Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Binding Time's Spring 2013 Book Festival

A couple of months ago, I did a book signing at Binding Time Café in Martinsville, which proved quite enjoyable (see "Binding Time Book Signing," Friday, March 8). A fair number of folks came by so that I might devalue their books with my signature, and the cafe food was superb. After the signing, roving reporter Ben Williams, accompanied by photographer Mike Wray, conducted an in-depth interview with me, and the resulting article was just featured in the Sunday, April 27 edition of The Martinsville Bulletin. Unfortunately, it's not included in the online version, but I was quite impressed by Mr. Williams' presentation. It was factually correct, and I was even quoted properly — a rarity indeed.

Saturday, May 4, Binding Time is hosting the 2013 Spring Book Festival, at the Druid Hills Shopping Center, 1115 Spruce Street, Martinsville, VA 24112, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. I'll be among the many local authors participating, so if you're anywhere near the area, please come by. I'll devalue your stuff, too. You see if I don't. I will have copies on hand of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, and The Gaki. Join us.

Authors attending include Kristen-Paige Madonia, Dr. Mary Helen Hensley, Louise Lester, Avis Turner, James Wayland, Laura Wharton, Angela Harris, Donna Smith, Karen Hall, Oma Boyd, Stacy and Robert Moody, Carol Nolen, Betsy Ashton, Mary Dalton, Arnetta Hairston, Becky Mushko, Sally Roseveare, Franz X. Beisser, and Guy Andrews.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chicken City

Gainesville, GA, is often known as "The Queen City of the Mountains" and sometimes "The Poultry Capital of the World." This weekend, as we discovered, the latter epithet was succinctly condensed to "Chicken City" and plastered all over town because it was time for Gainesville's 9th Annual Spring Chicken Festival. Kimberly and I were in the midst of it, at least for part of the day yesterday, being as we took my mom to Gainesville for her class reunion. Mum grew up in Gainesville, and, as kids, my brother and I spent lots of time there visiting our grandparents. The poultry industry was indeed Gainesville's economic lifeblood in the mid 20th century, and it's still a fairly prominent business, as evidenced by the big turnout of both vendors and attendees at the festival. Dozens of local restaurants and other businesses set up booths to sell their unique chicken concoctions — and compete with each other for the best recipes — in the Great Chicken Cook-off. Brugger and I sampled quite a bit of the available fare, which ranged from hickory smoked wings, Korean barbecue wings, chicken egg rolls, a variety of chicken salads, roasted garlic-parmesan wings, grilled orange-sesame wings... you can just about name it. I rightly enjoyed it, though I do believe Kimberly has had enough chicken to last her for most of this life. I must confess, it bothers me not a whit that that we missed out on the Chicken City Parade and most of the subsequent live entertainment.
Brugger lurking at a hidden, iron-gated stairway
just off Gainesville's downtown square.
Eerie screams were heard wafting down from
the darkness — hence the nice lady's smile.

Still, we spent a crapload of time, on numerous separate excursions, wandering about Gainesville's downtown square — an appealing, thriving little mecca of shops, restaurants, bars, and geocaches. Last year's visit (see "Let's Do the Time Warp Again," April 9, 2012)  was the first opportunity I'd had to spend much time in Gainesville since my grandparents died in the late 1980s. This year, our schedule was considerably tighter, since we devoted a fair amount of time to taking Mum around to places where she had spent so much of her youth, but hardly less enjoyable. Mum's reunion was last night, and she had a great time, which more than warmed my heart to see. Kimberly and I had several decent meals in town, the easy winner being last night's at Re-cess Southern Gastro Pub, which we had discovered on last year's trip. Unfortunately, it's louder than hell inside, but they have a few tables in a covered area out front, to which we availed ourselves on both our visits. Honorable mentions go to Poor Richards, where we had dinner with Mum's first cousin, Mark Bell, and his wife, Sylvia; and 2 Dog, a nice little hidey hole right next to Bell's Cleaners, the dry cleaning plant that my grandfather and his brothers ran for the better part of the 20th century. Kimberly and I also enjoyed sampling some drinks at Scott's lounge (where, again, the sidewalk seating proved most enjoyable) and at Luna's lounge, in Hunt Tower, formerly the grand Dixie Hunt Hotel.

