Thursday, November 16, 2017

THOR'S DAY RANT: Oh, Deer!

There's an old saying that lightning never strikes twice. But I am here to tell you that it does, at least in the form of misfortune--very specific misfortune. 

I turn fifty in a few weeks. It doesn't particularly bother me, nor am I all that impressed. It wasn't hard to reach one-half century in age. I haven't outlived many people I know, as most of my friends and associates are still alive. I don't feel decrepit or unhealthy. It's basically just a number. 

Still, fifty seems like a significant number to some folks, so I decided that this year, for my fiftieth, I'd do something different, something special. I decided to treat myself to something I've never done before. I tried this back when I was about to turn 20. I saved my money for several months, planning on learning scuba diving--something I'd always wanted to do, despite living several states away from any ocean. 

Fate had other plans for me that year. I was laid off just a month before my birthday. My savings went to food and rent rather than weightbelts and snorkel, and my dreams of swimming among all those delicious fish got derailed. 

For 50, I could have chosen scuba diving again, but my interest in it has waned over the years. I suppose if I was on vacation somewhere, I might give it a try, but it just doesn't hold the interest for me it once did. No, for the big Five-O, I decided to try another failed birthday wish: hunting. 

I've been a fisherman all my life. One of my earliest memories is a family trip to Canada when I was 2 or 3, and fishing. I don't remember the actual fishing part, but I do vaguely remember the trip. Growing up, one of the few things I could get my father to do was take me fishing--he had a friend who lived on a private lake. We went out to her house often, and fished with Peggy and her husband. 

My kids enjoy fishing, as does my father-in-law. We try and go several times a year to lakes in the area. Fishing is just kind of a regular thing for us, no more special than a trip to the movies or zoo. 

Hunting, on the otherhand, is something I've never gotten to try. 

When I was fifteen, I traded in my sold off BMX bicycle and used the money to buy a nice compound bow. I became quite adept at archery over the following spring and summer. Unfortunately, my father was not a hunter, and had no desire to become one. But his brother hunted. My Uncle Tommy was an avid hunter. And, for my sixteenth birthday, he invited me to accompany him to Pennsylvania for a week-long deer hunting trip. 

Unfortunately, it meant I'd miss a few days of school. My father kiboshed the trip, and my archery skills remained firmly in the realm of slaying paper targets for the next few years. Among the many things my father did wrong in my life, this is easily one of the top ten that still bothers me. I tend to think about it very often, even now, all these decades later. 

So this year, I decided to change that. 

My planning began in early January 2017. In 2016, I had built my own AR15--something I'd wanted to do for years. It was a fun project that involved buying parts here and there, stretched out over several months, then assembling my rifle and covering it in accessories and add-ons (scope, bipod, etc. etc.)

For my hunting trip, I decided I needed a shotgun (Indiana doesn't allow hunting with a 5.56mm Armalite sporting rifle). I began shopping for a cheap .12 gauge--something I could use to hunt either Deer or Turkey. I planned on finding a nice, cheap, used shotgun, then rebuilding it, adding on bits and pieces much the same way I built my AR15. 

Then 2017 began to unravel. First, my wife had a car wreck in march. She wasn't seriously hurt, but it derailed a lot of our plans, including vacation. Then, my youngest was diagnosed with scoliosis and began wracking up medical bills and attending weekly physical therapy. By September, I hadn't done much of anything towards my fall goal of finally going hunting.

I did manage to score a shotgun around this time--my father-in-law passed down a nice pump-action he no longer wanted. A .20 gauge. It seemed that Deer was off the list, and I'd be setting my sights on Turkey. Not a problem--my birthday always falls on or around Thanksgiving, so some delicious bird I killed myself seemed like a great idea to ring in the next decade of life. 


It was a stupid accident--I wasn't watching where I was going, and fell down the stairs into my beloved basement. I didn't break anything, but I did rupture a tendon. In one literal, fell swoop, my birthday plans were dashed. I spent weeks in an immobilizing boot, then a brace, and now do physical therapy once a week. I can tolerate about an hour of standing or walking at best. 

The only hunting of turkeys I'll be doing this year is in the freezer section at the grocery store. 

