Sunday, May 28, 2017

Forty Years Later, and It's Not a Reunion

Photo courtesy Jim Frith
The Martinsville High School Class of 1977 — it was forty freaking years ago we graduated high school, and some of our number have retained enough brain cells to remember it (certain of us, I'm not so sure about!). Some time ago, one of our illustrious classmates had the idea that those of us who were physically and mentally able should meet in Martinsville, not for a reunion per se, but an informal gathering of old friends who might not do grievous harm to one another on sight. So, the "Not a Reunion!" event came together, held last night at The Third Bay restaurant, which is owned by one of our old classmates and is just about my favorite place for dinner, not just in Martinsville but anywhere.

Approximately forty members of the Class of 77 converged on The Third Bay last night, and I'm pretty sure I felt my heart stutter a bit. Some I barely recognized. Some hadn't had the courtesy to age a day after all this time. We'd had reunions at 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 years, but we missed out on a 35-year gathering. A shame, to be sure, as a lot of these folks I'd not seen since the last reunion, and several others not since our actual graduation.

In those days, I was probably too young, too brash, too naive, and too close to see what a superlative bunch of people the Class of 77 comprised. (Of course, back then, any of number of us yet had plenty of room for our brains and hearts to grow!) Some of us were great friends. Others of us were barely casual acquaintances. But we saw each other every day. Speaking for myself, and no doubt certain others, we took the school, the town, and the people somewhat for granted; for those of us who'd grown up in Martinsville — the majority of us, I believe — everything and everyone in town were the ultimate in familiarity, and you know what they say about that word. But getting back together now, I can safely say these folks are exceptional. Many of us traded stories about old times as well as what we're doing now. Much of what I heard humbled me. So much selflessness, compassion, and all-around human decency, all gathered in that little restaurant — and I gotta tell you, from some of these people, that blew my mind.

Okay, I jest. At least a little. But I came away last night feeling a sense of pride, and a deep respect for so many classmates I haven't so much as spoken to in way too many years.

A "real" reunion is planned for October of this year, hopefully with even more of our class showing up. Thanks in particular to Tim Hall and Baxter Robertson for coordinating this event, and to Tim Pharr for overseeing the one that is to come. To you folks I've known over all these years, whether we've actually been close or little more than memories, I salute you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Damned Rodan's Manhattan Pancakes

I don't know whether they're really Manhattan-style pancakes, but at one of our local restaurants, that's what they call these guys — they're rolled crepes, basically, stuffed with sour creme. So I decided to try my version of them, and they were flippin' delicious. I used Greek yogurt rather than sour cream, which I think was actually better. They're best with boysenberry syrup, and I have some, except I left it at the office (I like it with oatmeal, one of my typical weekday morning breakfasts), but good old maple syrup is perfectly acceptable on these guys.

WHAT YOU NEED (1 serving; modify as needed):
1/3 cup pancake mix
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla)
syrup, boysenberry, maple, or otherwise
cooking oil or spray

For the convenience of it, I used your basic Hungry Jack buttermilk pancake mix; one could always go with scratch-made, if preferred. However one does it, you need more liquid than you'd customarily use for pancake batter.

Dump the pancake mix, milk, egg, and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Whisk vigorously until the batter consistency is about the same as heavy cream.

You want your cooking surface to be very flat; I cook on a cast-iron skillet, which works perfectly for this. Heat initially on medium-high, then, just before pouring the batter, turn the temperature down to medium. Before making each crepe, I hit the skillet with a thin coating of cooking spray.

Slowly pour the batter onto the cooking surface and let it spread to a diameter of about eight inches. You want the crepes to be very thin. Cook until the batter is no longer spreading and the surface is slightly bubbly, approximately one minute.

With a very thin spatula, flip the crepe, cook for no more than ten seconds, and then move it your plate. If you've done this right, you'll have a very round, very thin crepe. Scoop a dollop or two of the yogurt (or sour cream if you prefer) onto the crepe and roll it into a nice little cylinder.

Repeat this process for each crepe. With this recipe, I made three, rolled as you see in the photo above. With the maple syrup, they were delicious, but I think next time, I'd better remember to bring home the boysenberry. Good stuff is what that is.

And there you have it: a non-spicy, non-lethal Damned Rodan recipe. What can the world be coming to?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Geocaching and the Horror of It All

Yeah, this is happening, June 10, at the Glenwood branch of the Greensboro Public Library. A little yakking about writing horror and geocaching. Couldn't be a better pairing, far as I'm concerned.

A couple of years back, at Brewed Awakening's Book Festival in Danville, VA, I met a most enthusiastic young lady named Trena Taylor, who worked for the Danville Public Library. She was familiar with my books, which I thought was nice, but the big surprise to me was that she turned out to be an avid geocacher. She was as keen on talking caching as about my writing, which was fine by me, so we had a long, entertaining conversation about both — which we continued on a couple of subsequent occasions, one when I went to hunt a wonderfully done cache (which, unfortunately, has since been archived) at the Danville library, and another at the next Brewed Awakening Book Festival. Then, relatively recently, I learned that Trena has taken a job with the Greensboro Public Library.

So...friend Trena decided there was no better way to scare the local populace than to invite me to come speak about horror and geocaching. How could I say no? So, on the tenth of June, I'll be there, spinning yarns about my adventures in the field and how they have influenced my writing — and vice-versa. There will be a geocaching mini-tutorial, and in all likelihood a new cache hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the library, which the bravest of the brave attendees might care to hunt.

