showing freezing temperatures with an inch of rain scheduled for Saturday night and I started asking myself what I might have gotten myself into. I’d camped with my son’s troop before and it had been a lot of fun. However, the potential of freezing rain? I must have lost my mind.

Complicating this was that we’d gotten my son a new tent. It was his first and he was excited. Scoutland has a lot of large canvas tents with mattresses already set up at the various campsites and my son and I had arrived early enough to claim one. Mattresses sounded like a good idea, and the tents were big enough for our gear, but my son would have none of it. He wanted to spend the night in his tent. His 6’ x 5’ tent, camped out with his 6’2” father.

With the weather coming, the only thing I knew to do was dress in layers. For most of Friday evening, I felt pretty good. My son and I got the tent set up and then realized scant little of our gear would fit. We took what we needed to back to the car and made due what we had, blankets from the house that we’d hope would keep us warm. The two of sacked out about 10:30 p.m. and I thought we’d be ok.

I woke up later and I realized I was cold. I’d slept most of the night, I figured. It would be dawn in a couple of hours. Then I reached for my cell phone so I could check the time.

1:15 a.m.

Oh! My! Word! (Actually, I uttered something else, but this is a family space.)

I rearranged the blankets on my son to make sure that he covered and then drew back my hand. The blankets were wet. Condensation from my son’s body heat meeting with the night air. I checked to make sure his cap was on. I knew he was in no danger. (I could have always taken him to the car and driven him around to get him warm if it was really that dire, but I knew that would have been overreacting.) After taking care of him, I wrapped my own blankets around me and tried to get some sleep.

3:00 a.m.

3:45 a.m.

4:45 a.m.

I realized I hadn’t endured a night this long since I was a kid on Christmas Eve. My son woke up at 5:15 and had to go to the bathroom. (I took him there, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. The sun still hadn’t risen and it would be another two hours at least.) I asked if he was okay and he said that he was fine, though he didn’t like the cold. As much as we’d prepared, we hadn’t done enough. When he finally got up on Saturday morning, he was beat. So was I.

We went home Saturday afternoon and both had hot showers. (The whole troop bugged out on Saturday, in anticipation of the bad weather.) I slept for several hours, got up for awhile, then went back and slept for more. On Sunday, I felt like I was finally warming up again, though the pain in my back left me feeling like the stunt double for the hunchback of Notre Dame.

I asked my son if he’d enjoyed his time, now that it was over. He made a comment about camping in the cold, saying he didn’t want to go again until it warmed up. Maybe next Yule Log, we’ll go for the day. One time, though, in that weather was enough.

But we’ll be sure to take lots of cans.

Food banks can use your help. Please remember them at this time of year. Click here to get more information about the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Beauty of One Word

During the Siege of Bastogne (in The Battle of the Bulge), with American forces surrounded by German forces, the German commander, Heinrich Freiherr von L├╝ttwitz, sent a note suggesting surrender to General Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the American forces. McAuliffe’s response is below:

To the German Commander,

Nuts!

Signed,

The American Commander.

While the German high command (as well as McAuliffe’s non-American allies) supposedly had trouble directly translating the word “nuts,” the Germans had no problem discerning immediately that the one word response was not a positive one from the head of the American forces.

So what does this have to do with now?

While following the post-season articles in college football, I’ve been watching the exchanges that have followed between Auburn and Alabama fans. With Alabama having an undefeated season and their toughest game having been Auburn, I’ve seen a mix. Some fans of both sides have exchanged mutual words of support, as if this year’s Iron Bowl represented a new era. I’ve seen comments from Auburn and Alabama fans still expressing the “honor and glory of the SEC” and "well wishes for New Year’s Day," things I never expected to see. And yes, there is the expected “the Longhorns will gore you” and “you belong in the Papajohns bowl” barbs going back and forth, too.

How different it is from 2004, when Auburn had an undefeated season and yet was shut out of playing for the national championship. There were no kind words back then. Only derision. Dislike so bad that when a high school kid in Alabama set up a national championship computer poll that suddenly became national sports news because Auburn was leading it, the student and his family supposedly began receiving death threats from Alabama fans. The embarrassment of not getting to play for it (after having gone undefeated in the toughest conference in the land) was trumpeted. Admittedly, those memories remain in the minds of many Auburn fans.

