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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Writing Life

I read a blog today that discusses the creative writing lifestyle (

Author Melissa Donovan nails it when she says "We get excited over things that put other people to sleep...".

I spent some time thinking about what excites the writer in me. First and foremost it's the story. I've learned to constantly listen and observe, to understand that - to me - the real story is always in the person, and to open my thoughts to what motivates that person. Because I respond to surroundings, I consider the setting of many stories as one of the characters.

It's a revolving door. The more I write about people, the more I want to learn about them. The more I learn about them, the more I want to write.

Writing is the gift that keeps on giving. I've become more aware of my surroundings, people I meet. stories I hear and other writers' voices. I find myself more tuned in to the world around me.

Visit to download a free copy of my e-book, Colors of Kindness, which contains seven short stories about people or stories that have touched me.

I love everything about writing from the computer keyboard to pencil and paper, from random ideas to researched topics, from readers and fellow writers to bookstores, book signings and presentations. I think many of the writers I've met are among the world's most fascinating people and I admire their creative spirit and benefit from their knowledge and energy.

I love reading as much as writing. In fact, one of my 2012 resolutions is to find more reading time. I attended several conferences last year and I learned from each. I'm always amazed at the talent that others so willingly share.

For all the readers and writers out there, I wish you a 2012 filled with fascinating stories, the motivation and discipline to read or write, and a year-long burst of creative energy and intellectual curiosity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fort Scott, Kansas

“Let’s meet for lunch in Ft. Scott (KS),” my brother called to make plans to meet before Christmas. “How about El Charro’s?”

“Sounds good,” I said. “We haven’t been to Ft. Scott for awhile.”
After a lunch with good company, good food and an exchange of Christmas gifts, we drove through down town Ft. Scott and marveled at the beautiful architecture of this small town of approximately 8,000, situated in southeast Kansas where Hwys 69 and 54 intersect.

The town, first established as an Army post in 1842, prides itself in its history. When settlers displaced Indians in the East, the government promised them a “permanent Indian settlement” west of the Mississippi. The fort was one of several established to enforce the promise.
At one time, Ft. Scott was one of the largest towns in the Kansas Territory. Like most of the Kansas-Missouri border, it saw its share of violence as the country moved toward the Civil War. Dubbed as “Bleeding Kansas” by the media, the fight over free-state vs. slave-state roared violently through the area long after Kansas entered the Union as a free state. Ft. Scott’s strategic location made it an ideal district headquarters for the Army during the war.

After the war, it became one of the largest cities in eastern Kansas, a major railroad center and home to a brick manufacturer. Both the Indianapolis Speedway and the Panama Canal used Ft. Scott bricks.
The town’s charm today includes miles of brick streets, beautiful Victorian homes, a rehabbed business district and the restored 1842 Frontier Fort, now the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

Add to that, the fun fact that as of July 2008, Ft. Scott residents hold three Guinness World Records: laying the fastest mile of pennies in the world in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 1 second; a local resident eating the most McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Cheeseburgers in 3 minutes; and laying continual lines of coins stretching for 40.32 miles. Sounds like a fun group of folks, doesn’t it?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The WWII Generation Enriches Our Lives

Tuskegee Airman Harvey Bayless
and my husband Everett
I’m immersed in WWII. For the past few weeks, I’ve thought of little else, except Christmas shopping.

Rudy Rudolph
I have several simultaneous projects and they all involve WWII. I’m finishing a book about John Bax, who spent his youth in Belgium under Nazi occupation. I’m beginning a project helping Rudy Rudolph tell his experiences as part of the 45th Army Division that fought at Anzio, on the shores of southern France and on up into Germany. I’m writing two articles for the Veteran Family Network magazine; one about the Tuskegee Airmen and another about Jack Myers, a bombardier with the 15th AF in Italy. Added to that, I’m reading Unbroken, the best-seller about Louis Zamperini’s experiences in the Pacific Theater.
I am fascinated with the stories people share with me. I admire these men and women and am grateful that as a generation, they sacrificed so much to protect their country. Whatever their role, their lives were defined by the war. From school children to adults and from Europe to America and the Far East, every person lives with memories of events that shaped their lives then and now. What an impact they had on their world and that of future generations. Society changed because the war demanded new and different roles, blurred gender lines and opened the door to educational opportunities and future racial equality.

The war impacted my life because of my parents and my children’s lives because of me. I’m struck by the chain of events caused by a generation’s actions and by the knowledge that one generation's existence is dependent on the previous generations. I’m lucky because the WWII generation showed the strength and courage to do what was necessary to ensure their children’s futures.
Most of all, I’ve grown to care deeply about the people I’ve met and written about. When they share their stories, they become like family and I am blessed by the gift they give me.

If you are fortunate enough to share your holiday season with someone from the WWII generation, ask them to share their story. You’ll bless them and they in turn will bless you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sometimes We All Need Comfort Food

Regardless of our diet and lifestyle, we all long for comfort food now and then.

A few weeks ago, I met with Rudy and Peggy Rudolph to help him get his WWII story into book form. “Come around lunch time. We want to take you to lunch,” Rudy told me.
“Rudy said it’s a neighborhood café,” I told Everett, my husband. “He said they like to eat there.”

