Walks and Hikes Galore During COVID-19

Hiking in the Kansas City Metro is fun. Trails are many. Walking buddy is the best. After eleven years of hiking, though, I have cut back on the photos I take and the blog posts I create, because we hike many of the same trails over and over. This spring and summer, especially, during the COVID-19 epidemic, we’ve tried to keep to trails that have fewer people on bicycles and have stuck to many of the same trails we’ve walked many times.

My favorite tree–along the Tomahawk Creek Trail in Overland Park

The reasons are simple. My walking buddy has been hit by bicyclists at least twice on hikes in the past, and she jumps every time someone yells, “On your left!” Therefore, I take the side of the path closer to the left lane when we walk. Problem is, we try to social distance–so the left side becomes the left lane where the cyclists are charging through. So, now I’m the one who jumps to the right side, behind my buddy, whenever we hear the warning.

Don’t get me wrong–I still love the trails and haven’t been hit yet. The people on bikes are polite, and most warn us enough ahead of time that I can get out of their way. On one new trail we walked this summer at Black Hoof Park in Lenexa, we had no trouble with bikes at all. And Kill Creek Trail in De Soto is quiet and shaded.

Hiking has become an even more important part of my life in 2020. It’s an outdoor activity that my family can do without masks (unless the trail is crowded.) We get exercise, enjoy nature, chat away as we walk, and breathe fresh air.

This spring and summer, I’m lucky enough to have walked in Arizona, where my daughter lives (pre-COVID), at the Lake of the Ozarks, in Colorado on an RV vacation, and in Wisconsin, where my son lives.

Walking trail in Scottsdale, AZ

Trail in the Saguaro National Park, near Tucson

Trail in Arizona

On a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park–it was crowded, so we wore masks, pulling them up and down as we met people on the trail or walked by ourselves

Goal of a trail at Rocky Mountain National Park: Emerald Lake, a view worth the mask fenagling.

From a trail in the Lake of the Ozarks State Park

Trail with a land bridge near Green Bay, Wisconsin

This is a beautiful nation, and hiking shows me the best of it!