And thus, lightning has struck again. For the umpteenth time. There are many other stories of birthday plans dashed I could recount--like when I turned 21 and instead of going out for free drinks with my friends got stuck in West Virginia for a week when my grandfather passed away. But I think I've made my point. An ironic point, actually, as one of the things I've always said is how being struck by lightning (and surviving) would make a great story to tell. 


Saturday, November 04, 2017

Halloween Memories: 1992

Halloween may be over this year, but the memories of it, and Halloweens past, remain. Like the time I got kicked out of a German Castle for trespassing on Halloween.

It was 1992, and I was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, at Rhein-Main Air Base, a member of the 435th Security Police Squadron. I rarely went off-base--the Germans in Frankfurt made it painfully obvious they didn't like G.I.s--not even when I tried to speak their language, putting those GPA-killing three years I'd studied in High School to use. 

This particular Halloween, one of our new Sergeants, who had been stationed in Germany years before, told everyone how we should, as a group, go out together and celebrate Halloween properly--in a haunted castle. Our Sergeant explained that yes, we could drive south, past Darmstadt, to "The Frankenstein Castle" where a big Halloween party happened every year, or we could go to a better castle he knew of with a slightly smaller crowd. 

Our Flight voted and agreed to go on this journey, those with wives or girlfriends bringing along their companions (I brought my camcorder). We chipped in and rented three big vans and managed to fit every one inside. And then, we set out into the night...

It had been years since our Sergeant had been to the castle we were seeking, so what should have been a quick drive turned into a several-hour excursion, full of narrow, dark backroads, wrongturns and lots of griping. But eventually, somehow, we reached our destination: an old German Castle tucked away in the middle of nowhere. But there were no signs of life: no party, or group of paranormal tourists gathered. So what do thirty or so liquored-up G.I.s decide to do? Why, we went exploring. 

Fortunately, we had brought two of our German Nationals with us--these were local Germans the Air Force hired to work alongside the Security Police, offering translation services for those of us who didn't speak the local tongue. And, as luck would have it, one of our Germans was a big history buff. He knew all about castles. 

Somehow, we made our way around the exterior of the castle to some stairs leading up to an upper level. It was a broad landing, probably where archers had once stood, or maybe guys with vats of bubbling oil or something. As we stood around, talking, I happened to look over to the side wall--which had large windows installed. 

The castle was not deserted. It was full of people. People in very fancy clothes, all seated at tables, having some kind of fancy dinner. It was all very black tie, with what looked to be tuxedos, ladies in evening gowns, that kind of thing. And all of them were looking towards the unruly G.I.s outside with utter disdain. It was like we had stumbled across the awards banquet of SPECTRE or some other insidious, international organization of evil. 

Everyone laughed it off, several of us speculating that they must have turned the castle into some kind of restaurant or lodge in the time since our Sergeant had been here last. Several folks decided to go back to the ground level and find the front door to see if we could get reservations--dinner in the warm interior of the castle-restaurant sounded pretty good after our long drive from Frankfurt. 

The rest of us split up into groups, spreading out to explore the exterior more. I ended up with several folks ascending stairs into a tower. I struck my head several times, commenting that my German ancestors must have been some tiny little guys. 

Once we reached the top, we actually found a shaft for pouring hot oil down--or so our local told us. It had been covered up with a metal grating. He gave us a long story about the defenses such a castle had and we descended down to the landing with the windows into the restaurant. Then we got a good scare...

The Castlemeister, or whatever they called him, was furious and demanding we all leave. He was threatening to call Polizei (German police) and have us removed. This wasn't a restaurant, it was a private castle and we were not invited! (Reinforcing my theory this was a dinner for members of dastardly order of dubious origins, or maybe vampires or something). 

And thus, ended our night, with our group rounded up, packed back into our vans, and facing another hour or so drive back to base. My alcohol was fully burned off by the time we got back. It was late, and I was tired and cold. While most of the group decided to set back out and try to make it to the Frankenstein Castle before the post-midnight activities died, I (and several others) just went back to the dorms to sleep off our disappointment. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Best Band for Halloween: SUNSPOT




Every Halloween, many of us break out a string of scary movies to fill our October. A lot of those movies are ones we watch throughout the year. But what about music? What special tunes do you listen to for a scary Halloween or to build up to the spooky holiday? For sure, there's the low-cost Spooky Sounds-type CDs you can get at Target or your local CVS, but what about familiar tunes that just happen to be scary?