So it was last week, when I e-mailed a friend of mine, asking a single questions. “Are you rooting for Texas?”

My friend responded with one word: “Absofrickinlutely.”

And one word can sometimes say it all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

When Reindeer Get Religion

“How was school today?” I asked my 7-year old son as he chomped away on his dinner.

“Great, Dad. We learned about reindeer.”

“Oh, really? What did you learn?”

“We learned people used to denominate them.”

I paused. “Denominate?”

“Mm-hmm. Denominate.”

My wife looked at me with a stare that said what? and I figured I must have returned one just like it as I wondered what might be the religious preferences of Santa’s reindeer. I realized I could never be certain. (After all, I don’t know them personally, except for the Christmas specials I watched growing up.) But, I could at least make some reasonable assumptions.

Dasher always has to be first, so that means he’s one of seven possibilities. As for Dancer, I had no clue how to get his religious preference , but as I figured “Dancer” was a nickname, I at least could eliminate a few choices. Comet was my best hope. As I learned in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Special, he’s all about rules. This meant I could narrow it down to two possibilities, one of which is mine. And I figured Vixen and Cupid were atheists, else they would have changed their names.

Finally, it hit me and I looked directly at my son. “Do you mean, domesticate?”

“Yeah, domesticate. That’s it. They used to keep them and use them to help around the house and the farm.”

I nodded. “Yes, and in some places they still do.”

My wife commented. “Big word for a little boy.” She then glanced at me. “How’d you figure that one out?”

“It just came to me.”

“Your mind works in strange ways.”

She has NO idea.

The writer hopes everyone takes the above in the humor it was intended. However, even though he acknowledges that denominate doesn’t mean “to assign a religion,” it really was the first thing that popped into the author’s head.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Monk

An era ended at our house last Friday.

The final episode of Monk premiered. I watched it with my wife and our younger son. Our older one, also a Monk fan, was involved in an event at his school. He’ll have to catch the final episode on re-run.

For eight years, we’ve watched this show. It started with me, because I like the quirky detective genre. I love Sherlock Homes and Hercule Poirot, so I gravitated to Monk. My wife started soon after and then my kids got into it, too. My 7-year old would scream with delight when it was time for the show to come on. “Monky-Monk,” he always called the main character.

For eight years, if we were home on Friday night, we watched. (The show is older than my younger son.) We always knew what the final episode would come down to…Monk finding his wife’s killer. We also knew it had to end After eight years, the writers seemed to be running out of ideas. Shows in the last season were nowhere near as crisp as they had been in the earlier years. Had the writing been like this at the outset, the show would have never survived. However, we stayed with it through the last season, like an old friend that had given us many pleasant memories.

I did wonder how the final episode would end. I was convinced he would die. Sherlock Holmes ended his career by falling off a high cliff ledge with his greatest opponent, Professor Moriarty. Hercule Poirot died of natural causes, but with his dying breaths convinced his greatest opponent to take his own life. It seemed appropriate for Monk that he would pass at the end, as the search for his wife’s killer had sustained his for twelve years. Instead, Monk was poisoned, survived, and given a new reason to go on living.

I’m sure we’ll find something else to do on our Friday nights. (My older son is already counting down the days until he starts driving and he’s not even a teenager yet.) But, we will miss the quirky detective who brought so much enjoyment into our lives.

Goodbye, Monky-Monk.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hung Over

When I say “hung over,” I’m not talking about drinking. The only thing I had during the Auburn- Alabama game was Diet Mountain Dew.

Yet, the loss hit like a gut punch and it lasted for several days. We led or were tied with Alabama up until the last two minutes, but the game is sixty minutes and not 58 so we fell.

I was proud of the way Auburn played, but had seen the story twice already this year. We ran out of gas in the 4th quarter and lost to Kentucky. At Georgia, we had the momentum on our final drive. I believe we would have tied them. But the injury that interrupted what became our final set of downs shut us down for 20 minutes. And it’s hard to face a critical third down at the end of a game when you’re just flat cold.

And we all know how the final game of the season ended.

A salve to the wounds came out a few days later as it was announced Auburn would be going to the Outback Bowl. As of this writing, I don’t know if our opponent will be Wisconsin or Northwestern. I’m hoping for Northwestern. We’ve already seen Wisconsin twice in the last decade. Let’s get somebody new. Since we weren’t going to be a BCS team, we couldn’t have done much better if we had two extra wins. And, an Outback Bowl gives Auburn a game that sounds more respectable than some of the other opportunities. Also, we get more practice, which we desperately need.