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My Funny Friend Flies

Rather than Tweeting or Facebooking or writing a blog, this friend blasts e-mails about her life experiences. Here is her latest “post” about a pre-holiday trip she recently made to visit family in Indiana. Her subject heading was “You had to have been there…” I wish I had been. It sounds as if she gave everyone some Christmas cheer. What a great gift!
Hi, y’all,
Yesterday, everything was going well as Cousin Evan and I arrived at the Indianapolis airport right on time for our flights home.  He was flying American; I was on Southwest.  We said our good-byes before heading to our respective concourses.  I got in line for the security check, preparing myself mentally to get my carry-on items untangled and up onto the conveyor belt without slowing the line behind me to a complete halt. 
I walked through the metal detector without incident, and I stood on the other side of the xray machine waiting for my small suitcase to come out.  The belt moved forward, the belt moved backward, forward, backward, forward, backward, and my suitcase did not make an appearance.  The next thing I saw was my suitcase on the metal examination table on the far side of the screening area.  Then, a TSA person tapped me on my shoulder telling me to remove my shoes and to step aside for additional screening.  Something in my bag had triggered the alarm for an explosive.
Oh, boy, was I tickled.  It was nearing time when my plane was to begin boarding, but this was way too funny to get nervous about missing my flight.  Really?!  What could it be?
I was taken behind a big Plexiglas semi-circular enclosure and frisked by a female TSA agent who really knew what she was doing.  I was glad for all those years of getting undressed, showering and dressing in the women’s locker room at the pool.  I think that conditioned me to feel not quite as violated as I would have felt otherwise.
Once they finished with the body check, I was permitted to head back over to where they were digging through my crammed-full suitcase.  They poked, they prodded, they pulled stuff out, and I hoped they were prepared to get it all back in.  It had taken my best engineering skills to get it in there in the first place.  “What is it?  What is it?” I asked in my most excited voice. 
“We can’t figure it out,” one of them told me.  In my softest, sweetest of tones I mentioned that my plane was boarding.  They would not be distracted from their important business.  They ran the suitcase back through the detector, and it told them again there were explosives in it.
Flashback to two days earlier:  I had been the proud recipient of my dear Cousin Tamara’s Christmas-gift-for-a-female at our family gift exchange.  As always, she had come up with a spectacular gift package—this one was an assortment of Mediterranean delights that included a serving board, a rounded cheese spreader, a great variety of crackers and spreads all vacuum packed in cellophane. Each item was situated to make a towering display of goodies. I had had to take it all apart to accommodate it in my modest luggage.
The TSA guys were intensely interested in all of it, even the jar of “Piquillo Pepper Bruschetta” and Cousin Stephanie’s gift of a balsam fir scented candle in a glass jar.  They took the lid off the candle, enjoyed the aroma and replaced the lid. 
I looked at them innocently and offered, “They’re just Christmas gifts.” 
No response. 
Finally, one of the TSAers said, “Well, we’re going to let you go on through.” 
“But what was it?” I asked.  “I really want to know!” 
“Sorry ma’am, we can’t answer that.  We don’t know.”
I had to move out of the way and put myself back together.  At the end of the metal screening table, were four quarters.  I piped up, “Hey, guys! Here are four loose quarters.  I found them.  Does that mean I get to keep them?”
“They’re yours.”
“Thanks for the tip,” I said.
“Thanks for making screening so much fun,” said the TSAer.  
I didn’t have to run at my not-so-top-speed-anymore to make my plane, but I did hoof it to the gate at a good trot.  I made it onto the plane with a few minutes to spare.  It was now time to size up the passengers sitting in the aisle seats to locate a nice guy with an empty seat next to him.  My body language reading was intended to find someone able and willing to get my suitcase into the overhead bin.  Bingo!  There sat Jack.  He even had a vacant seat between him and Sarah, an ophthalmologist who was traveling to Florida to plan her February wedding.  It was obvious Jack was more interested in sitting next to Sarah than he was in maintaining his aisle seat, which he forfeited to me.  Jack got my luggage stowed, and I got the rest of my belongings stuffed under the seat in front of me.  I flopped into my seat, still flying high from the security screening episode.
Now comes the utterance for the ages.  Says I, “Hey guys.  You won’t believe what just happened to me!  Security flagged my luggage for containing explosives!”  Pause.  I looked at my seatmates whose eyes were fairly popping out of their heads.
“Oops,” says I.  “I guess that wasn’t the best way to begin a conversation.” 
“Well,” Jack says, not missing a beat, “Would you mind telling us when it’s set to go off?  I might like to make a couple of phone calls and maybe smoke one final cigarette.”
“Um,” says I, “Apparently, it’s not altitude sensitive, because we’re off the ground, and nothing has happened.”
That was my trip from Indianapolis to Atlanta.  It never stopped.  For a few minutes I tried to catch up on my journaling.  Jack leaned over to Sarah and commented, “Watch what you say.  She’s documenting everything.”
“No, I said.  I’m just writing my last will and testament.”
Jack never missed an opportunity to refer to me as the suicide bomber sitting next to him.  
I went through Kleenex after Kleenex from laughing so hard the tears were pouring down my face.  A flight steward asked why our faces were so red, since they hadn’t served a drink to any of us.  I said they’d never believe it if we told them.  Nobody complained about the decibel level we achieved.  Everyone seemed happy we were having a good time, even though they didn’t have a clue what it was all about—thank God! 
The Suicide Bomberairplane 
May you all have fun and joy with your friends and family this holiday season!!
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It’s a Mystery

There are various types of whodunits or crime novels including detective stories, cozy mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers, each with its own format. Even though most subject indices list them together as “Mystery and Detective Stories” or just “Mysteries,” a lover of thrillers may become bored by a cozy. Readers of cozy whodunits, on the other hand, might dismiss a suspense novel or thriller as unlikely, melodramatic, and plot-driven to the extent that characters are underdeveloped.