You could spend hours compiling a list of your favorites, like "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater", but wouldn't it be easier if there was just one album, filled with great music, already put together and waiting?

There is.

The band Sunspot is Wisconsin's greatest contribution to the world of paranormal entertainment. With songs like "El Chupacabra" and "Hottie Illuminati" their songs cover a range of topics, from dinosaurs ("Archaeopteryx") to Ancient Aliens ("Chariots of the Gods"). With catchy tunes and clever lyrics, Sunspot cranks out tune after terrific tune--music that's suitable for any local radio station or for some of our favorite B Movies and Scifi Shows.

But great music isn't Sunspot's only contribution. Drummer Wendy Staats and Vocalist/Bassist Mike Huberty also delve into the paranormal and supernatural in their weekly podcast, "See You On the Other Side". With interviews and college lecture-worthy discussions on various topics, they entertain and educate on a variety of subjects--and end every episode with one of their catchy tunes.

I discovered Sunspot more than a year ago while searching for podcasts to listen to. I was immediately hooked and have become a fan of their music, adding their tracks to the same playlists I use when writing my own Supernatural Thrillers. They fit nicely alongside classics by the likes of ZZTop, AC/DC, and CCR, providing appropriate background music for whatever mood I need for different types of scenes.

The best thing about Sunspot though is how genuine they are. They're regular folks who attend conventions, are obsessed with scifi/pop culture, and routinely engage with their fans. Listening to their work, one can't help but cheer on these amazing performers and eagerly await the day they finally land a tune in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie soundtrack, or the latest episode of X-Files. They'd definitely be on the soundtrack if I ever got to do an adaptation of one of my books.



Sunspot's offical bio reads: With their uncanny lyrics, massive harmonies, and six-string fireworks, Sunspot has been touring the rock underground for over two decades. Just beyond the radio and just outside the mainstream, Sunspot sings driving electro-rock anthems that capture the fantastic and bring it back down to Earth.

But just who are Mike Huberty, Wendy Staats, and Ben Jaeger?

Listening to the podcast, you can pick up a lot of details about the dynamic duo of Staats and Huberty. 


In addition to Sunspot, Mike Huberty has founded a number of Ghost Walk tours. He's a big fan of the X-Files. He's also a bit of a card, dropping Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations regularly during the podcasts--when he's not sharing his voluminous film knowledge. But I wanted to learn a little more and sent some interview questions via email...

INTERVIEW WITH MIKE HUBERTY

How did you come up with the idea to do "weird" songs?

I think that’s been in our DNA since the beginning. Bands like Alice Cooper, Rush, and Iron Maiden were part of our original influences and they looked to science fiction and horror for some of their themes, it seemed a perfect way for us to differentiate ourselves.


What's your favorite "conventional" song to perform?

Our song, “Eat Out My Heart” because everyone has an ex.


Have you ever watched a movie or TV program and thought one of your songs would have been a better fit for the soundtrack? What was it and what was the song?

Easily John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness, the Metallica ripoff at the beginning just doesn’t quite fit with the printing press opening. Our track, “An Indifferent Universe” would make a much spookier opener as well as be much more fitting to the Lovecraftian theme of the film.

Also, the “Doctor Feelgood” homage in Highlander: The Final Dimension would much better be suited to our track “Neanderthal”, it’s way more intense and fitting.


What's the most important part of storytelling in a song?

Helping the listener bring the meaning of the song into their own lives. Finding the words and music that expresses a feeling that we can all understand. Or at least, finding a way to express something yourself and hoping it connects with someone else who feels the same thing.


What instrument is most suited to playing a song that instills a scary, creepy vibe?

The theremin!


What's the scariest place you've ever played?