Since last spring, the new, scenic Midtown Greenway has been added to Gainesville's numerous beautiful outdoor settings. (Yes, there was geocaching.) Ivey Terrace Park and the adjoining Wilshire trail system remain my longtime favorite places to hike and cache. When I was a kid, my brother and I loved to explore those woods and ride our bikes like mad fools down the trails, which back then were just dirt and rocks; nowadays, they're all nicely paved (though I kinda preferred the natural trails) and there's a gorgeous overlook built into the very steep, densely wooded hillside.

Unfortunately, the trip back today was miserable, for the blinding, driving rain never once let up, making me exhausted and cross (especially since it knocked me out of finding all but one of the caches I might have otherwise targeted). All in all, though, returning to Gainesville — the site of so many of the best memories of my life — was a pure joy, and I can't wait for another opportunity.

We're done here.
Reproducing — more or less — last year's pose at Re-cess Southern Gastro Pub
The photo is a bit blurry, alas, but at 2 Dog, the walls are paneled entirely with wine corks.
Nice lady taunting the photographer on the new pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway
Nice she may be, but there are, in fact, times that Brugger does need a little adjustment.
Sometimes I am obliged to haul ass after the fact, but one does what one must.
Grave site of my great, great uncle, Congressman Thomas Montgomery Bell, who took no
guff from anyone. Once, sometime in the 1930s, when a driver cut him off on the highway,
Uncle Tom pursued the miscreant and shot his tires out.
Just a-swingin' at Ivey Terrace Park. Notice that the trees have grown completely
around the ends of the iron rod. (Near "Pole in a Tree 2," GC2WVCJ)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Designs by Droolie®

If you visit me on Facebook, you've no doubt met Droolie. Droolie is my home decorator. Back in December, he came round to my front porch and wouldn't go away, so, after a good faith but ultimately futile effort to find him a decent home, I took him in, fed and clothed him, got him his shots, and had him properly fixed. In no time at all, not only did he begin to redecorate my home, he inspired Chester, Frazier, and Dusty to help out. These days, coming home from work is always a new adventure. Sometimes I can't even get in the house because they've bunched up a rug and used it as a wedge behind the front door. More often than not, the tablecloth on the dining room table is just plain gone, and occasionally the floor is littered cat toys and other paraphernalia that I haven't seen since 1994. An industrious boy, this Droolie.

And so began Designs by Droolie®. This line of innovative, uniquely feline, and occasionally dangerous (for Dad) home decorating tips and ideas is frequently illustrated by stunning photographs of the house cats doing what they do best. There's no shortage of creativity in this household, I can tell you, and after much poking and prodding from his Facebook fans, Droolie has decided to try his paw at merchandising. We've uploaded the Designs by Droolie® logo you see here to Café Press, and you can get it on coffee mugs, water bottles, tote bags, t-shirts and other apparel, and even mouse pads. Here's a link to his page: Designs by Droolie®. By all means, stop by and have a look at what you can get.

Droolie and his capable staff will certainly thank you. Enjoy.
Sometimes subtlety is most effective. Here, our young master decorator presents a fringed, patterned rug
in front of the back door, tastefully angled, with one end slightly rolled up for effect. It's easy, affordable,
and only marginally dangerous for Dad.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fox Den, CITO, and the One That Got Away

At least a couple of times a year, I get with a bunch of geocachers to help clean up an area that needs it — a "cache-in, trash-out" (CITO) event. Today's gathering took place on the Richmond & Danville Rail Trail, in Ringgold, VA, sponsored by Norman & Lynn "Spring1" Dillon. About 15 geocachers from all around Virginia and North Carolina showed up at the trail head at 10:00 AM, and within a few minutes, we had two separate groups attacking two different trail heads and working toward each other. A couple of hours later, there wasn't a speck of trash to be found between the trail heads at Ringgold Depot Rd. and Shawnee Rd. Done, done, and done.