The amateur sleuth in a cozy mystery follows clues to solve a murder or other dastardly crime without the depiction of graphic violence or profanity. The protagonists’ careers, hobbies, villages, or neighborhoods are important elements in the stories and may change along with the main characters as the series evolve. Diane Mott Davidson’s sleuth is a caterer in a small town where the reader learns to know the town and its inhabitants while Goldie solves mysteries there.

In the detective whodunit, the professional sleuth follows the clues in a grittier story that may include graphic content and crude language used by both the bad guys and the detectives in the midst of criminal activity. In a good one, the reader learns about the detective’s personal life and can see, hear, feel, and smell the locale. Tony Hillerman’s landscapes and policemen are what I remember more than the crime and detection in his Navajo police mystery novels. We learn about the personal life of Sue Grafton’s P.I., Kinsey Millhone, and accompany her from Sneaky Pete’s diner to her apartment to the scenes of her investigations as we get to know her and her town.

Cozies and detective mysteries are whodunits. The crime is committed, but who did it remains the mystery for the sleuth to solve. The sleuth isn’t necessarily in danger, but twists and turns in the plot and subplots suggest danger and intrigue.

In a suspense mystery, the protagonist must escape ever-present danger, and the reader may learn to know the evil antagonist. Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense movies keep us on the edge of our seats as we empathize with the intended victims. A thriller takes the suspense to the next level as our hero strives to save the world, or part of the world, from ultimate destruction. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pit follows the evil destroyers around the world with many side tracks and dangerous encounters before he destroys the destroyers.

Since I started writing my whodunits, I see mysteries everywhere I go. It may be a weed-infested trail leading into the woods off of a walking trail I’m on. What’s at the end? path-in-woodsMy imagination runs wild. Sometimes I hear part of an intriguing conversation between complete strangers, and I start wondering what’s going on. Are they plotting a heist or hiding something? At my dentist’s office there’s a series of numbers and letters written on the aluminum framework of the acoustic ceiling panels. While I get my teeth cleaned, I dream up stories about who might have written that code and what might be hidden above the panels.

In Puerto Rico, I approached an old stone tower at the end of a jungle-lined path. mysterious-towerFog surrounded me, and everything appeared to be wrapped in ghostly ectoplasm. The color of the vines pushing their tendrils onto the sides of the tower appeared as slightly darker grey veining on the grey stonework. Inside the tower, I learned the origin and the purpose of that tower, and by the time I’d climbed to the top, the sun had pushed rays of gold through the cloud cover, exposed the green surroundings, and broke the spell. What I remember is the shiver in my imagination while I was engulfed in humid heat, which told me the tower was a place shrouded in mystery.

Do you find mysteries in your daily life? What do you do with them? Do you file them away in your mind, in a picture file, in a notebook, or in a memo on your phone? We’d love to learn about your mysterious places or experiences.

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Loving our Pets

I think more people like cats than don’t. When one of the “does like cats” marries one of the “doesn’t like cats,” it’s likely the couple will have a dog or no pets at all. Here’s a story of one cat person who had to compromise, Cats and Pillows.

Please let me know how you feel about cats. Some folks like cozy mysteries, but they don’t like cats. There’s no way those people will read my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series, but they might enjoy the animal’s sixth sense if they’d try the books.

CATastrophic Connections Revised Front Cover CATastrophic Connections is now available also as an audiobook on Audible.com

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Books that Changed my Life: Good, Bad or Otherwise by Carol Wright Crigger

Carol Wright Crigger wrote a post that states my views quite well.


KINDLE_CAMERA_1457262729000First of all, I think just about every book I’ve ever read changed my life in some way. A pretty broad statement, I know, but as an example, the romance novels (in my teens I read a lot of romances) struck me as too smarmy even for a young lady with notions of being swept away by the love of  her life. Eventually I caught on that I’m not a romantic soul. Great books of many genres have taught me what I want to write; the clunkers taught me what I don’t.

A point here. It is my firm belief that being a reader is part of being a writer. You can’t do one without the other. Reading forms your opinions. It lets you see varying styles, and shows you the kind of writer you want to be. Also, whether one ends up as a mystery writer, a romance or…

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What’s in a Name?