Well, we’ve played plenty of dives that probably should be condemned. But the most supernaturally strange place must be the Fill-Mor Theatre in Wausau, Wisconsin. There was a piece of metal that fell from the ceiling and almost killed Ben out of nowhere, there were weird feelings all around the place, mysterious electrical disturbances, and plenty of ghost stories from the staff.


Has there ever been a topic too strange, frightening, or otherwise disturbing to do a podcast on?

I wrote a song called “The Choking Game” because I thought it seemed like just another teenage rebellion thing to sing about. But there’s someone not too far out of our circle whose kid have actually died from it, so we vetoed it as too raw of a subject to make fun of. And it was really just to push buttons, it isn’t authentic to our experience, so we switched it to something that was.


After doing your podcast for so long, and meeting so many people, whats the craziest thing you've ever heard of?

Sometimes it feels like the craziest thing to believe is that none of this stuff actually exists. Not just skepticism, but people dismissing all these stories as hoaxes and imagination. There are too many experiences out there for too many people. Some of them are hoaxes and some of them are imagination, but there’s more to it and I think just sweeping it under the rug as delusion does humans a real disservice.


Scenario: Our alien overlords outlaw music--what art form do you pick to continue entertaining people, or do you give up the arts completely?

Tap dancing! Nah, I’d probably just talk people to death with slam poetry or something.


Scenario: Upon death, you have the choice to haunt a location or a musical instrument: which do you choose?

I’d haunt as many saxophones as I could and try to prevent saxophone solos from ruining perfectly good rock songs.


Scenario: You have the ability to incontrovertibly prove to the world ONE cryptid absolutely exists--which cryptid do you choose?

Bigfoot, of course! Another hominid intelligent species would be fascinating to study and interact with. Plus, if more people knew how connected to primates we were, we might start treating them better!


Scenario: For one twenty-four hour period, would you rather be abducted by aliens, possessed, or transported to an alternate reality?


Possessed. I already believe that aliens are out there, they have to be. Doesn’t mean they’re visiting Earth, but I already think they’re somewhere out there. Also, alternate realities might be cool, but I think that’s possible too. I don’t know if I believe in supernatural entities, getting possessed by one would be the proof!


Scenario: You are given the ability to resurrect any one TV show, including its stars at the height of their popularity, but while the show is in production, and first run, you have to give up performing yourself. Would you? And for what show?


Doctor Who with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, my favorite run of the show. I’d take a break from playing if we could see a couple more years of classic episodes.






You can find Mike Huberty online at:

Facebook

Twitter

There's also a Patreon page for the Podcast, or you can head over to iTunes or Amazon and check out some of their great music.








Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lights in the Darkness

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Are you ready for a natural, or manmade, disaster?


When the power goes out, the first thing you'll probably notice is the darkness. Maybe your computer screen is dark, or your TV. Or maybe all those electric lights we take for granted have switched off. Whichever it was, darkness is something we just aren't used to in the modern era, spoiled as we are by the power grid. 

Thankfully, when the power does go out, it's not something you're probably familiar with, since storms can routinely knock out the power. You've probably got flashlights and candles in your home already for those emergencies. But what about when the power is going to be out for days, or weeks, or even months? What are you going to do to bring back the light to reassure your family that everything is okay?

Long before Edison, people relied on candles for illumination at night. Today, candles are often scent-makers, coming in decorative jars and festooned with fancy bows or ribbons. But what about candles for emergencies?

The best option for an emergency is the tea candle. 


Being short, there's little danger of a tea candle tipping over and starting a fire. Tea candles also come in a handy metal tin, meaning you don't need a fancy holder for it. Best of all, tea candles are very inexpensive. You can get a hundred or more for under $20.00.

If you want to be able to carry these tiny candles around, there are a variety of lamps and lanterns made to fit them. 

The one drawback with a candle is the need for an igniter--matches, or maybe a butane lighter. It won't do much good to have a few hundred tea candles stockpiled if your matches get wet, or you've misplaced them. 

Propane lanterns are considerably more dangerous than candles--they can put out fumes that in an enclosed space (like your fallout shelter) could prove fatal--but they put out a lot more light, and a bit of comforting heat. Growing up, my family all loved kerosene lamps. 


