Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Smith River, a Haunted Island, and the Spooky Place


Almost every day, I walk somewhere between three and four miles around our neighborhood, which has done wonders for my physical and mental health. This afternoon, Ms. B. and I decided to go walking out on the Fieldale-Smith River Trail, which is my favorite of the trails in this area. In 2009 and 2010, I loaded up a mile-plus length of the trail with geocaches, and they're all still active. Yesterday, in fact, a group of geocachers found them all. Just for good measure, I decided to give each of the caches a physical check-up, and I was pleased to find them in decent condition. One of them (called "Haunted Island") involves a little tree climbing, and since that's one of my favorite physical activities, up I went (the view in the photo to the left is actually from up in the tree). I even managed to get back down.

My favorite of the trail's attractions is the view of the old Koehler Warehouse across the river on Route 57, which I've always called "The Spooky Place" because it was the site of the Martinsville Jaycees' infamous Halloween Haunted Castle when I was a teenager and a bit beyond. For a couple of tales of my sordid adventures in the Haunted Castle, you may visit my article at the Horror Writers Association Blog here. Don't be afeared... much.
A view of the Spooky Place without the spooky people in the way
A view of the Smith River from the trail
Tree damage!
A happy little community of mushrooms Ms. B. discovered

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Happy, Horrific Valentine’s Day and Damned Rodan’s Madre de Dios Spiked Salsa

While St. Valentine's Day might be a real "thing" in certain religious circles, neither Ms. B. nor I see it as much more than a typical "Hallmark Holiday." Still, we love having a handy excuse to get a little fancy, go out for dinner, and drink wine, that kind of thing. So, every year, Brugger gives me one of her beautiful hand-made Valentine's Day cards, we get a little fancy, go out for dinner, and drink wine, that kind of thing. Last night, we treated ourselves to Rania's uptown, which is our go-to restaurant in Martinsville when we're looking for something that resembles upscale. Their food is usually excellent, and it definitely hit the spot last night. A bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon (2018 vintage), which was decent; Veal Scallopini for me; and Baked Ziti with Meatballs for Ms. B. The place does have a lovely atmosphere as well.

This weekend, friends Joe and Suzy are hosting a gathering where folks bring their own homemade salsa, so I spent a portion of the afternoon conjuring up Damned Rodan's Madre de Dios Spiked Salsa, which gets its heat from a combination of cayenne, jalapeno, habanero, and ghost pepper in the ingredients. I'd post the recipe if I had one, but for this, I just gathered all the stuff that one puts into fresh salsa (Campari tomatoes, onion, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder, lemon pepper, and the various peppers; chopped everything up; and threw it together in what looked like reasonable proportions. I hit the mix with our immersion blender and... voilà! Damned Rodan's Madre de Dios Spiked Salsa. The heat is not trivial, but the stuff is fookin delicious. Needless to say, I'll probably never be able to duplicate it precisely.

Spent a portion of the afternoon on the Lovecraft eZine Podcast with host Mike Davis and author Jeff Thomas, which was a blast. I hope to be meeting them both face-to-face for the first time in August at Necronomicon in Providence, RI. And I managed a fair amount of forward progress on my current novel, The House at Black Tooth Pond.

Till whenever...

L: Brugger's homemade 2024 Valentine's Day card for the Old Dude; R: Damned Rodan's homemade
Madre de Dios Spiked Salsa

Sunday, February 11, 2024

DEATHREALM: SPIRITS at Lovecraft eZine!

Lovecraft eZine proprietor Mike Davis was kind enough to have me, authors Tony Tremblay and David Niall Wilson, and Shortwave Publishing's Alan Lastufka — on his weekly podcast to talk about Deathrealm: Spirits and the work within. It was a fun hour and a half, full of cosmic horror, harrowing adventure, and daredevil stunts. Plus, a nice bunch of memories of the legendary Brian Lumley, who passed away last month. Tune in!

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Number 1 and Driving High

What a day. What a freaking day. A mixture of the best and the worst rolled into one. It began last night when friend Scott (a.k.a. Diefenbaker) came up from Asheboro to spend the night so we could head northward today to do some serious geocaching. My daughter, Allison, also paid us a visit, and we had an excellent sushi dinner at Yamato. Afterward, we sat up fairly late with various drinks to keep us occupied until bedtime.