After Rudy gave me boxes of research materials and photos to scan, he suggested it was lunchtime. “We’ll follow you,” I told him.
It wasn’t exactly next door and rather than a neighborhood café, it was the Neighborhood Café in downtown Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

“New owners took it over earlier this year,” Peggy said. “Three guys. They all work in the restaurant.”
No sooner had we sat down at Rudy’s favorite table than a plate filled with hot cinnamon rolls appeared at the table. “Try one,” Rudy pushed the plate toward me.

“They smell wonderful,” I assured him as Everett and I each put one on our plate. Rudy had a big smile as he waited for us to take that first bite.

“I knew you’d love them,” he said as he helped himself to a roll.
“Rudy always eats one here and takes one home,” Peggy said. “Get anything you want. Everything’s good.”

“We really like the chicken fried steak and the sweet potatoes,” Rudy said. “Just tell them what you want and they’ll fix you up.”
Everett ordered the chicken fried steak and I chose chicken fried chicken. With real mashed potatoes, gravy and a vegetable, we received a meal of generous portions.

“You’re right,” I told Rudy and Peggy. “The food is delicious.”
“Everything is home-cooked. They make the rolls and their own pies.”

“How often do you come here?”
“Pretty much every day; sometimes twice a day,” Peggy laughed. We joined in.

“My picture’s on the wall in the other room,” Rudy said.
We walked in the room to see one wall filled with photos of veterans from Lee’s Summit and two walls covered with historical front pages of newspapers. “It’s like a museum with all the history here,” I turned to Peggy. “I’d love to read them all.”

After we found Rudy’s photo and left, we thanked them. “We’ll come back again next time,” Rudy smiled.
“Sounds good,” I said.

As we walked to the car, Everett said, “Probably not good for me but I enjoyed every bite.”
Enough said! If you need down-home cooking, the Neighborhood Café excels.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Missouri State Penitentiary's Most Infamous Escapee

James Earl Ray photo
Mention the name James Earl Ray and most Americans know that he was the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Because fate smiled on Ray one day in the Missouri State Penitentiary, King died.
Ray was convicted for a 1959 robbery and sentenced to twenty years in prison.  While incarcerated in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, he made several unsuccessful escape attempts before he achieved success in April of 1967.  Ray worked in the prison bakery and on April 23, he hid in a large shipping box. Along with the bread, he was loaded onto the delivery truck, escaped the prison and became a free man.

Less than a year later, he achieved an infamous place in history when he assassinated King. He confessed to the murder, was convicted and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. He made two more escape attempts. In both cases he was caught.
Although Ray admitted guilt, he later recanted, proclaimed his innocence and sought a retrial. However, he died of liver failure in 1998 as an inmate of a Tennessee prison and the retrial never took place. Today questions regarding his guilt and King’s assassination remain unanswered.

The Missouri State Penitentiary and the Department of Corrections listed James Earl Ray as an escapee until his death even though he spent most of the time incarcerated in another prison.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Defeating cancer one person at a time

Today I had my annual post-thyroid-cancer body scan. It’s a time for me to write about the importance of doctor visits and checkups. I’m not offering any breakthrough news, just encouragement to have a physical.

Although I’d had blood tests to check my thyroid levels, I never suspected I had a problem. When I had my annual physical, my doctor felt my throat, discovered a small nodule and ordered tests. After two months, various tests and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and advised to have surgery.
My son helped locate a doctor in Kansas City. I had two consultation appointments: the first doctor suggested we treat it aggressively with immediate surgery, the second suggested we take our time.
I am thankful I chose the first doctor because cancer had taken over my entire thyroid and several of my lymph nodes. While it's scary to know that cancer invaded my body, it's fantastic to know the doctor cut out those deadly cancer cells.

Since my surgery eighteen months ago, I’ve taken Synthroid every day. With it I’ve lost weight, have more energy than ever and I believe that the cancer is gone – at least for now. We all know that once cancer is in your body, it can rear up in other places at another time.

The moral of this story: go to your doctor, make sure he or she really checks you and if something is wrong and a solution is offered, take advantage of it.  If follow-ups are ordered, follow through.
Although we have much to learn about cancer, we’re lucky to live in a time of continuing medical advances. My mother-in-law died of thyroid cancer twenty-six years ago. I wish she would have had the treatment options offered today. I suspect she would have lived a lot longer.

Find out what medical issues you have and be aggressive in treating them. It’s your life; protect it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor and War Horse

It seemed appropriate that I would attend a screening of War Horse on the eve of Pearl Harbor Day. Different wars but the same results: many people died and many others lived their entire lives with the pain and memories of war.

As the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approached, I thought about the survivors I’ve met over the years. For those in Hawaii in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack snatched away any prospect of ordinary lives. I’ve tried to imagine what people must have felt that morning when the first bombs fell; the disbelief, fear, chaos, shock and the surge of adrenaline that must have flowed through their veins.
Some never lived past the first emotions while others survived to find those emotions etched deep in their souls. That one morning defined their lives.