Nicholas Nickleby, Tom Sawyer, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre—people remember those fictional characters’ names because they are also the titles of books. Character’s names from books that were made into movies—James Bond, Jack Ryan, Scarlett O’Hara, Scout—are memorable because we see the movies over and over, and the characters are referenced again and again. tomsawyerpainting

What characters do people remember from books that have not become movies or book titles? Or do they remember the names? Are the names of some book characters memorable because they are distinctive, or do people remember monikers only if they’ve seen them often?

I did a little casual research by asking my friends what character names they remember. Men remembered the names of male characters, especially those from books that are also movies. Women tended to remember the names of female characters. They also came up with the names of characters from children’s books, having been reminded from reading books to their children and grandchildren.

The names these people remembered weren’t necessarily unusual; rather, the characters were exciting and special. No one came up with a long list of names. They were more likely to say something like, “Oh, you know, the main gal in Gone Girl. What was her name? “

So—are authors wise to be creative when choosing character names? Scout is unusual, as are Sherlock and Huckleberry, and there’s Goldie, the name of Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary sleuth. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt—well, both the author’s pen name and the name of the author’s super investigator are out of the ordinary. My question is: would those characters be just as memorable with names like Kinsey (Sue Grafton’s sleuth), Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy (from Little Women), or Harry ( of Harry Potter fame)?

I remember some characters’ names (mostly female) because I’ve read a whole series with the same main character—Kinsey Milhone, Goldie Schultz, Stephanie Plum, Bilbo Baggins, Henry Huggins. The main character in the book Delicious is Wilhelmina, nicknamed Billie. I loved the character, and her name is fresh in my memory because I recently read the book, and the author made so much of the name. But, a year from now, will I remember the name or just the attributes of the character? James R. Callen’s Father Frank is a wonderful character, one I remember vividly. Nevertheless, even though I know the character is a caring, charismatic, basketball-playing priest who solves mysteries, I had to look back in the book to remember the name Frank.

An author should use common sense and follow the rules. Use names appropriate for the character’s age, unless you are going for a name appropriate for the headmaster of the wizard school, Hogwarts, in which case Aldus Dumbledore works, or for the name of a small, slimy creature in a fantasy series, where Gollum is perfect.

Don’t give important characters names which are too similar. That could be disastrous. In one draft of my mystery, CATastrophic Connections, I realized I had a Libby, an Abby, and a Liz. No problem, right? Make a global change—Find and Replace All—with new names.  However, when I changed Liz to Lisa, I didn’t leave a space before and after Liz. The liz in every word containing those contingent letters changed to lisa. Civilize became civilisa, and realized changed to realisaed.

To add to the calamity, I accidentally changed Abby to Beth when I wanted Libby to become Beth. When I went back and made my intended change, I ended up with two characters having the same name. After hours and hours of manually changing the mistakes, the first publication of the book still contained two Beths which should have been Abby. Mistakes my editor didn’t find. Drat. Learning curves can be painful.

Most of the characters of my second book, FURtive Investigation, have had unusual names from the beginning, and I didn’t change them. Lesson learned. The title, on the other hand…

What book character names do you remember without looking them up? Why? How do you choose the names for characters in your stories and books? Are there any characters you would have given a different name?

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Retirement Can Change Your Life – Or Someone Else’s Life

I found this great retirement story on an author friend’s blog. James Callan is the author of the Father Frank Mysteries. Go to his site to learn more about them.

Posted on January 15, 2016 by

Retirement. That word means different things to different people.  And it means different things to an individual at different times of his or her life.

Some see it as an opportunity to travel, to go places time has not permitted in the past. Others see it as a time to kick back and do nothing, watch more TV, read more books, get in a daily siesta, join a coffee klatch with other retirees, or have no schedgolf-1ule at all.

How many retirees use the additional free time to improve their golf game, or develop a better bridge game. Others use the new-found time to work with charitable organization.

But some choose to use their skills to train or otherwise help people in need.