Up and at 'em early this morning. Allison and I made breakfast—she made her special scrambled eggs and I cooked up my Damned Rodan's Crematorium-Style Bacon. Then Scott and I hit the road for Rocky Mount and Boones Mill, thirty-some miles up the road toward Roanoke. We found several enjoyable caches, a couple of which took us out on the highest, narrowest, windiest, scariest fooken mountain road I have ever driven. You know those videos of single-lane roads along cliffs, with sheer drop-offs on one side and a high vertical wall on the other? This was kind of like that. Thanks be to Yog Sothoth no vehicles came from the other direction because I fear that might have been all she wrote for us.

At the end of the scary mountain road, we had the pleasure of meeting fellow geocacher, Varunner7, since she and her husband had placed a cache on their property. A very pleasant caching conversation followed, and after a while, off we went again, back toward Rocky Mount. We found lunch at a lovely BBQ joint called the Rocky Mount Smokehouse, where Scott and I both ordered brisket. We found it delightful.
Fun sign in the bathroom at the smokehouse

Several years ago, Brugger and I had gone after a cache on a huge, steep ridge on the outskirts of Rocky Mount. That cache has been long since archived, and a newer one took its place relatively recently. Since it was very close to the restaurant, Scott and I trekked up that remarkably steep incline and finally hit the summit. It's rocky as hell and covered with cactus, which isn't something you typically see around these parts. I indulged in all kinds of acrobatics in precarious settings as I set about hunting the cache—something I haven't been able to do much recently—but after a serious amount of time, we came up empty. Based on some intel we received from Ms. Varunner7, we concluded that the damned thing has already gone missing. Drat and alas.

Also in the "good shit" column, I received hopeful news about one of my recent short stories from a publisher (which I'll remark upon later, when the word is given), and, thanks to the big Bookbub promotion, which I detailed yesterday, Deathrealm: Spirits reached number 1 in sales on Amazon.com in three categories: horror anthologies (Kindle), horror anthologies (books), and fiction anthologies. It held onto that position for a full 24 hours, which is a fair achievement. It slipped a few notches for a couple of hours this evening, but then it climbed back into the lead positions.

It's the little things that make one smile, wouldn't you say?

In the "bad shit" column, which does not make me smile, Ms. B. got laid off from her job of 21 years, ignominiously and with a piss-poor severance deal. Out of respect for Kim—certainly not for the company, which gets absolutely none from me—I'll elaborate only a little. I hope this will prove a blessing in disguise, as leaving one position behind for another sometimes does. I feel horrible for her, though, because she loved that job and gave everything to it that she had to give. That she was shown no more appreciation and consideration than she was is disgraceful (note that this applies only to the parent company, not the wonderful local bunch that we both worked with for many, many years). Needless to say, this puts us in a bigger financial and logistical bind than we'd been prepared to deal with. Still, we're in a better place than many in similar circumstances, so I suppose there's that.

Anyway, tomorrow will bring what it's gonna bring, and we'll give it what for.
Looking down at Rocky Mount from "Rocky Top"
You might have to look carefully, but many of the rocks are covered in little cactus plants
One of the crevices I explored along the cliff face
Old Dude at "Rocky Top" on Christmas Day, 2011, photo by Ms. B.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

DEATHREALM: SPIRITS Bookbub Deal!

From Bookbub...
With terrifying tales from Bram Stoker Award–winning authors Brian Keene, Elizabeth Massie, Joe R. Lansdale, and other masters of the genre, this recently released anthology is filled with unsettling horrors that will keep you anxiously turning pages…
 
Publisher Description
Deathrealm: Spirits is a horror anthology, edited by Stephen Mark Rainey, featuring new stories from genre legends Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Massie, Brian Keene, Eric LaRocca, and many others.

This is the first anthology of new Deathrealm stories since the original magazine ceased publication in 1997. Once called one of the most important horror lit magazines being published at the time by acclaimed editor, Ellen Datlow, Deathrealm presented a wide variety of dark fiction.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Pre-Dawn Muggle Madness and More

Since Ms. B.'s folks have reached that age where they need a bit more help from time to time, she heads to Michigan regularly to visit them. Sometimes I go along too, but this week, she made it a solo trip. Her flight out from Greensboro was at 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning, so we had to get ourselves up at 3:30 a.m. to hit the road by 4:00 a.m. We made it to the airport just before 5:00 a.m., and rather than turn right around and drive home, I decided to head eastward from Greensboro and snag a handful of geocaches.