The movie War Horse brought that home. The Steven Spielberg film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, brings a reality to war through the story of a young man and his horse. Raised in rural England, young Albert trains the horse he names Joey. When they are parted by war, we follow their separate journeys.  Through them we experience the horror and tragedy that the war brought to both sides of the conflict. Amidst the destruction, we witness man and animal’s love and friendship.
In remembering Pearl Harbor, we pay tribute to the men and women who died and those who lived through that momentous moment in history. We try to understand the friendships and lives torn apart that morning and throughout the war.

War brings the same results to those involved no matter the time, the place or the participants. My hope is that we always remember and pay respect to those who have served their country, especially those whom fate placed in combat situations.
For my review of War Horse, visit

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sarah's Key

Cover from Amazon
I usually read a book before I see the movie. However, last night we rented Sarah's Key at our local Redbox and now I plan to read the book.

Kristin Scott Thomas stars as an American journalist married to a Frenchman and living in Paris. She is assigned an article about the Vel d'Hiv in July, 1942, where the Nazis ordered the French police to round up the Jews who were ultimately taken to Auschwitz.

Meanwhile she and her husband plan to move into the apartment that his family has owned since August of 1942. She learns that a Jewish family lived there until they were taken by the police. She discovers a family secret that changes her life.

As she researches her article, she finds that her life becomes entwined with the lives of the Jewish family, the Starzynskis. The film moves effortlessly between the past and the present. She learns that only Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, survived.

The movie captured our attention from the beginning and we sat in dreadful anticipation of what would happen to members of the Jewish family.

Afterwards, I researched the movie and found that it was based on a best-selling novel written by Tatiana de Rosnay. This fictional account of an historical event recounts the history of Jews in Paris under the Nazi regime.

I had never heard of the book and now I can't wait to read it. It's available in print and ebook formats. I certainly recommend the movie to anyone who likes history and stories about human relationships.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching history through a good story

Once in awhile I read a book that speaks to me not only of entertainment but also of human nature. Wheezer and the Painted Frog by Kitty Sutton made me ponder many issues.

Sutton has told the story of the Trail of Tears through the eyes of a 13-year-old Cherokee girl and a dog. She wove a mystery, a dog story and a piece of American history into an excellent read.
What a great idea for a Christmas gift! The book is available in print and ebook formats.
My full review of Wheezer and the Painted Frog can be found at .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fish Need Not Fear Me

Bennett Spring, Lebanon, MO
“Shall we take the fly-tying class?”

“We don’t have a clue what we’re doing,” my husband Everett commented. So the next morning we arrived to learn something new.
It was a tough decision to pass up the beautiful fall morning and the natural wonders of Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, Missouri. However it’s the perfect place to learn fly-tying because it is famed for its excellent trout fishing. Missouri’s third largest spring pumps 100 million gallons of fresh cold water into the Niangua River every day. The Niangua flows through the park. The state stocks the river with trout. The fishermen come.

Where do I begin?
In the classroom in front of each chair, the fly-tying rig, feathers and yarn awaited us. I didn’t even know where to begin.
While we waited for class, we met the other students and the group tossed around wise-cracks about our fly-tying talent – or lack thereof. Jim Rogers, our hands-on instructor and concessionaire of the park, set out to show us the “how to” and promised we’d all have a fly to take home by the time the class ended.

“Sure looks easy when he does it,” one of the students observed.
“It just takes practice,” Jim assured us. “Watch while I show you step-by-step.”

It did look easy. His nimble fingers wrapped fishing line, yarn and feathers around the hook, turning it into something that would tantalize a fish.
“Now it’s your turn,” Jim said. “Just take it slow.”

Not only did I have a problem with which way and when to wrap what where, but when I made a decision my fingers didn’t want to go where I wanted them to go.
“It’s going to be a long learning curve,” I noted to no one in particular. With yarn falling helter-skelter through the fishing line I wrapped around it, I knew this sad-looking thing wouldn’t attract the hungriest fish.

“Let’s unwrap it and start over,” Jim suggested as he tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile.
“I’m all thumbs,” I admitted.

“Here, wrap the yarn around the shank of the hook and I’ll hold it while you wrap the fishing line from the other end,” he offered. I heard my husband’s laughter.
“Ignore him,” Jim said. “He’s making a really ugly fat fly.” I laughed and looked; sure enough, it didn’t look much better than mine.


With a lot of help and laughter we finished our flies. Jim laughed and made comments about each one as he boxed them up. With every comment, he interlaced a tidbit of information about fly-fishing. At the end of the class, he offered to teach us fly-casting. That’s another story…

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Phone Call

“Is this Pat McGrath Avery?”

“Yes, it is,” I answered his opening question. Turkey time had passed and, replete from too much food, we lounged around the house. My husband, son, two grandsons and I interspersed an episode of The Big Bang Theory with conversation. I had thought about not answering my phone.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m going to read the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors,” he said. “I bought it several years ago when the guys were all here – at Celebration City (in Branson, MO). When was that, by the way?”

“2007,” I answered.

“That long? Well, I opened the book and found your phone number in the front. I wanted to tell you… I’m 93 and I don’t get out much anymore,” he continued. “I use a walker and watch a lot of TV but I thought you’d want to know I’m reading your book again.”