Afterward, the lot of us converged on the Corner Cafe in Ringgold at a meet-and-greet event, sponsored by proprietors Keith and Laura McCoy. On Friday evenings, their dinner special is meatloaf, and they were kind enough to save me some because they know I'm ga-ga for the stuff. Really, it is the most awesomest meatloaf, anywhere, ever. Check it out for yourself, and you see if it's not.

Following that, I headed down through Caswell and Alamance Counties to the Shallow Ford trail system to pick up a relatively new hide and then over to the Haw River to check out an older cache. That one is actually meant to be accessed by boat, but when the water is low enough, you can get to it from the river bank. Today, however, the water was not even a little low, so I did not attempt to make my way out to ground zero, which is a couple of very cool, very old bridge supports. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to go after this one, and its nearby neighbor, the regulation way.

The big mean cache of the weekend was yesterday's... a new hide, called "Fox Den," in Greensboro that entailed crawling into a huge, hollow, fallen tree and snagging an ammo can placed some ten feet deep inside. There was a lot more to it than that, but I won't go into detail and give too much away. Mr. Rob "Robgso" Isenhour and I managed a nice first-to-find, occasionally in the pouring rain, late yesterday afternoon. Suffice it to say I came home wetter and filthier than I probably ever have from a caching trip.

Jumpin' Jehosaphat, the things some of us will do to get a smiley.
The CITO group after working over the Richmond & Danville Rail Trail in Ringgold, VA
Yep, there's a cache there, but without waders, I wasn't keen on attempting to ford the river.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

From Forest of the Elves to the Domain of Dwarves

Ol' Rodan homing in on "Shields of the First Age" (GC2NTA9)

Needed exercise. Got exercise. Tired. Sore. My feets have warned me they will walk me no farther this day.

It started early. Headed out to Burlington to meet Mr. Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee so that we might snag a number of geocaches we both needed — two in particular — first at the Caswell Game Lands up the road a ways, and then over to Danville, VA. Out of a fair number of hides in the expansive game lands, we both lacked only one: a puzzle cache called "Shields of the First Age" (GC2NTA9), based on certain Elvish lore from Tolkien's The Silmarillion. (See "Middle Earth in Caswell County," Sunday, March 12, 2011, to read about our first adventure out there.) I had labored long and hard to decipher the runic symbols on the cache page, and after a nudge in the right direction from a friend who'd solved the puzzle, I finally got the hang of Elvish math. Upon reaching the game lands, we had a mile hike out to ground zero, the latter part of which offered a fair incline to negotiate, but that was naught, naught I tell you, compared to the mental challenge of this cache. Fortunately, the container was easily found; we slapped our monikers on the log, made the hike back to our vehicle, and set out for Danville. Along the way, we received a call from our geocaching friend Larry "HDJP" Roach, who was coincidentally heading for Danville at the same time from a different direction. Thus, we made plans to meet him at our other main target cache — "Dick's Downer" (GC3NVM4)

Before the next big one, Rob and I stopped for a couple of hides near the Danville Riverwalk, and who should we stumble upon but another of our geocaching buddies, Mr. Keith "KeithandLaura" McCoy. He was also keen on heading over to Dick's Downer, so after we finished our business at the Riverwalk, we hit the road for Dick's. The cache description gave us the crucial information about prerequisite equipment — things like bright flashlights or headlamps, waterproof boots, and maybe a change of clothing. Sure enough... once we reached ground zero, we saw that it clearly presented us with the expected terrain challenge. Just before we made our way into the subterranean darkness, I spied something in the water that looked rather familiar. No way, I thought... I mean, it just didn't seem even a little bit likely. So I let the thing be, and on into the dank darkness we crept. Now, I've got to tell you, I've enjoyed some caches of this type, but this one required a few interesting physical challenges that really made it stand out (imagine the old man playing Tarzan deep in the underground). It wasn't long before Mr. Lee spotted the hide, but it was... how you say... incomplete. Blimey! That thing I had seen out in the water — it sure enough was a piece of the cache! So, Mr. Keith and I backtracked, and he went out to see if he could find the thing. Happily, he soon did. So after putting in a new logsheet, he brought the container piece back in to me, and I relayed it to Mr. Lee at the cache site. Finally, we managed to get it all back together, as it was intended to be. Clearly, I should have just recognized the thing for what it was at the beginning, but that would have deprived us of half the trip's adventure. In the end, Dick's proved an enjoyable highlight of the day, and it was also a mini-milestone for me — cache find #5,800.