My first stop was Burlington, a few miles east of Greensboro, where there is a newish Wherigo cache, courtesy of friend Ranger Fox. Despite the 25º-degree temp, I hoped  I might make my way through the stages without becoming an icicle. But after fifteen minutes, I still had a pretty good way to go, and even though I was reasonably bundled up, the chill and the brisk breeze convinced me that trying again at a later (warmer) time might be more prudent.

However, stopping here offered me yet another chance to experience the single-most inevitable geocaching experience of geocaching experiences: the fooking muggle sitting in his fooking car. At 5:15 in the fooking a.m., a muggle (one of the non-geocaching persuasion) drives into this otherwise totally deserted parking lot, parks his fooking vehicle, and proceeds to fooking sit while I'm going from stage to stage. It never fails when there is an otherwise totally deserted parking, does it? In this case, not necessarily a complication, since muggles will be present at this location on a regular basis. However, under these circumstances, it just reinforces the notion that there is no empty parking lot into which a muggle won't insinuate himself at precisely the wrong time. Go fooking figure.

From there, I headed farther east and snagged a handful of caches. My favorite was one in the woods along the Eno River, just east of Efland, NC. A lovely location just downriver from a dam, which was visible in the distance from the cache site. So despite the pre-dawn muggle madness, I enjoyed myself no end.

A now a week of bachelorhood, writing, and, hopefully, more geocaching.
Sunrise is imminent...

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Hellnotes Reviews Fugue Devil: Resurgence

Hellnotes reviewer Carson Buckingham gives Fugue Devil: Resurgence a big thumbs-up! A lovely review indeed.

"This collection from Stephen Mark Rainey is among the best ones I’ve read. Each story is a shining gem and if you enjoy Lovecraftian horror, there is much that will please you here...
5 stars—Highly recommended. Buy one for yourself and one for a friend."

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Bad Behavior

Why not? I'm gonna step right up and post my thoughts sparked by the latest of the endless social media explosions because, for me, these go beyond just the immediate cases.

I dip into the social media pool fairly frequently, but I don't live on social media. I don't always see the latest kerfuffle in the literary world at the moment it happens, or block the latest persona non grata as fast as some people would like ("You need to do better!" [to be fair, not directed specifically at me, but apparently to those whose fingers don't perpetually hover on the block button]), especially when said PNG's page doesn't reveal diddly about what he or she might have done. At the risk of sounding defensive — not that I'm gonna apologize for handling my social media presence as I see fit — I use almost all my waking hours writing, editing, hiking, working at being a good husband, or doing something personally productive with my time and energy (why, yes, I am that self-centered); dealing with the perpetual weirdness of social media, while important in many ways, tends to be a lower priority.

That said, I do appreciate finding out that, yes, I should be aware of certain goings-on with so-and-so, and I'll weigh that info on its merits and act as I see fit. But I don't do that on your timetable, Mrs. Kravitz.*

Now, no one has come after me personally, but some of the vehemence among commenters I've seen implies guilt by association if you haven't jumped on the bandwagon fast enough for their liking. Transferring anger from the offender to the otherwise uninvolved does kind of chap my ass.

All that said, YES, OF COURSE, I condemn the behavior of Mr. JD Barker. He was on my friends' list, not that I can recall ever interacting with him. I hope that my own conduct online and in-person would never suggest tacit approval of deplorable behavior.

*It occurs to me that, for the younger set, you might wanna look up Bewitched.

Monday, January 22, 2024

One Guess Less


I saw in my online "memories" post that pops up daily that, on this day in 2012, I found the geocache called "The Curse of Samarra Morgan" (GC1QF2B), which, in the photo at left, you can see me about to dive after it. It was located not far out of Chapel Hill, NC (and there was a lovely little graveyard nearby, which might have been handy should the worst happen at the cache site). Then it occurred to me that I've been geocaching for sixteen years this month; I found my first cache ("Groundhog Lane," now long-archived) on January 12, 2008. I'm still hard at it on a regular basis—pretty much the same geo-addict I've been ever since Day One—although I can't get out after them as much as when we lived in North Carolina, simply because there are far fewer caches in this part of Virginia to hunt. That's kind of a bummer, but since I've placed a large number around here, I visit many of them frequently to keep them well-maintained for other hunters.
 