“Thank you for telling me. Are you a veteran?”

“WWII, ma’am. I was in WWII,” he paused. “I’m sorry to pull you away from your family but I thought you’d want to know. It’s a great story.”

“Do you have a story about your service?” I asked.

“Yes, but I don’t want to pull you away from your family today.”

“No problem. Will you tell me your story sometime?” I encouraged him.

“Yes, but for now, I want to read your book again. I thought you’d like to know.”

“Thank you so much. Will you give me your name and may I call you back sometime?”

“Sure.” His pleasure at connecting with me came through his voice. I thanked him for his call and for his service.

He gave me his name and I will ask to hear his story about his WWII service.

More than that, he gave me a Thanksgiving gift that touched my heart and brought me a renewed sense of gratitude. He simply wanted me to know that he appreciated the story that Joyce and I told in the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors.

What writer can ask for more?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

WWII Veteran Has a Story to Tell

John Bax's death earlier this week is another reminder that we are fast losing our WWII generation. As a writer, I feel a responsibility to keep their stories alive. Many veterans are feeling this need and revisiting the horrors of those years.

Robert "Rudy" Rudolph has a story to tell. Rudy is a WWII ex-prisoner of war who spent a couple years of his life in combat and as a prisoner of the Nazis.

I met with him Thursday. He's a man filled with stories, a sense of humor and a love of life. Aside from his weekly meeting with his fellow ex-POWs he likes to visit a local casino and try his luck at Keno.

Rudy served in the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division. He spent 105 days in a foxhole on the beach at Anzio (Italy). He was part of the invasion of Southern France and at Reipertswiller where he was captured on January 20, 1945. While many books have recorded the historical events, only a few have captured the day-to-day life the individual soldier faced.

His detailed descriptions of life in a foxhole, meeting the enemy face-to-face and living in fear makes me cringe. His is a story that will bring the European war up close and personal.

Joyce Faulkner and I are helping getting his book ready for publication. Look for it in 2012.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Memory of John Bax

The world is a little duller today but heaven is brighter. John Bax, nature cinematographer, passed away today. The world will miss his creative gifts. Those of us who knew him will miss his charm, humility, love for nature and willingness to share his time and talent.

The birds and natural world will miss a true friend.

I'm writing his story but today I'll pause awhile. I'll do as I often do when I need inspiration. I'll watch one of his films and marvel at his special gift.

"John taught me so much. He was my inspiration and mentor," photographer Seth Patterson said.

"John has a sixth sense for finding birds, more than anybody I've ever seen," said Tony Mercieca, photographer and John's friend of many years.

"I'm the one who carried his tripod," Larry Lof, executive director of the Gorgas Science Foundation laughed when I asked if he accompanied John to El Cielo.

Photographers Steve Sinclair and Lee Zieger shared similar memories of John. It seems like just yesterday that we stood by his hospital bed and laughed at the stories of good times.

In his 86 years, John experienced poverty, hunger, Nazi occupation, new countries and a career as an international cinematographer. He searched for beauty in nature and when he found it, he shared it with the world. Born in Belgium, he immigrated to Canada. A Canadian citizen, he has been a permanent resident of the US for more than twenty years.

To Alice and his family, I offer my condolences and promise to finish John's story as soon as possible. Emergence: The Story of Nature Cinematographer John Bax will be a celebration of his life.

John, you will be missed but never forgotten. I hope there are beautiful hummingbirds in heaven.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fond Memories of Veterans Week

Another Veterans Week has come and gone in Branson but the friends we make and memories we share live on throughout the year.

Roy Lee, a WWII veteran who entered the Merchant Marines at the age of 13, and the Navy at 14, comes with his wife, Linda, and sister-in-law, Judy, every year. Amidst stories of the Aleutian Islands and dinners of gumbo or red beans and rice, the good times flow. After the war, Roy performed with the Louisiana Hayride and hung out with Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and many others. His vivid memory gives us a picture of the music scene when many great performers were starting out.

Joe Bryant and the members of the Harry S Truman chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association welcomed many of their fellow veterans for their well-attended mini-reunion. Denzil Batson, author of Korea: We Called It War, attended the reunion. He spent several days signing his book at my booth and at the Veterans Museum. I missed Ralph Schrader, Billy Joe Harris and the Sunchon Tunnel survivors this year.

Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors is always the book (of ours) that attracts the most attention. The survivors have endeared themselves in the hearts of their fellow veterans.

Speaking of endearing, Eddie Beesley always takes Branson by storm. Whether he's jammin' at the Day Room, belting out a song, showing off his new Ibot chair, carrying the sword for the Marine Birthday Ball, or just charming folks he meets, Eddie's smile draws people like flies to a picnic. As always, Connie is his number one fan.

Marlyce Stockinger hosted another wonderful Marine Birthday Ball. Her son-in-law, a veteran, drove ten hours to escort her to the ball. Marlyce was a happy camper! November 12, she started a new adventure - she adopted a little white ball of fluff - Zoee, a bichon puppy. She's taking the first step of a long love affair. Check out Zoee's FB page, According to Zoee.