There were several more caches to be found over the course of the day — after a superdynawhoppin' bison burger at Ham's — so, yes, at the end of it all, my feets were uttering the uncooperative stuff I related up top. They did get a nice break this evening when Ms. B. came round so we could watch The Evil Dead II, which I've not seen in years.

Done. Ripped. Fini.
Rodan cooling off at the entrance.
Nothing satisfies one after a long hard day on the trail more than a big old burger of bison.
Railing against the man, is that it? Found on the Cane Creek Parkway, Danville, VA. Left it as found...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Twelve Years Ago Today...

Mom and Dad before I was even a glimmer

...My dad passed away. Complications from severe diabetes, which he'd had for most of his adult life. If he'd been able to avail himself to the refined medications and general expertise we have about the disease today, he'd likely still be with us. He simply could never control his blood sugar, no matter how precise his regimen. His dosage of insulin and  diet might be exactly the same every day for a week, but his blood sugar still fluctuated madly day after day. I remember some of the violent insulin reactions he had; they were terrifying. Worse than epileptic seizures. Violent. Horrifying. Frequent. Thank ye gods, Dad was able to retire from a 30-year career with Dupont at age 52 — younger than I am now — and have some quality of life before the disease destroyed his body.

If he were alive today, Dad would be 82 years old, and I confess I find it difficult to imagine him at that age. He was relatively young when he died — just shy of 71 — but those last few years barely counted as living. He suffered a rapidly progressive debilitation that by all appearances rivaled AIDS. I've always believed diabetes has been an "under-rated" disease. It doesn't get the attention that cancer, HIV, and heart disease command with the media, but I saw up close and personal how devastating it can be. Fortunately, medical advances in the past few years have reduced, if not eradicated, the kind of suffering my dad went through. Till the end, his mind remained sharp, and while in hindsight there are so many things I wish we could have shared during those last days, at least from my view, we parted without words left unspoken. For that, I feel blessed.

If there's any lesson Dad left me, it's to treasure the moments... the people... the experiences... that life offers us. My mom is still alive and doing fairly well. I talked to her just a while ago, and though it was all about nothing earth-shaking, it was a memorable and, yes, precious exchange. Life is short. A blip. You know, at the end of the day, what I really want is to make my little blip count for something. The way my dad did.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mother F—!

Have you seen the bridge?

The geocache description said it was a "pointy tree." We're talking a honey locust here, so let's try a gnarly, smug, smart-ass, ornery tree boasting clusters of 3-inch-long briers on thick, whip-like branches.

My log: "Out for a beautiful day on the hunt with Suntigres. Upon reaching for this one, I made a very naughty utterance. Thanks for the cache... I think."

Bridget Langley's log: "When I heard Mark repeatedly calling for his mother, I knew he had found the cache."

It was an ultra-beautiful day to be out on the caching trail, so Bridget and I made a day of it in Randolph County. I picked up 36 caches; she claimed a few more, since we stopped for some I'd logged a while back. The bridge you see in the pics was at one cool stop along a tributary of Back Creek, on Heath Dairy Road. We had a kind of hairy but ultimately entertaining moment when some community-spirited neighbor (who looked to have no front teeth and drove a thirty-year-old, noisy, exhaust-belching pickup truck with a chainsaw in the back) took it to heart to pursue us, no doubt curious about our efforts to dislodge a magnetic nano from a section of signpost alongside the road. Happily, Bridget is apparently a bona fide Bond girl, for we soon lost the unsavory character without having to engage any of our lethal gadgets.