Of course, kerosene fumes can build up over time, or just lain stink you out. There are alternative, cleaner burning fuels you can use, but like candles, but wick-and-fuel lamps do require igniters.

A modern convenience for illumination is the chemstick, or glowstick, once known as cyalumes. Simple plastic tubes, you just bend and shake and a chemical reaction produces light for hours. 

We tend to order these in bulk, buying a box of ten each spring to restock our storm closet. I'm not sure what the shelf life is, but we tend to rarely use them--although they are great to amuse kids with for late night events like trick or treating or trips to the drive in. 

The safest bet for disaster preparedness is an electric lantern. And not just the kind that use batteries. There are now lanterns with handcranks built in, so you can recharge them without use of a generator. 



The best bet for any disaster preparation is to combine all of the above light sources--giving yourself a variety of choices in the event one of the technologies above fails. 




Know of another emergency lighting choice not mentioned above? Add it with a link in the comments below...

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Keeping Your Cool When Disaster Strikes

When the power goes out, so does most Americans' way to cook and preserve foods. You may have a gas stove, but very few people have gas refrigerators. 

Fortunately, most power outages are short-term, and in the interim, your fridges and freezers effectively become giant coolers. The insulation found in these miracles of modern convenience can give you a day to keep cool food cool. Just remember not to open the fridge often. And a fuly stocked fridge and freezer will stay colder, longer.

On day one of a powerless period, it's time to cook all that frozen food. And while your electric oven might be down, maybe you've got a propane or charcoal grill? Or a portable camp stove? Any of these options will allow you to keep eating even during a short term power outage. But it's not just meat and vegetables you need to keep in your fridge--there's also bread. 

While modern bread might not taste so good once frozen, if you keep a loaf or two in your freezer, it will significantly extend the shelf life. Once the power fails, bread in the freezer can thaw out safely. Then it can be moved to a bread box or used. By keeping bread in the freezer, you've given yourself the ability to make sandwiches without heading to market for a while. Or you can break out a batch of biscuits, dinner rolls, or even some french toast. 


Saturday, September 02, 2017

Disaster Water

As soon as disaster strikes, many folks would say you need to rush to the taps and start filling buckets, bottles, and even your bathtub with water--because you may not have pressure in the lines for long. 

But what if it's too late? What if the water is no longer being pumped? What if you didn't have the forethought to stock water for you and your family ahead of time? What are you going to drink?

Fortunately, there's already a lot of drinkable water in your home, right now. It's in your water heater (unless you have a tankless heater). 

The average home has a 40, 50 or even 75 gallon water heater in it. That's ten or more days of potable (drinkable) water for a family of four. And conveniently, your water heater has a drain at the bottom. And that drain spigot is threaded for a standard water hose. 

Now, if you haven't flushed your water heater in a while, there may be a lot of silt in the bottom of the water heater--all the calcium and minerals that are in city water at any given moment, but which accumulate in a water heater over time. 

There's also water in your house's pipes. Just turn off the water at the main valve, then open a spigot at the lowest point in the house and drain your pipes. That's quite a few gallons of potable tap water there as well. 

The point is, when disaster strikes, you need water to survive--most people can't go more than three days without. But for short-term disaster scenarios, there is water in your home already, so don't panic. 


Friday, September 01, 2017

Are you Prepared?


That means it's time to take stock of what you have and what you might need when a natural or man-made disaster strikes. 

This means more than fresh batteries for your flashlight or an evacuation plan for your family in the event of a fire. It means being ready for when the comforts of civilization are stripped away by Mother Nature or other forces beyond your control. 

Over the next 30 days, I'll be posting about Disaster preparation to coincide with a new Youtube Channel I'm launching with my kids next week that's all about inexpensive, practical disaster preparation: Chowmageddon. 

Food and Water are your greatest need, both before and after natural disaster. But you don't have to break the bank stocking up on MREs or buckets of Prepper food. You can order reasonably priced food from the comfort of your home, or run down to the local grocer and stock up on simple foods that you might already have in your house. 

Check back daily for recipes, reviews, and suggestions for what you should socked away for rainy day.