Chuck and Mary Schantag hosted their Military Gala. I'm sorry I missed it this year. Chip and Sandy Milner, who have taken the Day Room to the heights of popularity, received a well-deserved award. Congratulations to both of you.

I loved seeing old friends and making new ones. Betty Carroll brought 92-year-old June Schwantes, a WWII veteran, who served on a hospital ship in the Pacific, to the Women Veterans Mini-reunion, the parade and the Tony Orlando Show. What an honor to meet June!

An unexpected highlight capped off the week. Harvey Bayless and George Boyd, WWII Tuskegee Airmen, attended the Tony Orlando Show where Tony showed the preview to the new George Lucas film, Red Tails. This story of the Tuskegee Airmen is scheduled for theater release in January 2012.

I hadn't seen Harvey and his wife Mamie for a couple of years. They were close friends to Jim and Florence Kuhn. Florence and her fellow band members are featured in my book, The Sharon Rogers Band: Laughed Together, Cried Together, Crashed & Almost Died Together. Harvey, Mamie and I enjoyed sharing a few moments of our memories of the Kuhns.

George Boyd spoke at our Veterans Week event in 2007 and attended the launch of the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors. I feel honored to know George and Harvey. They gave so much to their country in a time when they constantly had to prove themselves. Today amidst the well-deserved recognition they receive, they both take pride in their accomplishments yet remain humble and friendly.

Branson is an awesome place to spend Veterans Week!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Veterans Week in Branson

Veterans Week is in full swing. I love displaying my books at Veterans Village. As people walk through, they stop and share their stories. Today I met a man who was one of the Chosin Few in Korea and a woman whose dad served in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. She was searching for a veteran who served there at the same time. I connected her with Roy Lee.

Roy enlisted when he was fourteen. I love to listen to his stories because his recall of events is superb.

Several people asked about the Sunchon The survivors didn't make it this year but Eddie will be back in town tomorrow. One gentleman turned out to be a close friend of Florence Kuhn, a member of the Sharon Rogers band.

All in all, a good day. I look forward to tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coming soon! Branson Veterans Week

As we drove from Texas, my thoughts turned to the upcoming Veterans Week in Branson. Veterans come from all across the country every year and many have become good friends.

In addition to the service they performed for our country, veterans seem to carry a common trait. Once you've gained their friendship, you retain it for life. I've listened to, and written their stories. I've laughed and cried at both the antics and the heartbreak. Most of all, I've learned that veterans have complexities formed by their military experience. Many never leave it behind them.

All students should broaden their knowledge of American and world history by hearing or reading about the experiences from the soldiers, sailors, pilots and crew members who lived them. They offer us an up-close and personal view.

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I will have my book booth at the Veterans Village again this year.

The photos are from the Veterans Day Parade.

Check the event schedule at for information.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Birds on South Padre Island

Northern Harrier - female
Yesterday the Bay Area Birders spent the morning at the Convention Center on South Padre Island. They hit the jackpot with a large number of sightings. Chuck Lorenz, a member of the group, captured some of the birds with his camera. He graciously gave permission to share the link. Take a moment to find out why birders and nature lovers enjoy South Padre.

Thanks Chuck!

link to photos:  #       

Luke the Detective Dog went to a party

Gettin' all dressed up. I hate hats!
Spooktacular Yappy Hour at Animals Galore in Harlingen, TX. That's the location of Luke's first party. He wants to share his thoughts and photos with you so please check out

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Writers Forum on South Padre Island

Mix diverse topics, creative writers and a knowledgeable guest speaker, stir in laughter and companionship and the final product - a fun evening at the Writers' Forum at Paragraphs on Padre Blvd.

Steve Hathcock, a well-known Rio Grande Valley historian and treasure hunter, introduced his new website, Filled with South Padre stories Steve has written over the years, the site offers readers the opportunity to learn about local happenings, historical events and the unique characters who have called the island "home."

Check it out and plan to spend some time browsing. If you have a question about the island, Steve can probably answer it or, if not, find the person who can.

After Steve's presentation, attendees read from their work. We covered colorful recollections of childhood in the 1940s, ghostly stories, recipes, the Coast Guard, Billy Boomerang of South Padre Island and cinematographer John Bax.

The Writers' Forum is the 4th Monday of every month from 7:00 - 9:00.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

More Sandcastle Days Fun!

Texas State Championship competitor
Texas State Championship competitor
Masters of Sand competitor
Masters of Sand competitor
Sandcastle Days is a fun time for everyone! I'm sharing more photos of finished sculptures. The good news is that this is an annual event in South Padre Island so plan your vacation time for next year.

Don't you just love these sculptures?

To promote the art of sand sculpting, our local masters of the art are creating a new Sandcastle trail. Various pieces of sand sculptures will be built along the trail.

Masters of Sand competitor

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sandcastle Days, South Padre Island

Art, sand and sun mix to produce beautiful, large sand sculptures on South Padre Island this weekend. This is the 24th year for the event and the first at its new location on the beach behind Clayton's Bar & Grill, La Quinta and the Hilton Inn.