This morning, on my regular daily walk, I decided to head down to the former site of one of my old geocaches, along the Smith River a couple of miles from my house. Sadly, the host of that cache, called "One Guess," is no longer tenable for a geocache (and that area is not as readily accessible as it used to be should one be driving in from some other area). The cache was up in a big sycamore, and to say that tree has seen better days is an understatement. I've always enjoyed hunting more "extreme" geocaches, and I've hidden a good many that can challenge highly experienced cachers. There were once very few caches to which I could say "no," but I will admit that, nowadays, I'm not quite as physically able to handle certain terrain types—such as culverts and storm drains and such into which I'd have to crawl. Crawling and my knees and hips no longer get along very well.

Mind you, I can still climb some trees. I love me some trees. And another cache in the same vein as "The Curse of Samara Morgan"? Bring it on!
Left: The site of "One Guess," on the day I placed it in February 2012; photo by Ms. B. Right: The same tree, photo taken this morning (from the opposite angle). Notice that one whole trunk has gone missing, which was where the cache originally lurked. One Guess less...

View of the Smith River from the old cache site

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

WIP Excerpt: The House at Black Tooth Pond

Not very long ago, I wrote a haunted house story, titled "The House at Black Tooth Pond," for an upcoming anthology, which will be appearing later this year. I've made blog posts about the place I call Black Tooth Pond, which is inspired by an honest-to-God location here in Martinsville (the most recent blog being "Black Friday at Black Tooth Pond," Friday, November 25, 2023). For the story, I combined that real-life setting with another: an ancient, crumbling house my brother and I discovered not far from Martinsville in the early 1990s. I called it the House of Cabiness because, inside the place, I discovered a massive cache of old mail, all addressed to members of a certain Cabiness family. I suspect that place is long gone, since so little of it remained intact even then, but the memory of it has haunted me ever since.

The drawing above is one I did back when Brother Phred and I found the place.

I believe the story makes for a fine stand-alone tale, but the more I contemplated the idea, it felt like one that could be expanded into a full-length novel. So, quite recently, I set about scheming and plotting and plotting and scheming, and I came up with a workable novel project. At the moment, I'm roughly 30k words into the writing, so I thought I'd offer a little excerpt. Here she be:

#

As Martin sauntered along the walkway, mostly looking at his feet, he heard a deep, booming voice rising above the soft student babble around him. The voice was shouting, “Sinners, take heed! The end times are near! Take heed, all of ye!”

Oh, hell. One of the endless supply of proselytizers that seemed to target the campus more and more lately. They’d always been around, maybe even more so back in his university days, but there recently seemed to have been a resurgence.

The voice came from a huge, black-suited man, with wide, glittering eyes beneath a heavy brow. He stood on the walkway just shy of the stairs to Reynolds Hall. Unless Martin diverted around to the side door, he couldn't avoid walking directly in front of the fellow. In one hand, the man held a thick sheaf of papers—flyers or tracts, no doubt. None of the students passing nearby appeared to take even the vaguest notice of him.

Good for them.

As he approached, he kept his eyes down and walked by without the fellow taking any special notice of him.

Until he reached the stairs of Reynolds Hall. And then the deep voice bellowed, “Beware, Dr. Pritchett, the doom that came to Eden, the country of the snake!”

Martin whirled around, incredulous, and saw the figure standing on the walkway with one arm outstretched, pointing directly toward him.

“Do you not know what you have disturbed, Dr. Pritchett?"

He took a few steps back toward the towering figure. He’d never seen the man before in his life. How could he know his name? Maybe a former student? No. He didn't think so.

But those words. Martin knew them. They came from the pages he’d taken from the House of Cabiness. But no one besides his brother could be privy to what he’d done. No one else could have been out there to see him. Who could possibly know what was written on those ancient sheets?

No one.

No one alive.

#

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

THE FORT — A Short Horror Film by Alan Lastufka


"Teenage best friends Erin and Tim have their own hideout in the woods. It’s an old reclaimed trailer nicknamed the Fort. And it just grew a new door…"

Writer/Publisher/Filmmaker Alan Lastufka's short horror film, The Fort, is due for release in October 2024. A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to assist with the film's funding.

Alan Lastufka is CEO of Shortwave Publishing, which released my newest anthology, Deathrealm: Spirits, this past October.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Man the Pumps!

