As Always, It’s in the Name: Red Ass Rhubarb Wine from Prairie Berry Winery, Hill City, South Dakota

A few summers ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday on a blowout trip out west, hitting prime targets such as Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons and Rapid City, South Dakota. The latter came inclusive of Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, the amusing tourist trap, Wall Drug (you’ll see their most wonderfully corny billboards for hundreds of miles) and the spectacular Badlands.

After hitting all the local highlights in Rapid City, I not only took a four-mile run on one of the local trails through a beautiful mist in the Black Hills, I also spun around the way flat Rapid City, coming home with a huge haul of Red Sonja, X-Men, Cerebus and other comic books from The Storyteller.

I then drove back into the Black Hills to check out a couple of breweries I’d spotted, Firehouse Brewing Co. and the bodacious Sick ‘n Twisted Brewery, where the owner’s dog kept me company on a couch while I pulled down a pair of dark and amber ales. All that time with some mighty fine hops, I had on my mind, Prairie Berry Winery. Having nearly pissed myself spotting their roadside placard, I simply had to bring home a bottle of their Red Ass rhubarb wine. Unless you don’t like wine or you don’t imbibe at all, how could you not?

The Prairie Berry estate, as you can see above, is dropped into a rustic mountain splendor. Sadly, I only went in long enough to fetch two bottles of Bad Ass, as I had just gotten an emergency ping on my cell phone about a tornado warning within miles of our hotel. Suffice it to say, I bolted back as fast as I dared, getting back just in time to catch these pictures of a super cell whirling with reach of us. The storms out west pack as much of a punch as their commercial trade…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

My Vote for Best Liquor Store Name Ever, The Bunghole, in Salem, Massachussetts

Last year, TJ and I made a trip up to Salem, Massachusetts, one filled with a wondrous blend of magick, solemnity, holiness, frivolity, historical reverence and spirits of multiple connotations–read into that as you will. TJ was able to promote her books, The Healthy Witch and Four Little Witches to many of the esoteric shops and we had the most amusing and corny ghost tour with a skeleton-clad host reminding me of Svengoolie.

We had the best food from our hosts at the Amelia Payson Bed and Breakfast, the most spectacular lobster at Sea Level. The Tavern at the Witch Mall became an immediate favorite, planted next to the fountain memorial on Essex Street, the primary shopping hub for Wiccans, Heathens, Neo-Pagans and magick folk alike. Omen and the historical Crow Haven Corner are mandatory if you follow the path. The drinks, grub and service were so top notch at The Tavern we took a return visit. The Witches’ Brew at Nathaniel’s is highly recommended.

You can read my post here about our adventure through the House of Seven Gables on Derby Street, where we also grabbed superb tea and coffee from Wolf Next Door and a sugar blast from the site of what is reported to be the first American chocolatier, The Chocolate Pantry.

Also on Derby Street, my friends, if you feel inclined to grab some takeout spirits, The Bunghole. The name says it all, and I laughed myself all the way back to the harbor upon spotting it. Cheers, witches and non…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

My Two Favorite Toys Ever Growing Up in the 1970s

We were having a family discussion about favorite and best Christmas gifts from over the years, a much-needed fun topic to kick up a warm chat. Having received a telescope from TJ this past Christmas (a lifelong wish fulfilled, thanks, babe), my son recollected other great gifts given to me he’s been witness to over the years. Perhaps the top primo gift I ever got in my former life with my ex was the high-end box set of the entire run of Batman ’66 on Blu Ray, inclusive of a replica toy Batmobile and a trading card set made solely for the package. Despite how my marriage may have ended, we had some amazing Christmases over the years.

The three of us began coming up with our favorite gifts from our respective childhoods. Growing up, my parents were always tight on money, but they always came through for the things I liked or wanted. They pushed all their money towards my Christmases. Most of the time they would get their holiday bonuses on Christmas Eve, then blitz to the mall, sneak everything past me and stay up half the night wrapping to be “Santa.” My Christmases were thus epic and once I put everything together down the road on how the magic actually worked, I adopted the same ethic toward my own son. The years we were lean back in the day, we put everything in the budget toward his Christmas and gifts for everyone else. We often did the same dash and carry and wrap at zero hour, all to give the kid a bonanza to remember. I’m proud to say we never failed that child, ever.

The conversation last night leaned more on my childhood growing up in the 1970s and 80s. I brought up some favorite toys I’d been given for Christmas as a child, like Stretch Armstrong, a U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek which had a motorized fan and swivel to send it lifted, round and round. The Guns of Navarone battle playset became a go-to, the Hot Wheels Criss-Cross-Crash car set produced hours of fun. Mattel handheld baseball and football electronic games bleeped and blooped all over the house. No doubt my folks enjoy a silent, delicious revenge upon me from my son’s video game addiction. The original double vinyl pressing from 1977 of the Star Wars: A New Hope score from John Williams was a holy grail present, which got played in-and-out between my Kiss albums. Then there was the Batman exploding bridge playset and the Joker battle van, complete with a squirting flower on the roof. I gasped to find a Batman and Robin walkie talkie set beneath the tree, only to see it sadly get broken two days later.

The be-all, end-all of my childhood Christmas gifts, however, were given the same year and split timed in usage. 1978. Kenner’s Star Wars Death Star Space Station and Mattel’s knee-high sized (by kid gauge) Godzilla, the latter coming as part of the Shogun Warriors “life-sized” action figures. Also that year came a super-sized Chewbacca and Stormtrooper, which I also loved and unfortunately became cannon fodder against Godzilla’s spring-shot claw. As if he wasn’t deadly enough with fire breath and gargantuan size, Mattel went next-level being able to shoot his fist at things. I was also given an actual Shogun Warrior to square off against Godzilla, one who also shot his gauntlet fist, but also two small missiles from his breastplate. Most fun was the fact Godzilla and the Shogun Warrior had roller feet, making their combat much zanier. The Shogun Warrior always fell when struck by Godzilla’s claw. Godzilla had staying power with that tail of his to keep him propped up. Speaking of zany, you pushed a plunger to send a plastic tongue of “fire” out of Godzilla’s head. Godzilla forever!!!

Anyone lucky enough to have had the four level Death Star playset will attest you could have hours of fun sending Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi, Princess Leia and the droids through the bottom tier trapdoor and into the trash compactor. A knob on the side sent foam pieced garbage and a green rubber monster against our heroes their foam-tacular deaths. The sliding elevator was a gas, and I always had Han Solo inside, ready to ambush Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and the transplanted cantina aliens (i.e. Greedo, Hammerhead, Snaggletooth, etc.) into a laser gun frenzy. When I got a Millenium Falcon later, you know I made Han and Chewie “blow up” the Death Star with massive kid-orchestrated destruction.

Even better when I sent Godzilla into action to stomp down the Death Star. Good times. Damn good times.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Creative Space for a Prolific 2023

Kicking off ’23 by finishing the fourth story for my sequel compilation to Coming of Rage. Elements of style not just applicable to writing fundamentals, but guided by the comforting lubrication of Basil Hayden with Minerva, Sekhmet and Anubis in elbow’s reach, Thoth and the rest of my Egyptian spiritual family watching my back. A revisit with old dear friends of classic heavy metal, i.e. Saxon, Iron Maiden, King Diamond, Death Angel and Voivod…and of course, the company of my furball buddies. It’s how you do… May 2023 be prolific for us all, brothers and sisters of the word…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.