For now, though, we have to put up with the tauntings of the redneck roustabouts. We can be gracious, which we always are, and do what our hearts tell us to do.

For, and every Auburn fan knows the feeling (and it was initially expressed beautifully by one of my Auburn friends on Twitter), I’d rather lose as an Auburn Tiger, than win as anything else.

War Eagle!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Posting Schedule Change

I took a week off as the football season wore me out and the Christmas party season started. I will be shifting to one past per week, with the likely exception of bowl week.

I hope everyone who stopped by during the football season will continue to follow my musings on all things Auburn for the rest of the year.

I'm extremely excited about our projected Outback Bowl invitation. Should be a good game.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving Blues

I did something Thursday morning that I shouldn’t have. I stepped on the bathroom scale.

Actually, it’s something I should have done a few days ago, but didn’t. I knew I’d indulged myself over the holidays and figured the extra weight would go away. (One of the rules of weight loss. If you don’t think about it, it goes away.) But as I walked into the bathroom that morning, the flat white device mocked me as images of clothes fitting more snugly than they used to fit flashed through my mind.

Don’t do it.

One voice of supposed reason echoed in the emptiness that is my head when I haven’t had coffee. It tried to talk me out of it.

Your wonderful wife fixed one of your favorite dishes last night. So what if you had thirds. Give it another day.

But I didn’t listen and I stepped on that scale.

Uggh!!

I was still five pounds over my pre-Thanksgiving weight, which was already elevated in an inverse relationship to the amount of Halloween candy left downstairs. And with parties every weekend until after New Year’s, it looks like I have no hope.

My wife would probably tell me to eat less. (Fat chance of that. She’s a great cook.)

I could hope for warm days, so I could get outside and play with my kids, or at least get some exercise. (Granted, I shouldn’t let a chill stop me.) However, keeping the holiday pounds off, like any laudable goal, takes work.

Any suggestions from readers out there?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Look Back at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was last week. (Not that I was thinking anyone missed it.) We had a blast. We drove up to NC to spend time with my family Two days, including the actual holiday, with my mother and her husband (Grandma and Papa Foy). Two days with my dad and his wife (Grandpa and Na-na). (I’m glad my wife’s parents are Japanese. My sons use the Japanese terms for grandma and grandpa. I would have had difficulty coming up with separate names for them otherwise.) Whichever set of grandparents it is, my boys enjoy being with them.

However, the start and end of the trip provided an interesting commentary that I hadn’t expected. On Wednesday, we met Grandma and Papa Foy at Old Salem, an historic community of shops (like a miniature Williamsburg) that demonstrates how people lived in the 18th and 19th century. The community, founded by the Moravian church, is located in Winston-Salem, NC. People take you through tours of explanations of old bakeries, gun shops, shoemakers, tinsmiths, etc. as well as living and worship spaces for the townsfolk. My sons enjoyed the gun shops. (They’re boys. It’s to be expected.) They also enjoyed a Toy Museum exhibit.

One of the facts I found interesting was that, at Old Salem, they alternate days between the 18th and 19th century. We’d showed up on 19th century day. This meant that a lot of the 18th century style shops were closed. Old Salem used to run both types every day, but budgeting and the economy had forced the community to cut back. Some people did double up. The shoemaker was also the potter. The tinsmith switched operated both days and just switched the equipment he could use. Overall, though, the interesting little place was half-staffed and would remain that way for the immediate future.

Though I thought the situation sad, I didn’t think much else of it. We celebrated with a big group on Thanksgiving day at my mothers, went to my father’s on Friday, and then went shopping on Saturday with my wife while my kids enjoyed a movie with Grandpa and Na-na.

On Sunday, we packed for home. We left mid-morning, as we were afraid of traffic slowing us down. It had before. We expected it. And while we did run into spots of traffic, the overall traffic volume was lower than I remember in previous years. Were we lucky? I don’t know.

However, those musings were overshadowed by all the similar-looking signs I noticed while traveling south on I-85. How were they similar? They all had a number to call, if you were interesting in leasing the space.

So, a nice family vacation, bracketed by little signs of weakness in the economy. And I as considered my own situation, I realized one thing.

I have a lot to be thankful for.