Although some sculptures are still a work in progress, I took pictures. People celebrate the event by viewing and/or voting on the sand sculptures, watching the sculptors at work, taking sandcastle building lessons, entering the amateur competition, flying kites or simply enjoying a beautiful day at the beach.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

John Bax and Friends

John with his 16 mm camera
John Bax is a nature cinematographer who began his remarkable career in the late 1960s when he was in his early 40s. Today, in his 80s, John is a role model for younger photographers and cinematographers.

Yesterday I visited John in the hospital. He is critically ill. Two of John's photographer friends, Seth Patterson and Steve Sinclair, were there and shared their "John adventures."

I listened to stories of parrots, parakeets, screech owls, mangrove warblers, quail, barn owls and many other species. Seth talked about John's focus and determination in learning modern technology to the point where today he edits his own HD video.

Steve commented that he learned more about birds in 30 minutes of John's company than he could learn on his own in a year.

Both spoke of John's incredible gift to communicate with birds. Steve shared amazing stories where John called the birds and actually led a hummingbird into the kitchen.

Seth remarked that John pushed him to a higher level as a photographer.

The stories flowed and will definitely appear in the story of John's life. The book, Emergence: The Story of Cinematographer John Bax, will be available late Spring, 2012.

Love of nature filled the otherwise bland hospital room. Although John spoke only at intervals, his smiles and nods communicated volumes. It was an awesome experience for me to spend an evening in the company of such remarkable talent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Murder is for the Birds awarded Best Book

The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) recently awarded Murder is for the Birds the 2011 Awards-in-Craft Best Book award. The award is sponsored by Ducks Unlimited.

Thanks to both AGLOW and Ducks Unlimited. I take pride in receiving the award from an organization of distinguished and talented writers.

Marais des Cygnes Massacre in 1858

On May 19, 1858, approximately 25 pro-slavery Missourians captured 11 Kansas Free-State men near Trading Post, Kansas, and marched them to a ravine where they lined them up and shot them. Five died, five were wounded and one fell to the ground escaping injury.

John Brown, the famous Kansas abolitionist, arrived a few days later and built a two-story log fort near the ravine. He and his men occupied the fort through that summer. Later Charles C. Hadsall, a follower of Brown, bought the property and built a stone house which still stands today.
Unlike the bloody ravine of 1858, the area today is home to tall trees and historical markers that tell the story of what took place. Picnic tables and grills line the road. For those who enjoy quiet walks, the gravel road offers, not only the massacre site, but also a trail through the fields, an old stone fence and Hadsall’s stone home.

If you’d like to know more about Kansas Territorial history and the Civil War, this historical site is located about forty minutes south of the Kansas City area on Hwy 52 between the Missouri state line and Hwy 69 in Kansas. Follow the Marais des Cygnes Massacre markers. Once you turn off the highway, the road winds a couple of miles through the country before you enter the site.
The new rest area at the junction of Hwy 69 and Hwy 52 offers a nice display of places to visit along the Frontier Military Scenic Byway.

A wife's bravery

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First Border Book Festival in Brownsville

The Brownsville Border Book Festival is hosted by the Mexican Consulate and the University of Texas-Brownsville. Located at the university campus ITEC Center at Palm Blvd and Mexico Drive, the event runs through Saturday, October 15.
The festival offers a series of lectures by visiting authors, book signings, art exhibits and book vendors. It celebrates the written word, in English and Spanish, and the multicultural lifestyle that defines the Rio Grande Valley.

The Mexican Consulate and the university plan to make this an annual event. Plan now to attend this great event and support the effort to promote literacy, reading and the arts.
Attendees will have the opportunity to spend time with the authors, vendors and the host staff. I plan to be at the Paragraphs on Padre Blvd booth again tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Blessed Day

Green palm trees still rattle in the wind in drought-stricken southern Texas. The Laguna Madre Bay’s blue waters glisten in the sun. Light rays kiss the highrises on South Padre Island and I am overwhelmed with the vivid colors of fall in the Rio Grande Valley.

I sit, iPad in hand, trying to paint a verbal picture of the stunning vista of the bay to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. Life doesn’t get much better.
I stopped at Paragraphs Bookstore where Joni and Griff busily prepared for the opening tomorrow of the Border Book Festival in Brownsville. Best part of the visit, as I walked in the door, Griff sat reading my book, Murder Takes a Ride. A set up – sure, but I loved it.  Wish I'd had my camera!

Outdoors or in, there’s plenty to brighten my day.
I head home, across the causeway, as the afternoon settles into long shadows. A sailboat, three fishing boats and a sightseeing boat splash their own color against the intense blueness of the bay. The wind merely ruffles today instead of blowing, so the shallow bay waters radiate calm and serenity.

I catch glimpses of five Osprey starting their night-time hunt for food. Their white breasts and magnificent heads capture the last of the sun’s rays. One already has a fish in his talons.
I turn in my driveway and wish I’d stayed on the island for the sunset.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Luke interviews on his new blog!

Today Luke does his first interview on his very own blog. He's excited!

He invites you to read and follow his blog at:

This week's interview is with Bubba Rodgers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Horicon Marsh NWR, near Fond du Lac, WI, is the new home to eight Whooping Crane chicks who were hatched and raised by costumed biologists at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, WI. The chicks range in age from 10-14 weeks old.