Sylvia had begun sewing as a child, making her own doll clothes. She continued as an adult, making her husband’s suits, ties and shirts. After awhile, Sylvia Remple began teaching sewing and eventually opened a clothing manufacturing business. It grew quickly and before long she had three hundred employees. In 1982, her company, Sun Ice,  outfitted the first team of Canadians to conquer Mount Everest. Two years later, her company was awarded the contract to outfit many Canadian teams for the Winter Olympics in Los Angles. Following that success, Sun Ice became the Official Clothing Supplier to the Winter Olympics hosted by Canada

In 2001, Sylvia Remple sold the business. Retirement. What to do now?

About the same time, she became aware of the poverty in Sierra Leone and in particular, the desperate circumstances for some women.  She came up with an idea.

Sylvia and daughters Tammy and Angela formed Sewing Seeds International – SSI.  Its mandate was to create self-sustaining sewing schools in impoverished areas, empowering women, bringing hope for a better future.

ssi-3The first project was in Sierra Leone. SSI secured backing from some companies, purchased sewing machines and materials. In Sierra Lione, they found a place to hold classes, then advertised for women who wanted to learn a skill that would help them toward a better future.

The classes were intense. Sylvia realized that to keep attendance and attention at a high level, the school must provide care for the many young children of the students. So, day care was provided, including meals.

At the end of the three-week classes, the machines were left in the classrooms and the women were encouraged to continue working on their sewing skills.

A few months later, these same women were given another three-week school, introducing them to more advanced skills.  Again, the machines were left for the students to practice and make clothes for their children and themselves.ssi-2

A third course was offered. Now, the students were capable of using patterns and making items for sale.  But most important for the Sewing Seeds mandate, the best students were trained so they could teach classes to other women.

The success of the school encouraged SSI to move into other countries.  Classes have been given in Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico.

Has it been successful?

ssi-5Absolutely. Many of the women now make a decent living sewing for others. Several have formed companies to manufacture clothes. One graduate now has a company with eight other women working, all making a decent living. Graduates of another school formed a co-op which now has a contract to supply all the uniforms for a school system in a nearby larger town.

Because they are set up to be self-sustaining, these schools should bear fruit for years to come. The Canadian government has recognized SSI as a certified charitable organization. In many places around the world, SSI is recognized as a life-saver.

Is Sylvia bored in her retirement?  Not even a little. Her compensation? Seeing impoverished women now able to be self-supporting, infused with hope for a brighter future. That’s better than a paycheck.

What is her retirement? To help others.

While going into extremely poor, perhaps desperate, areas may not seem like a fun thing to do in retirement, it must be extremely rewarding and give one a true sense of worth that a game of golf probably won’t.

Sylvia would tell you she has found the perfect retirement.

What do you see for yourself in retirement?

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Spend a Day Blogging for Fun

I’ve been writing a book this summer and promoting the two I’ve already written, Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation. What kind of time did I have to update my blogs? Not much. However, I spent most of today updating my hiking blog, Hiking Kansas City Trails.

You ask, “Why would you want to do that?”

I didn’t intend to spend that much time, but it turned out that way, and I don’t regret it. It was fun to relive my trail hikes this summer and to share my enthusiasm with my readers.

If you have an interest in walking/hiking or fun places to eat in K.C., you can read the post here. Happy Trails!

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A Non-Political, Non-Critical Letter to Trump

Sometimes a cozy writer, like me, reads posts by fellow authors that are anything but cozy. Maybe serious, maybe instructive, and sometimes satirical. Here is a post by a warm, helpful author/blogger who has been a great mentor. I like her historical view:

A Non-Political, Non-Critical Letter to Trump.

And yet, there are some who will disagree with vehemence (note the comments section).

I like to listen to all sides.

Conterminous Center

Conterminous Center

What do you think?

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Rainy, Soggy Springtime

As is true in much of the country this spring, we’ve had tons of rain. It’s good in many respects–made up somewhat for the terrible drought we’ve had the past few years and made my deck plants happy. 20150601_172711 But it has its downside–floods, molds, super allergy season, and such a plethora of tree seeds that my gutters became miniature tree farms. 20150601_173028 20150601_172647We take the bad with the good, the good with the bad. Don’t we?

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