In any event, it was an excellent trip out there, but for the excruciating pain of reaching into the pointy tree. I tell you this, if I ever need an implement to inflict serious injury upon someone who has annoyed me, I know from which particular botanical specimen to clip a few branches.

It's not my photo, but here is a nice shot of your typical honey locust tree.

Where's that confounded bridge?

Just a Travelin' Fam

The better half of TravelinFarmFam and Ms. B. at old Tobacco Barn, just off the
American Tobacco Trail in Durham, NC
A couple of years back, my next-door neighbors and good friends, Paul and Jamie Workman (a.k.a. TravelinFarmFam) moved to Durham to be closer to their respective jobs. To be sure, without all that commuting and a new house in the bargain, their quality of life has taken a step up — damn it all, since, from my purely selfish viewpoint, life on the home front has been all the more drab for it. They're not all that far away — about an hour — but with hectic work schedules and seemingly endless social and business commitments for all of us, finding time to get together has proven painfully elusive. Finally, though, the TravelinFarmFam, Ms. B., and I found time to get together at their place over in Durham. Yay friggin' damn, it's about time.

Paul and Jamie were my first honest-to-god geocaching partners, and we had more than a few screaming great times together that first couple of years of it. Back then, all any of us had to do was holler next door, "Hey, you wanna go caching?" And the people in the other house would holler back, "Like, yeah." So, off we'd go on some wild adventure. More often than not, we'd head out in the evening and be gone till until way past our bedtimes. We'd usually find some place to have dinner and drinks, or we'd cook at one of our respective houses. Sometimes on nice evenings, we'd wander over to each other's back decks and sit out under the stars drinking wine and yelling for the sake of it. We watched out for each other, and if I'd go out of town for a weekend, they'd take care of the cats and make sure my house didn't burn down. In return, I'd go over to feed Lucky, their dog, and keep their bunny on the straight and narrow. Ms. B. and I took a couple of the most memorable trips of our lives together with them — one to Jamie's family's citrus ranch down in Florida (see Florida's Outback, March 16, 2010), and another to Williamsburg, VA (see A Williamsburg Kind of Weekend, October 23, 2011). When Peg and I were going through the worst of our marital breakup, Paul and Jamie were there for the both of us, and I really don't know how either of us could have managed without them.

Yesterday, Kimberly and I hit the road after work, headed to Durham, and soon enough were darkening the Workmans' doorstep. (They even let us in, the blind fools!) After a spot of wine, we made our way to one of my favorite establishments in that area, Ted's Montana Grill, where they turn great big bison into these breathtakingly awesome burgers that — after a bit of work — fit cleanly in your mouth. There was more wine, game playing, and general shenanigans until sometime very late. This morning, Jamie made a delicious egg/ham/cheese scramble, with some killer Iguana Joe's hot sauce that they picked up in Aruba. Then it was out to the American Tobacco Trail for some hiking and caching, where we discovered an old tobacco barn that is evidently haunted by a giant spider (see photo for a shot of the interior). About halfway through, the ladies left us to go shopping, while we men put in about four miles and snagged a dozen or so caches. After all this, lunch was late, but quite decent at Los Portales Mexican Restaurant. I had a right tasty cevichile, with shrimp and octopus, and a cielo rojo, which was Corona beer with tomato juice, lime, hot sauce, topped with a shrimp. It was pretty good, but it doesn't beat a good old Red Eye made with Corona, lime, and Zing Zang bloody mary mix.

Finally, we had to head out, so Kimberly and I hit Chapel Hill for a bit more caching (for me, at least), a stop for some groceries at Trader Joe's, and a drink at the Weathervane restaurant in A Southern Season. It was an all-too-brief but more than welcome gathering with some of the best friends I've ever known. It can't be so long before our next get-together. It just can't.

So says I.
Inside the old tobacco barn... We never saw any giant spider, but I'm sure it was lurking nearby...
watching and waiting. We managed to escape with our lives.
Ms. B. and ol' Rodan, unaware that a giant, bloodthirsty arachnid might be watching.