After a couple of weeks in a protected area, the chicks will join the older cranes in the area. They will learn the migration route south by following the older birds.

The photos are courtesy of the International Crane Foundation.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Energized for Fall

September was filled with conferences: Missouri Outdoor Communicators at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, MO; the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers at Honey Creek Resort in Honey Creek State Park in southern Iowa; the Writers Police Academy in Greensboro, NC; and the Military Writers Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

All have broadened my knowledge and expanded my network of fellow writers.  Like fall colors clue us in to changing seasons, these conferences trigger change in a writer’s life. They offer the opportunity to learn from others, share ideas and fellowship, identify new markets and improve skills.

For me, they instill new energy and an eagerness to get to work on existing and new projects. I have two books in the works and I’m excited to complete both manuscripts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Papa Gallo's Cucina near Pittsburgh

I am in Pittsburgh for the Military Writers Society of America conference. We are having breakfast at Papa Gallo's Cucina in Collier Township near Pittsburgh. This small restaurant, owned and operated by Chef Len Spampinato, offers fresh and original menu items for breakfast and lunch. The Italian word "gallo" means "rooster" and that is the restaurant's motif.

Whatever you order, you can expect a high-quality meal with that "cooked-just-right" taste. I haven't tasted his chili, but he just won the Fairview Heights Chili Cook-off.

We're sharing and brainstorming plots & characters - & discussing our dogs!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Luke Talks with Ophelia Avery

I'm Ophelia

1.      Describe yourself.

 I am a White Great Dane/Lab Mix.  I have great eyesight and a keen sense of smell because I am deaf.  My name is Ophelia but am called snorty, sneezy, yawnsey or goofy on occasion.

2.  What is your favorite activity?

 Sniffing, Snorting, Sneezing.  Anything involving my nose.

3.      What is your favorite inside smell?

 Bacon cooking or my food bowl being filled.

4.      What is your favorite outdoor smell?

 Other dogs.

5.      Do you have to do any silly tricks to please your humans?

 If so, what are they?  Laying down and rolling over--not necessarily in that order.  I also put up with my Dad who is constantly taking pictures of me.

6.      What kind of treats do you like?

 Milk bones.

7.      Do your humans share their food with you?

 Absolutely not. Although sometimes I get bacon leftovers in my bowl.  My humans are on a diet and have to watch their portions.

8.      What are your favorite toys?

 Any Bones and I do not like to share.

9.      What is your pet peeve? (Now where did that comefrom?)

 I am not allowed on the couch, but guest dogs are allowed because they are spoiled.

10.  Do you like other dogs?

 I am the "Will Rogers" of dogs.  Never met a dog I did not like.

11.  Do you like cats?

 Yes, but they do not understand that.

12.  Do you listen when your humans tell you to dosomething?

 No, because I am deaf, but I watch their goofy gestures.  I realize I have to play their game to get what I want.

13.  Do you have bad-hair days?

 Never had one.

14.  Tell me about your family members.

 I have two humans.  They think I am adorable but they have a lot of rules.  No furniture, Lay down before mealtime, and sitting before I enter or leave the house.

15.  Is there anything else you’d like to share?

 I am smarter than my humans--that is for sure.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Luke says Vince Mathers is cool!

Hi, I'm Vince
 I'm so happy it's Friday again - Friday is a tail-waggin' good day! Today I interview Vince Mathers and he sounds way too cool! I know he could squash me into mush but I think he'd be fun to play with.

1.        Describe yourself.

I’m Vince and I’m 4 months old. I weigh about 50 pounds now, and mom says I’m still growing and full of the business, whatever that means.

      2.     What is your favorite activity?

I really like to chase my sister Greta, she gets mad at me, and tries to run away, but I can catch her. I didn’t used to be able to, but I can now. I also really like to go to work with mom. She works with old people, but says I’m not suppose to call them old, I should say elderly or seniors, but whatever.  They give me lots of treats and hugs, and always say I am really smart and cute. I try to be good while I am there, but someday I am going to sneak in their kitchen. It smells so good in there, but they won’t let me go in there, because I might drop a hair or a germ or something. Someday though, when no one is looking, I’m gonna sneak in there and grab a BBQ chicken leg or maybe a hamburger.

3.      What is your favorite inside smell?

BBQ chicken and hamburgers, and my mom. In the morning, she smells like fresh flowers and cupcakes, but later in the day she smells like a dog. And I love dog smell.

4.      What is your favorite outdoor smell?

Birds. I love birds. I like to watch them land in my yard, and then chase them. In the morning, I can always tell that some bird has been in my yard, I can smell ‘em. They have no business in my yard. Dang birds.

 5.       Do you have to do any silly tricks to please your humans? If so, what are they?

 Well, mom says because I’m still a baby I only have to do what she tells me to, and she just makes me do the usual for now. You know, sit, come when called, lay down.  But I have one thing that makes her laugh and I learned it all by myself. When mom throws the ball for Greta, Greta runs to the end of the yard and brings it back. But if I catch Greta just before she gets to mom, I can take the ball away from Greta and get it to mom, and then I get all the praise because I was the one who returned it to her. Greta is so dumb, she lets me take the ball and get the praise, hehehe.