If you've an interest in geocaching and/or horror, show up at the Greensboro Public Library Glenwood Branch on June 10 at 2:00 PM, and you will be at precisely the right coordinates to get a good lesson in fear.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Two Charity Events, Two Trains, One Kentucky Derby, and a Welsh Dragon

Man, the shit is getting real at the Kentucky Derby.
Nice stud, wot?!

This weekend, I attended two charity events in two days, which I expect is a first for me. On Friday night, Ms. B. and I accompanied our friends Joe and Suzy Albanese to the fund-raising auction & gala at Piedmont Classical High School, where Suzy teaches. A few weeks ago, I went to the school to speak to students about writing (see "The Author Speaks," April 18, 2017), and this weekend, Suzy was kind enough to pick up a copy of Blue Devil Island to offer at the auction. Happily, it commanded a good price for a good cause. The school provided live music, drinks, and a massive spread of excellent hors d'oeuvres, which made for an enjoyable and worthy event.

And last night, Ms. B. and I accompanied our friends Jenny Chapman and Doug Cox to Autumn Creek Vineyards to attend the fancy Run for the Roses Derby Day, their annual fundraiser for Help, Inc., an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. Derby Day is a fairly lavish affair, with a huge auction, raffles for prizes, a catered buffet, Autumn Creek wine, more live music, and the Kentucky Derby on a huge screen TV (my horse did not win, alas). All in all, a most entertaining and worthwhile experience, and I must say I should enjoy making this a regular tradition.
Beth and Suzy at the Piedmont Classical High School Gala
Ms. B. sporting a fancy-ass hat for Kentucky Derby Day
The crowd gathers to watch the Kentucky Derby at Autumn Creek Vineyards
Once again, I spent part of the weekend helping out my mom in Martinsville, while also managing to get in some hiking and geocaching. Yesterday morning, I took a long hike on the trails at Bryan Park North to pick up some of Night-hawk's new hides, and he was kind enough to offer me a first-to-find opportunity on one of them prior to its publication as a birthday bonus for an old, decrepit man. I rather enjoy the trail there that runs near the train tracks because there you are, out in the middle of the woods, and — what do you know — here comes a big old train rumbling past you. While I was out there, two trains came by, one running north, one running south (not at the same time!). I tend to enjoy train-spotting, as long as I'm not sitting endlessly at a railroad crossing while a long one goes creeping by.
The section of trail of Bryan Park North that runs near the train tracks
Tis far better to encounter one of these while hiking in the woods than while sitting at a railroad crossing
This morning, after running some errands in Martinsville, I headed up to Fairy Stone Park in Patrick County, VA, to go after a relatively new cache hidden there. It proved a quick find at a scenic spot near Philpott Lake, making for find #9,419. I quite love that area, I do, as I spent quite a bit of time there from the time I was a little kid through my college days at nearby Ferrum College. And finally, on the way back home, I stopped in Reidsville at The Celtic Fringe to satisfy my craving for their Welsh Dragon burger, which is a third-pound Angus beef patty simmered in their one-and-only Welsh Dragon ghost pepper sauce and topped with pepper jack cheese, candied red cabbage, arugula, and mayonnaise. (I even like to dip my french fries — which are excellent, by the way — in a side cup of the sauce.) Make no mistake, this is pure, delicious, wonderful hellfire! The flavorful, always perfectly cooked burger, the candied red cabbage, and just a veneer of mayo perfectly complement this sweet but fiery ghost pepper concoction. Inevitably, if you order a Welsh Dragon Burger, your server will ask you if you're aware of what you're getting into, and justifiably so, as I can only imagine the folly of some tyro with a passing fondness for hot sauce going all-out with one of these.

Not a good idea, my friends.

Kimberly's birthday is coming up this week, so more festivities loom — as do sixteen tons of work at the office as well as at home. One of these days, I've gotta get some rest.
Bigfoot's latrine? Near "VSP Get L.O.S.T. at Fairy Stone State Park" (GC6YJVW)
The old dude on the hunt at Fairy Stone Park
Arf'ing hot, man.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Another Day Closer to Death, and All That

Tuesday, another birthday came and went, a 57th revolution around the sun finished up, and the old man moved day closer to death. I think I yelled at some kids to get off my lawn, but I don't remember too well. For the first time since I started geocaching in 2008, I didn't take my birthday off to go caching because I was sick last week and missed a bunch of time from work. But Night-hawk (a.k.a. Tom) put out some new ones up at Bryan Park North, not far from here, one of which was in honor of my birthday, so that was cool. I'll go find it this weekend.

All things considered, it was a decent birthday. I went to work and people did some happy birthday things for me, and then Ms. Brugger took me out for treats: Wine Styles for wine and Fleming's for dinner. Fleming's is the about the best not-at-all-cheap place to eat around here, so it's always good when someone else takes you there for a special occasion. I had fried oysters, the best dead raw cow (a.k.a. carpaccio) in the world, some kick-ass roasted asparagus, and carrot cake that rivals Fern Brugger's. (Most of you have not had Kimberly's mom's carrot cake, and thus you might as well have never eaten. Trust me on this.) I've had carpaccio at other places, but Fleming's is the best, served with basil, lemon, black pepper, capers, red onion, and creole mustard sauce on crostini. Even Ms. B., who cares little for beef, finds this stuff irresistible.

Afterward, she was kind enough to give me some loverly presents, and then we watched Lost Highway, one of my favorite David Lynch movies. Then I was tired because I had gotten a year older overnight. Then I got up the next morning and went to work.

I suppose if fortune smiles, or makes fun of me, I'll be around about this time next year. That would be better than, well, other things.
Flemings' beef carpaccio — surely the best raw dead cow to be found anywhere