An hour ago, we received a tornado alert on our phones, the wind came roaring, and the tornado sirens started blaring. That all seemed fairly short-lived, and the wind has let up, though the rainfall is prodigious. There's usually not a creek with waterfalls here. The basement is a bit flooded, and that takes a LOT of water. Usually, it stays bone-dry even with a decent amount of rain.

This weather system is all over the region and beyond, so I hope everyone is staying safe.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Guns of the Wasteland by Leverett Butts


Mainly on my long daily walks, I've been listening to Lev Butts's Guns of the Waste Land series on Audible. It's Arthurian legend set in the wild west; stylish, with beautifully drawn characters, set in a colorful, immersive environment. Michael Hajiantonis's narration is masterful. The fourth and final part is due for release shortly. Y'all really need to check out the books, either in paperback or on Audible.

Lev is a hell of an author, and a while back, I met him on one of my trips to my old stomping grounds in Gainesville, GA (Tuesday, October 11, 2022 — "Sabbatical 2: Return to Georgia"). We hit it off nicely, and I consider him a valued friend and peer. I do hope we have a chance to get together again soon.

Monday, January 1, 2024

A Virginia Beach New Year's

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2023
These past few New Year's holidays, Brugger and I have gathered with our regular partners in crime, Terry & Beth, and this year, friends Joe & Suzy joined the mix. This year, we had decided on Virginia Beach as our destination and made reservations at the Dolphin Run condos on the waterfront. Since we were all heading from different places — and I had geocaches to stop for — each couple drove separately. Ms. B. and I left about 11:00 a.m. Sure enough... there were some cool geocaches to snag along the way. We hit a few spots of traffic, but overall, the trip turned out to be a mostly pain-free six hours.

Once ensconced in our lodgings, we opened some wine for pre-dinner drinks. Come the dinner hour, we saw a few nearby restaurants, so we walked up to an appealing-looking place called Waterman's Surfside Grill, but the wait time — about an hour — struck us as a bit much. So we ended up walking another partial block and found Mahi's at the nearby Hilton Hotel. They specialize in sushi, and I ended up with some of the best dead fish I've had in ages... maybe ever.

Then we returned to our lodgings and — scandalous, I know — we opened some wine. Our revels, debates, and mud-wrestling lasted fairly late. Brugger and I took a nice, late-night walk on the beach. Then there was some heavy-duty bed-crashing.
The Dolphin Run Condos by night

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2023
After plenty of coffee, I set out walking after geocaches. Found a few physical hides and stages of several Adventure Lab (virtual) caches. I ended up hoofing it about two and a half miles, which is fairly typical of my daily walks back home. The wind behaved brutally for much of the distance, so I was still rather glad when I made it back indoors.

For lunch, our gang decided to give Waterman's another try because the menu had appeared appealing. This time, we were able to get seated quickly. One of their daily specials was an Angus burger with brie and applewood-smoked bacon, and it hollered at me. No drinks but water for me because I'm certain there will be no shortage of such refreshments this evening. The burger was very good, a bit shy of great. Still, it's been ages since I've had a burger, so it hit the critical spot.

To my dismay, I discovered that our power back home had gone out. Apparently, it was a widespread outage in Martinsville, as people all over the city were posting about it. It lasted a couple of hours, and I don't know what caused it, but at the moment, all seems well again. We certainly did not want the cats and their sitter to get too cold!

Writer/editor/Crossroad Press CEO/good friend David Niall Wilson was apparently in town, and we'd had an idea we might try to get together during the afternoon, but circumstances didn't come together for it. However, come April, we'll be seeing each other at the upcoming AuthorCon III in Williamsburg, so we'll have a good time there to anticipate. 

There is a walkway along the beach that runs just below our eighth-floor balcony — the "boardwalk," it's called, although it's not so much boards as concrete. It's been all done up with a holiday light show, so, during the evening, a huge parade of vehicles rolls by to go through the show. It doesn't bother us at all, though now and again, we venture out to the balcony to hurl insults at the crowd and look at some of the visible lights.