6.       What kind of treats do you like?

I guess I like dehydrated yams. Mom’s a vegetarian.

7.      Do your humans share their food with you?

Sometimes.  Mom is very careful about what we get to have. She says no onions, no raisins or grapes, and no chocolate. But we do get carrots and I love carrots. Oh and apples. Specially the apples that fall off the neighbor’s tree. Yum Yum. My brother Chance will bark at the tree and that makes the apples fall off so we all get some. Chance is very smart.

8.       What are your favorite toys?

Greta wrecked all my toys. I used to have some really cool stuffed toys and she tore them apart to get the squeakers out; see how dumb she is. She thought there was a bird in there or something. She doesn’t like birds either.

9.       What is your pet peeve? (Now where did that come from?)

 I’m too young to know what that means. But if it means things I hate, well I have been keeping a list. I hate it when other dogs get tied up outside, I feel bad because I know how much I like being with my family and I know they would like that too. I also hate it when on the news I hear another animal was hurt by a human. That just makes me so mad. No one has a right to harm another living being; even that I know and I am only 4 months old. 

10.   Do you like other dogs?

 I love ‘em, I mean what’s not to love about dogs. They are smarter than humans, usually cuter than humans, smell better, and are more fun. Dogs are always ready to go for a walk, or a swim or do whatever. They are sensitive and helpful and make great friends. You can always trust a dog. 

 11.   Do you like cats?

 Oh yes. Cats are so cool. When I grow up I want to be just like a cat. They get whatever they want and don’t have to do any stupid tricks. 

12.   Do you listen when your humans tell you to do something?

 Of course. Well most of the time. Ok sometimes. But this is my childhood and mom says I am only a puppy once so I can get away with it for a little while. But I think I better start listening better, mom isn’t looking too pleased when I chase in the other direction when she calls. I have to go to puppy class to learn some manners and how to be a good dog. But that’s all part of being part of the family, right?

13.   Do you have bad-hair days?

      Never. My hair is just perfect. I am black and white, and have a big black spot on my side shaped like the perfect heart. Mom used to have another dog whose name was Charlotte who was just like me but she got cancer and died. Mom says this heart is a sign from Charlotte sending her love. I think it’s because I love the Green Bay Packers. Did I tell you I am named after Vince Lombardi? Yep, me, Vince.

14.   Tell me about your family members.

 Ok, there is mom, who I just love and she loves me too.  I can tell because she always smiles at me and tells me I am going to be President someday. And there is dumb Greta. Mom says Greta is really very smart, but I don’t see it. Chance also lives with us. I think he is mom’s favorite, because he has been here the longest. She calls him her little Chancey Pants. Whatever that means. Chance doesn’t like me too much, he growls at me and never wants to play and he absolutely will never share his toys, his treats or even his bed with me. I don’t know what his problem is. Mom say Chance is the best dog in the world, so I better watch him and learn what it takes to get that status. Best dog in the world, just wait till I get bigger, I will be the best dog in the world.

 15.  Is there anything else you’d like to share?
 Yes. I would like to get serious for a minute. Mom says that too many animals are abused every year by the humans who promised to love and care for them. We animals can’t speak but if we could we would say “Please, please stop doing that! We are only here to make your lives better, so please stop hurting us.” Oh and one more thing, always remember, if there ever comes a time, Vote for Vince!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Missouri Outdoor Writers Conference at Bennett Spring State Park

I spent the weekend at the Missouri Outdoor Communicators’ annual conference at Bennett Spring State Park. With close-to-perfect weather, a nature lover’s paradise and a group of fascinating writers, the event charmed and inspired me.

Bennett Spring State Park is a perfect getaway in the Missouri Ozarks. Located about ten miles west of Lebanon on Hwy 64, the tree-studded park offers multiple opportunities for the nature lover.

Long known for its excellent trout fishing, the park also boasts its own nature center, hiking trails, campgrounds, motel or cabin accommodations, picnic facilities, canoeing and swimming.
Bennett Spring is the state’s most visited park. It is home to the third largest spring in Missouri which pumps 100 million gallons of fresh cold water each day. It is one of the state’s eight largest springs and its water flows into the Niangua River. The spring and river offer a sensory overload to amateur photographers like me. Not only is the spring water fresh and cold, it also flaunts a myriad of blues and greens to tantalize our senses.
This fun-filled event will take several blog posts to give you a taste of the park and nearby city of Lebanon. We started Thursday evening with a picnic on the banks of the Niangua at One-Eyed Willy’s. This idyllic spot of shoreline captured my imagination with its crystal-clear water, tree-lined bank dotted with sunflowers and river rock glistening along the water’s edge. Several canoes, still wet from an afternoon float trip, gave a sense of adventure along the quiet sandbar.
Barb Ostmann & Everett
After dinner, we indulged in ‘Smores. Brian, the owner of One-Eyed Willys, introduced us to a couple of his bulldogs; JB and Willy who enthusiastically welcomed each of our group.
Brian with Willy (L) & JB (R)
One-Eyed Willy’s off-the-beaten-path location will delight those seeking their own little corner of the Ozarks and the Niangua. Visit his website, for information and more photos of his bulldogs.

For more information on the park, visit .