Several of the gang were out and about for the afternoon, so they picked up vittles for dinner, including a couple of rotisserie chickens for the main course. Joe made us a lovely Italian concoction of beans and escarole to go with the bird, and so we were set. Once well-fed, we settled in for an evening of wine, games, and generally acting up.
Crazy white people!
The opening of the light show below our balcony: "Welcome to VA Beach!"
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2023
I'd hoped the weather might be a bit less blustery this morning to go walkies, but while the sun blazed brightly, that air remained frigid. So... no. I got some writing done. Finally, at about 11:00 a.m., the temperature pushed up to the 40-degree mark, and I decided to head on out. Joe & Suzy had a lunch date with her sister, who lives nearby, and the rest of us planned to eat leftovers, so I reckoned I could walk as far as I wanted to, and we'd be on our own time until later this afternoon. I went a full two miles outbound, grabbed a traditional cache and the stages of a couple of Adventure Labs, and I had just reached my farthest goal when Ms. B. shot me a message. Apparently, the gang had decided to check out lunch options than leftovers, and could I please get back pretty soon? Hoo boy... long way....

Fortunately, I walk pretty fast.

Our lunch destination was Firebrew Bar & Grill down by Oceana Naval Air Station, where Terry and Joe had been stationed back in our nation's earliest days. Terry and I started with a couple of bloody marys (quite good) and ye women opted for wine. Possibly the wrong thing to do because we're having a big New Year's Eve dinner, but I went for a half-rack of baby back ribs, and damn... they were delicious. There was a cache nearby, so I grabbed it... and ran into a local geocacher in the process. We had a brief, enjoyable conversation.

From there, ye women went shopping, and Terry and I headed down to Oceana to meander around his old stomping grounds. For me, the real treat was getting to view a fair number of "antique" Navy aircraft up close and personal. Due largely to my model-building days, which ranged from my wee childhood until post-college, I recalled the names and types of the majority of the jets. Fun stuff!
F4 Phantom
F2H Banshee
F14 Tomcat
The Lunch Bunch

For New Year's Eve dinner, we had reservations at Mermaid Winery. It was a three-course dinner with choices of pork belly, scallops, crabmeat-stuff lobster, filet mignon, and various sweets for dessert. They served really good wine with dinner — not their own, which turned out to be fortunate because Kim and Terry sampled some of theirs and came away with expressions that were not at all pretty. Regardless, the atmosphere, service, and food made the overall experience a great finish for the year.

Back at the condo, we sat up playing tunes and making merry. Brugger entertained us with nonstop dancing from the time we arrived until we crashed, well after midnight.

2023 has left the building...
Our Gang at Mermaid Winery for dinner
The final moonrise of 2023
A LOOK BACK...
Without question, 2023 has been one of the most eventful years of my life. It was my first full year of retirement and included a major move back to my old homeplace in Virginia. In Greensboro, Ms. B. and I went through some of the worst household issues ever, first and foremost being the downright monstrous expense of replacing our sewer line ("Ain't That the Shit!"). Once we decided to move to Martinsville, we simultaneously went through the processes of upgrading our Greensboro house to sell and upgrading Pleasant Hill to move. What a long, expensive, labor-intensive job ("I'm Getting Too Old for This Shit!"). Fortunately, we got a good price on the Greensboro place, and while there are still some things we need (and want) to do in Martinsville, the house and town have turned out to be — unlike Greensboro has become — a comfortable, peaceful place to settle.

Early in the year and into the summer, along with all the physical labor, I was immersed in editing Deathrealm: Spirits, which came out in October from Shortwave Publishing. As with any anthology, it was an involved process, but overall, I reckon things came together as smoothly as I could have hoped. It's a beautiful book that includes superb work from many of the biggest and best names in the business. I hope you'll avail yourselves to it if you haven't already.

One of the hardest events to deal with this past year was the death of my good friend and regular geocaching partner, Rob Isenhour. We had well over a decade of experiences together, and whenever our (mostly) weekend geocaching group, The No-Dead-Weight Irregulars, manages to get together (sadly, not as frequently these days, since we are far more spread apart), the gap that Rob left behind seems massive. We do so miss him.

Having turned fairly old, this year has hit me with a few health challenges — none all that severe, but numerous and just serious enough to become real, if mostly temporary impediments. This last round of dental difficulty ("Fun & Games with Tooth Extractions") was the icing on the medical cake for this year. I can't say I approve, but at least I've mostly mended.

All in all, I can safely say this year has been another positive, if bumpy step forward in the walk into the unknown. I suppose, to put it in the immortal words of Dr. Franklin Ruehl, it's better (at least sometimes) than being slapped in the belly with a wet trout.